Sat, Aug 26, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Springboks desperate to end four-game losing streak

'BOKS TO THE WALL The Springboks will do everything in their power to ensure that Graham Henry has to wait at least one more week to pick up his first win in South Africa

AGENCIES , PRETORIA

South Africa will be looking to end a four-match losing streak when they clash with Tri-Nations champions New Zealand at a sold-out Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria today.

The Springboks last won in June against Scotland and have since suffered defeats to France at home and to Australia (twice) and New Zealand away from home, but will be hoping the fanatical support of the Pretoria crowd will help them to a win this weekend.

New Zealand, thanks to four wins, have already won the Tri-Nations title.

While Springbok coach Jake White is of the opinion his 'Boks can turn their international season around on home soil, their record against the visitors at Loftus Versfeld is far from impressive -- three defeats since 1996.

New Zealand coach Graham Henry has again rung the changes but has retained his big guns -- Dan Carter and captain Richie McCaw.

Leon MacDonald, Rico Gear, Mils Muliaina and Piri Weepu get call-ups along with winger Sitiveni Sivivatu, who gets his first run of the international season, and experienced hooker Anton Oliver.

While the visitors are likely to use their powerful front row to gain the ascendancy and look to Carter and the backs to ask questions of the 'Boks, the home side will again rely on the experience of Victor Matfield in the lineout and the kicking boot of Percy Montgomery to get them on the front foot.

The home side at least look more accomplished than at any other stage this season. Jean de Villiers is back at inside center, while in Butch James they have a flyhalf who should keep the All Blacks guessing throughout.

Whether he has it in him to keep Carter at bay though is another matter. He will, however, feel more at ease with the creative De Villiers on his outside, and he's almost certain to put in a number of big tackles which could just unsettle the New Zealanders.

South Africa yesterday suffered yet another injury blow when loose forward Joe van Niekerk was ruled out.

The Springboks have also lost International Rugby Board 2004 Player of the Year Schalk Burger to a career-threatening neck injury and in-form Juan Smith went down on Wednesday with a thigh strain.

Van Niekerk had been pencilled in to replace Smith in the starting lineup, but suffered a neck injury yesterday morning.

"Joe's neck is swollen and sore and it's the same C5 vertebra that Schalk injured," White said yesterday.

"We can't send him out to play when his neck is already bruised and we've summoned Pedrie Wannenburg into our match 22," he said.

The 21-year-old Pierre Spies was named on the bench when Van Niekerk moved up to the starting line-up, but White said his starting No. 7 for today had not yet been finalized.

Mobile reserve lock Albert van den Berg, who also has experience of playing in the back row, could be promoted to the starting line-up to play flanker.

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