Francois Steyn ruled out TN

by staff

A hamstring injury has ruled South Africa fullback Francois Steyn out of the Tri-Nations rugby union Test against New Zealand at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.

Steyn sustained the injury during Australia's 14-9 victory over the Springboks in Durban last Saturday but will remain with the squad in the Eastern Cape coastal city for rehabilitation.

Gio Aplon is the obvious choice to replace 2007 Rugby World Cup winner Steyn although exciting 20-year-old Patrick Lambie, one of three late additions to the squad, has worn the number 15 jersey with distinction at provincial level.

Better news for South Africa coach Peter de Villiers is that loose forward Juan Smith has been released from the squad to play for Free State Cheetahs in a Currie Cup fixture against Mpumalanga Pumas Saturday.

Smith, another 2007 World Cup winner in France, has been sidelined for most of this year with an Achilles injury sustained in the Super 15 championship and is considered a certain starter at the World Cup in New Zealand next month if fit.

South Africa conditioning coach Neels Liebel confirmed that the elbow injury of captain and hooker John Smit is not serious after weekend reports claimed it could rule him out of the World Cup.

Smit and lock Bakkies Botha did not train because of mild flu, but both are expected to be in the starting line-up when de Villiers names his team and replacements Tuesday.

The clash with bitter rivals the All Blacks represents the fourth and last chance for South Africa to win a Test this year ahead of the World Cup after two losses to the Wallabies and one to the All Blacks in the southern hemisphere championship.

While away losses in Sydney and Wellington were expected after De Villiers sent a virtual 'B' team to Australasia because 21 Springboks were nursing injuries of varying seriousness, the defeat of a largely first-choice team in Durban was a bitter morale blow.

South Africa surrendered control after leading 6-0 at half-time and supporters of the green and gold are becoming increasingly concerned whether a vastly experienced but underperforming side can become the first country to successfully defend the title.

"We were not happy losing to Australia but did a lot of things right in the Test - small things we have really been working hard on - and that was good. This weekend we have to be even better in our execution," a forever upbeat De Villiers told reporters on Monday.

New Zealand coach Graham Henry, who has rested fly-half Dan Carter and captain Richie McCaw for the first Test between the countries in Port Elizabeth since 1970, will announce his team on Thursday.