Preview: South Africa v Fiji

Date published: September 17 2011

South Africa will be under no illusions of what to expect from the Flying Fijians come kick-off at Wellington Regional Stadium on Saturday.

South Africa will be under no illusions of what to expect from the Flying Fijians come kick-off in Wellington on Saturday for this eagerly-awaited Pool D clash.

The injury-hit Springboks are up against a team that love nothing better than to stretch their legs and give the ball plenty of air while the locks can be mistaken for wings in full flight.

Fiji can also match the men in green and gold physically – as shown in the two teams' last meeting four years ago in an unforgettable quarter-final clash where South Africa were made to sweat for their 37-20 win.

Reduced to 14 players, Fiji crossed South Africa's whitewash twice in three minutes to level the game 20-20 and threatened to score several times again before the shell-shocked Boks rallied to seal the deal.

The biggest lesson the defending champions would have taken from that match is this: never write off the Fijians. And the islanders will be desperate to remind South Africa of exactly that when they run out this weekend in the New Zealand capital.

“One thing's for sure, it's a far more challenging Fiji team we face four years on,” said Springbok captain John Smit.

“The task will be even bigger and the challenge will be bigger, so we'll have to make sure that we focus ourselves in terms of what we want to do and apply ourselves in the right areas that will put attention on to our strengths.

“But I think our task will be far more difficult this time around. They certainly are a far more prepared unit.”

After seeing off Wales by one point (17-16) in a very unconvincing opening victory, South Africa's meeting with underdogs Fiji will test whether the threat of the Pacific islanders in their pool – along with Samoa – is as acute as it has been declared.

The Boks will thank their lucky stars to have a win under their belts after Wales shot themselves in the foot – literally – with two late missed kicks at goal that would've sewn up the biggest upset of the tournament.

Be that as it may, South Africa showed a lot of character to come from behind and break Welsh hearts, and perhaps will be all the better for it while their panic-stricken fans back in the Republic grow their nails back.

Perhaps the most commonly used word by Bok supporters after the final whistle was: 'phew!'. But a wake-up call was exactly what Peter de Villiers' team needed – rather now, than later one feels before (or dare we say if?) they reach the knock-out stages.

With one lifeline already used up, South Africa are expected to be far more clinical in their approach against Fiji despite disruptions that came as a result of a high number of injury setbacks suffered in their win over Wales.

South Africa have already lost lock Victor Matfield (hamstring), centre Jean de Villiers (rib cartilage) and wing Bryan Habana (knee). Add replacement lock Johann Muller to the casualty list, and they have a wee bit of an injury crises in the second row on their hands, with Bok enforcer Bakkies Botha not expected to last the distance having just recovered from an Achilles problem.

With South Africa expected to keep it tight and starve Fiji's dangerous runners of possession, they are going to need all the ammo they can get for their primed forwards assault to reach the finishing line.

Indeed, keeping hold of the pigskin in the same way they were denied control of possession by Wales the previous week will be very important to South Africa's cause.

Fiji have made it crystal clear that they won't change the way they play, so to avoid the opposition from running riot, the Boks will have to ensure they look after the pill and deny their opposition as much possession as possible.

This means Bok pivot Morne Steyn's kicking out of hand will also need to be precise, as kicking into the throats of Fiji's strike runners can only end in five-pointers for the islanders as shown against Namibia when they opened their World Cup account with an emphatic win over the African minnows.

Their clash with the world champions on Saturday – preceding Samoa's clash with Wales on Sunday – may well decide whether Pool D will be as competitive as envisaged.

Ones to watch:

For South Africa: Shifted from full-back to inside centre, Frans Steyn returns to the position he occupied at the last World Cup and the jersey that many feel is where he is better suited. After 80 minutes, we'll get to see if indeed this is the case.

For Fiji: After scoring four tries against Namibia, it's going to be pretty hard not to keep an eye out for wing Vereniki Goneva. Though blink, and you might just miss him!

Head-to-head: It has to be in the back three where the Fijians will be looking to expose the likes of World Cup debutants Pat Lambie and Odwa Ndungane, with JP Pietersen only one of three surviving members of the Bok backline from the 2007 quarter-final. It was Pietersen that put in a try-saving tackle that day that turned the tables back in South Africa's favour – much of the same will be required four years on with opposite number Naipolioni Nalaga a lethal weapon on the wing.

Previous Results:

2007: South Africa won 37-20 in Marseilles
1996: South Africa won 43-18 in Pretoria

Prediction: South Africa need a big win to silence their critics and while we don't expect one-way traffic, we do expect a big score. However, crowd favourites Fiji won't go down without a fight. South Africa to win by 25!

The teams:

South Africa: 15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Odwa Ndungane, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Danie Rossouw, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 François Louw, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 François Hougaard, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Juan de Jongh.

Fiji: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Gaby Lovobalavu, 12 Seremaia Bai, 11 Naipolioni Nalaga, 10 Waisea Sedre Luveniyali, 9 Neemia Kenatale, 8 Sakiusa Matadigo, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Dominiko Maiwiriwiri Waqaniburotu, 5 Wame Lewaravu, 4 Leone Nakarawa, 3 Deacon Manu (c), 2 Sunia Koto, 1 Campese Ma'afu.
Replacements: 16 Talemaitoga Dautu Tuapati, 17 Waisea Nailago, 18 Netani Edward Talei, 19 Sisa Koyamaibole, 20 Vitori Tomu Buatava, 21 Nicky Little, 22 Ravai Fatiaki.

Date: Saturday, September 17
Venue: Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 18.00 (06.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy with a high of 15°C, dropping to 9°C.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)