Sat, Jun 16, 2007 - Page 20 News List

'Boks take on Aussies as Tri-Nations begins

AFP , CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

Australian lock Nathan Sharpe warms up yesterday during a training session at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town ahead of today's Tri-Nations match against South Africa.

PHOTO: AFP

John Smit's Springboks will be looking to give their coach the perfect start in this year's Tri-Nations competition when they clash with Australia at Cape Town's Newlands Stadium today.

It has been a taxing week for South Africa coach Jake White, who was cleared of a misconduct charge following an incident in a Johannesburg night spot last week.

A Cape Town journalist, who was punched on the ear moments after an altercation with White, linked the Springboks coach to the incident and made a complaint to the South African Rugby Union.

White has also been forced to come to terms with the news that his two first-choice scrumhalves -- Fourie du Preez and Ricky Januarie -- would not be available this weekend, while star winger Bryan Habana could miss the entire Tri-Nations because of injury.

White though has remained upbeat throughout the week -- and for good reason. He has still been able to select a powerful side to take on the Wallabies and the Springboks will go into the competition in a confident mood.

The 'Boks have beaten England and Samoa and South Africa enjoyed their best performance in this year's Super 14 competition, with the Northern Bulls beating the Coastal Sharks in the final.

In contrast, Australia played inconsistently in the Super 14 in their Tests against Wales and Fiji before this weekend's Tri-Nations opener.

Both coaches, however, have been able to select strong outfits for the match and history shows that Super 14 form is no indicator of what will happen in a Test.

The Wallabies are looking to win their first game in South Africa since triumphing 19-18 in Durban seven years ago, but Australia coach John Connelly has selected his strongest lineup so far this year.

Matt Giteau has been restored at inside center while George Gregan is back at scrumhalf. With locks Dan Vickerman and Nathan Sharpe, the visitors have lineout men who could cause a few problems for Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.

"They've got a lot of depth and are probably in the best shape for some time," Connelly said. "They are confident after their recent successes, so it's going to be a pretty enormous challenge for us."

One area where the visitors are again likely to struggle is in the scrums. South African tighthead prop BJ Botha annihilated Samoa's Justin Va'a last weekend.

Ruan Pienaar, who'll make his first start in the No. 9 jersey after playing in eight previous Tests off the bench, will bring a different element to the game and he's sure to keep Gregan on his toes.

White has also opted for the more mobile Pierre Spies at No 8 instead of the more physical, direct approach of Danie Rossouw, who'll warm the bench.

"Pierre gets around the field quicker than Danie and against Australia, he's the right man for the job," White said.

With just three months to go before the start of the World Cup in France, there's a lot at stake for both sides.

White is keen to prove his detractors wrong, while Connelly will want to show that there is nothing wrong with Australian Test rugby.

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