Preview: South Africa v World XV
This match glitters with stars. After all only Cornal Hendricks of SA and Rory Kockott of the World XV are not fully fledged internationals.
This match glitters with stars. Both teams have them, after all only Cornal Hendricks of South Africa and Rory Kockott of the World XV are not fully fledged internationals.
The skill and the experience are there. But that skill and experience this year has been playing for different teams.
Even the South Africans have been playing for different teams - 14 different teams.
That means that for the stars to glitter as brightly as possible they have to jell into a team as quickly as possible. It could be considered easier for the Springboks for whom 10 of this team played together in their last Test - six months ago.
But 11 of the World XV played together just last week - when they featured for the Barbarians selection that beat a strange-looking England side - Rene Ranger, Benson Stanley, Hosea Gear, Jimmy Cowan, Mamuka Gorgodze, Juandré Kruger, Sona Taumalolo, Andrew Hore, Joe Tekori, Roger Wilson and Francois Trinh-Duc
The Springboks have their same coach - Heyneke Meyer, who is likely to be as careful as possible in his preparation and has had a better chance to do so than his counterpart Springbok Nick Mallett, who coached the Springboks till somebody found some reason to stop him doing so.
Mallett, one of rugby's biggest personalities, has always supported Meyer and in fact introduced him to international coaching when he made Meyer the coach of the Springbok forwards in 1999.
Meyer may well have the edge in detail, while Mallett may have the edge in developing team spirit.
The way Mallett has coached the Barbarians (in the past) has been to attend to first-phase requirements and then let his players happily free to play as they know how. If the coach is as important as people think....
In fact the weather may have a greater impact on the players and the match than the coaches. It is winter in the Cape and the Capetonians are shivering as the temperature falls to 7°C and the rain hammers down on Newlands, the wettest part of South Africa. The field with its improved drainage and largely artificial surface will be really fine, certainly better than many of Europe's big stadiums. But cold and rain bring their own problems and it is a twilight game, ending in night.
The weather may dull the stars somewhat and make certain performances harder to evaluate. The Springbok halfbacks are a case in point - Morné Steyn and Ruan Pienaar. Both are playing overseas, though that may be an exaggeration in Steyn's case as he has not been playing much overseas, but otherwise both sides would have, injury niggles apart, be match fit.
The Springboks have two scrumhalves - Pienaar playing in Ulster and Fourie playing in Japan, which tells you something about locally-based scrumhalves, who may just be the reason for poor flyhalf play in South Africa. The World XV have Matt Giteau, 31 now, whom Jonny Wilkinson praised for his cleverness after Toulon won the European Cup and then the Top 14 to confirm that they are the top side in Europe. Several of the side are actually Europeans.
Giteau's opposing captain is Victor Matfield, a week away from being the oldest Springbok ever, a match away from being an older Springbok captain than Boy Morkel of 1921 and two matches away from being the most capped Springbok of all time, an astonishing athlete.
In recent times the value of his captaincy has become obvious, for the Bulls are much, much better when he captains than when he does not. He is even older than Andrew Hore and Carl Hayman, older even than Bakkies Botha. Matfield and Botha at lock give new meaning to veteran.
Leadership is important and it may give greater thrust to a team if the leadership is in the forwards on a day when forwards may well carry the burden of victory.
The Springbok pack and bench looks quite a bit stronger than what the World XV has. Mallett is well aware of the need for secure ball. The World XV could battle against the abrasive power of the Springboks. If they really want to win, they will have to match physicality with physicality and hope that they can match them in the line-outs where the Springboks have five jumpers, one of them the best the world has seen.
Players to watch:
For South Africa: Cornal Hendricks who is making his debut. Remember that marvellous try against the Stormers when the Cheetahs got the ball five metres from their line? He has pace and skill. He is 26 but like Willie le Roux went unnoticed while at Boland. You will, always want to watch Willie le Roux, the back with a mercurial difference, and Bryan Habana with his speed, determination and eye for the half chance. You would want to see how JP Pietersen manages at centre.
For the World XV: There is uncapped Rory Kockott who turns 28 this month. This match gives him a chance to show South Africa what they have been missing while he has been playing France. There is talk that he is trying to decide whether to put his name forward for South Africa or for France. One of his attributes that the French love is his goal-kicking in a land of several goal-kicking scrumhalves. South Africa could find Rene Ranger a handful if the All Black gets the ball. In the World XV pack, big, rough, tough, strong Mamuka Gorgodze - 'Gorgodzilla' to some - may be the most interesting.
Head to head: JP Pietersen versus Rene Ranger - both big men, both fast, both capable of producing a surprise, both wings who play centre. Front row against front row - a contest that need not go the Springboks' way at all and yet could be so important and in midst of it there could be a personal battle between Sharks' First Choice and Sharks' Second Choice. Game breaker versus Game breaker - Willie le Roux versus James O'Connor, surprise versus strength, speed versus speed. Halfbacks versus halfbacks - a struggle which may depend on quality and quantity of ball. Goal-kickers versus Goal-kickers. The Springboks have three in Morné Steyn, Frans Steyn and Pienaar, the World XV three in Kockott, O'Connor and Giteau. Opportunity may well decide the winners, and opportunity may well be with the Springboks.
1977: South Africa won 45-24, Pretoria
1989: South Africa won 20-19, Newlands
1989: South Africa won 22-16, Johannesburg
Prediction: This team is different. All of the players are playing, all come freely, openly and confidently. The Springboks are playing regular Tests and are at home on the international scene. It may not be exaggerated to predict a Springbok victory by 12 points or more.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Fourie du Preez, 22 Johan Goosen, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
World XV: 15 James O'Connor, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Matt Giteau (captain), 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Mamuka Gorgodze, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Juandré Kruger, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Joe Tekori, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Jimmy Cowan, 22 François Trinh-Duc, 23 Benson Stanley.
Date: Saturday, June 7
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Kick-off: 17.05 (15.05 GMT)
Expected weather: This forecast is for Cape Town - Partly cloudy with a high of 19°C, dropping to 11°C. It sounds OK but with the mountains and seas of the Cape Peninsula there are lots of microclimates and the microclimate says that Newlands is the wettest part of South Africa. At least take warm clothes.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
Timekeeper: Albert Mocke (South Africa)
By Paul Dobson