South Africa have lost aggressive second row Bakkies Botha for Sunday's quarter-final against Australia after the Rugby World Cup 2007 winner aggravated his achilles problem when landing heavily at lineout training.
"It’s just one of those accidents that you get – not very good support when he came down; he landed with several tonnes of weight on that foot," said Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, who feared it was also the end of 32-year-old Botha's Rugby World Cup campaign and his representative career after 76 tests for South Africa.
“To look in his face last night wasn’t the best thing to do, but that’s reality, that’s life, this is what we get and we just have to move on,” de Villiers told a press conference in the team hotel on Thursday.
The Springboks are also waiting to see whether another RWC 2007 winner in wing JP Pietersen passes a fitness test on a bruised tendon behind the knee, although he has been named in the side announced on Thursday.
Even without Botha, the team to play Australia at Wellington Regional Stadium will still be the most experienced in Test history, the 836 caps surpassing the previous record of 815 in the Springbok team that played Wales in the opening match of RWC 2011.
The starting XV includes eight players who started in the RWC 2007 final and another three who were part of the squad. Only starting full back Pat Lambie, fly half Morné Steyn and flanker Heinrich Brüssow were not involved in 2007, while number 8 Pierre Spies was selected but had to withdraw due to illness.
Coach de Villiers announced three changes to the team that beat Samoa: captain and hooker John Smit and loosehead prop Gurthrö Steenkamp return to the front row and centre Jean de Villiers returns to the No.12 jersey following the tournament-ending shoulder injury to Frans Steyn.
Should Pietersen pull out, his place on the wing will be taken by reserve back Francois Hougaard.
“We’ve got a little tiger in Hougaard, so he will be the one who will step in there. I don’t think there will be a difference in the two, but because JP knows the system so well and the guys beside him know him so well, it would be good for us if he could come through.”
Even though Australia have been inconsistent during the pool stage, de Villiers said they were a serious threat, South Africa having lost to them in four of their past five Tests.
“For us we know they are a very, dangerous rugby team. We know they are really confrontational in their forwards and they get it right for most of the game and they never, ever give up.
“And then the exciting backs, you know, if you give them a sniff, if you give them space, if you give them the ball, they will run you and tear you to pieces."
The line-up is South Africa's oldest at a World Cup with an average of 28 years and 272 days.
Smit's return will break Os du Randt’s South African record of 16 RWC matches, but he said the team's unmatched level of experience will mean nothing if they don't beat Australia in the knockout match.
“Certainly it’s quite an experienced team but it only really counts if we can get the business done on Sunday,” Smit said.