Bakkies backs Boks for Fiji clash

by staff

Injury-hit South Africa made six changes to the team that will face Fiji in Wellington on Saturday but received a Rugby World Cup boost with veteran lock Bakkies Botha's return from an achilles tendon strain.

Botha missed the Springboks' opening World Cup match against Wales last weekend and was sorely missed as the reigning world champions struggled to an unconvincing 17-16 win.

The Wales match also took a heavy injury toll on the South Africans, with Victor Matfield, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana and Butch James all unavailable for the Fiji clash.

Coach Peter de Villiers denied Botha had been rushed back to add grunt to a Boks' pack that failed to dominate the Welsh, saying he did not believe in taking chances on his players' health.

"With niggles you can still play and Bakkies is good to go," he said.

However, de Villiers said he was looking for a better defensive effort against Fiji, who gave the Springboks a scare in the quarter-finals in France four years ago.

"If you look at what Fiji offer to us, look at the channel they'll run at, we can't allow the same thing that happened on Saturday, where that channel was exposed on defence," he said.

Captain John Smit said South Africa needed to refocus after the Wales match because the challenge from Fiji at this year's tournament was likely to be even tougher than in 2007.

"I think our task will be far more difficult this time around than it was four years ago," he said. "They're certainly a far more prepared unit."

Botha comes in as a direct replacement for Matfield in the second row and Odwa Ndungane takes Habana's spot on the left wing, while Pat Lambie was called up as fullback, with Steyn shifting to inside centre as cover for Jean de Villiers.

James' place on the bench was taken by Ruan Pianaar.

Peter De Villiers also made two tactical changes, starting Gurthro Steenkamp at loosehead prop in favour of Tendai Matawarira and including centre Juan de Jongh on the bench.

Lock Johann Muller was also included on the bench, subject to a late fitness test, with Willem Alberts on standby if he fails.

"We have had injury problems at lock but we have versatile players to cover for most situations," de Villiers said.

The South African coach attempted to put a positive spin on the long injury list, describing it as a chance to display his squad's depth.

"Everything works for good and I think it's a brilliant exercise to blood some of the other players," he said.

"Against a tough proposition like Fiji you'd prefer to have all your players available but this is tournament rugby and we picked our squad knowing that we would have to cover for many situations."

South Africa: Pat Lambie; JP Pietersen, Jacque Fourie, Frans Steyn, Odwa Ndungane; Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez; Pierre Spies, Schalk Burger, Heinrich Brussow; Danie Rossouw, Bakkies Botha; Jannie du Plessis, John Smit (capt), Gurthro Steenkamp.

Reserves: Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira, Johann Muller, Willem Alberts, Francois Hougaard, Ruan Pianaar, Juan de Jongh.