Preview: South Africa v World XV

Date published: July 10 2015

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'Test' has been a word used a lot this week, even though Saturday's clash between the Springboks and the World XV does not carry Test match status.

Official caps will not be awarded this weekend but, as World XV coach Robbie Deans put it, this is as close to a Test as you can get and the quality of the opposition the Boks will face this weekend will certainly be a cut above many teams that will feature at the World Cup.

Unlike most invitational teams that inevitably struggle at the set pieces due limited preparation time and thus are not able to lay a proper platform to challenge, this World XV will have far fewer teething problems as it built around a core of nine players from Toulon's triple European Cup winning side. 

Expect the visitors to be solid at lineout time as hooker Craig Burden will be throwing to the same two locks he has been working with for two years (and who also just happen to be two of the best second rowers of the past decade).

Likewise, a pack featuring a tight five made of four Toulon players plus a former South African Player of the Year complemented by a back row consisting of two Crusaders and last season's European Player of Year, the World XV scrum is unlikely to crumble. 

Indeed, Springbok legend and World XV captain Bakkies Botha wasn't just churning out the sound bites when he said this side would "ask questions" of his former team-mates – he genuinely believes he will be contributing to the South African cause when the side he leads on Saturday tries to poke holes the Boks' structures.  

The Springboks won't lose. They should still win comfortably considering that many of the World XV have been on holiday for the past month, but there are many areas that need to be tested, most notably in midfield and in the loose trio. 

Heyneke Meyer has faced a lot of criticism for his selections and while all have a certain logic behind them, there is very time left for certain players to convince. 

Some who have struggled to find their top form in Super Rugby, like JP Pietersen, must show they are up to scratch while others in pivotal positions, like Ruan Pienaar, must prove their detractors wrong.

The start of the Rugby Championship heralds the final episode in the build up the ultimate prize and Meyer will want his side to head into next week's clash with Australia in Brisbane confident that they are on the right path. 

Players to watch:

For South Africa: The focus of the spotlight will be on 20-year-old Jesse Kriel, who makes his first senior national appearance at outside centre having played the entire season at full-back for the Bulls. That Kriel is a special talent is no doubt, and he was excellent in the 13 jersey for the SA U20 side last year, but is it wise to be experimenting with a youngster in a key defensive position two months before the World Cup? To be fair on Meyer, none of the available candidates offer the potential that Kriel brings to the table. If Kriel can string two strong performances together over the next fortnight, he may be a valuable asset in the squad in terms of being able to cover multiple positions.

Sharks openside Marcell Coetzee will be tested at blindside flank in a back row sorely missing Duane Vermeulen. With Willem Alberts also not available and Warren Whiteley a player that looks to attack space rather than dominate opponents physically, the Boks are short of a big ball carrier and a lineout jumper. Francois Louw is the undisputed first-choice openside so Coetzee must convince Meyer that he can make up for his lack of size with a high work rate and bring something different to the mix.

For World XV: The Boks' ability to compete for the ball at rucks will be tested by arguably Europe's best exponent of the breakdown battle, Steffon Armitage. The one South African in the World XV who still has a shot at making the World Cup is Flip van der Merwe, who insists he is available for selection, despite a recent statement from SARU to the contrary. Since South Africa will be experimenting with using flanker Oupa Mohoje to cover lock, Van der Merwe might well have a point to prove. 

This game also doubles up as a farewell to an icon, as Bakkies Botha will play his last professional game on South African soil. This week Deans said that naming Botha as captain a "logical choice" even though he has rarely skippered teams in the past. "He is a legend of the game, not only in South Africa but in the world," commented Deans."He has been great, from day one, unprompted and before we even discussed the leadership he was leading so it is a good fit." True to character, expect Botha to go out with a bang. 

Prediction: South Africa scored six tries to beat last year's version of the World XV 47-13 but the scoreline shouldn't be quite so lopsided this time around. The Boks will have far more to play for though and should win relatively well. South Africa by 18 points.

The teams:

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Oupa Mohoje, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jean de Villiers.

World XV: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Lachlan Turner, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 David Smith, 10 Mike Harris, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Bakkies Botha, 4 Ali Williams, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 David Roumieu, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Flip Van der Merwe, 20 Louis-Benoit Madaule, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Rudi Wulf.

Date: Saturday, 11 July
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Kick-off: 17:00 local (15:00 GMT)
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Jason Jaftha (South Africa)
Television match official: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)

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