Two of South Africa’s most influential players might return on Sat

TWO of South Africa’s most influential players, scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and openside flank Heinrich Brussow, are set to start their first Tests since November 2009 when the Springboks host the Wallabies in a return Tri-Nations match at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday.

Two years ago the pair were stand-out players in a brilliant year for the Boks, which saw them win the series against the British and Irish Lions and then go on to win five out of six Tri-Nations matches, including three wins in a row against the All Blacks.

Brussow, who came to light during the Lions tour, and Du Preez, the true general of the Springboks’ game plan over the last seven seasons, have not played since the defeat to Ireland in Dublin in the final match of 2009 because of recurring injury problems.

The 29-year-old Du Preez missed the entire 2010 season after undergoing surgery to a long-standing shoulder problem and made a tentative comeback for the Bulls in this year’s Super Rugby campaign.

He was understandably rusty after his long lay-off but when he started to find his feet, it coincided with the Bulls turning their poor early season form around and almost making the play-offs.

Brussow suffered a serious knee injury early in 2010 and a year later made a stunning comeback for the Cheetahs in their victorious tour match against the Waratahs in Sydney, which was ultimately the upset of the year. Brussow was excellent at the breakdown in the Free State’s first overseas Super Rugby win since they beat the Highlanders in Invercargill in 1996.

Unfortunately he did not play again this year for the Cheetahs because of rib and then hamstring injuries.

Brussow, who turned 25 last week, was in the Bok squad for the recent ill-fated Tri-Nations tour. It had been hoped that he would play off the bench in Sydney and then, when he was not ready, in Wellington, before the medical team eventually erred on the side of caution and recommended a spell off the bench for the Cheetahs in yesterday’s Absa Currie Cup match against Western Province in Bloemfontein.

Brussow had a very good cameo in the Free State win and, more importantly, passed his Springbok fitness test and is likely to start against Australia in a loose trio that will see Pierre Spies at No 8 and Bulls teammate Danie Rossouw on the blindside flank.

As for the return of Du Preez, the Boks were much maligned in 2010 for their ineffective tactics but many a critic pointed out that the absence of Du Preez’s educated boot was the real problem.

The debate as to whether or not the modern game has moved on since Du Preez was such a match winner in 2009 will no doubt be under keen scrutiny over the fortnight of the Boks’ home Tri-Nations matches.

Interestingly, Du Preez is set to make his comeback alongside his RWC 2007 flyhalf Butch James – himself making a comeback – and not the 2009 superstar Morne Steyn, who is in the fight of his life to retain the No 10 jersey.

James last played for the Boks when he came on as a substitute in the 44-31 victory over the Wallabies in Pretoria last year.

Captain John Smit is likely to continue at hooker ahead of Bismarck du Plessis and there will be places on the bench for stars of the away Tri-Nations leg in flank Jean Deysel and lock Gerhard Mostert, and a long-awaited comeback spot for loosehead prop Gurthro Steenkamp.

Springboks (probable): 15 Francois Steyn 14 JP Pietersen 13 Jaque Fourie 12 Jean de Villiers 11 JP Pietersen 10 Butch James 9 Fourie du Preez 8 Pierre Spies 7 Danie Rossouw 6 Heinrich Brussow 5 Victor Matfield 4 Bakkies Botha 3 Jannie du Plessis 2 John Smit (capt) 1 Beast Mtawarira.

Substitutes: Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp, Gerhard Mostert, Jean Deysel, Francois Hougaard, Morne Steyn, Juan du Jongh

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