Planet Rugby

Preview: South Africa v World XV

06th June 2014 00:05

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Mamuka Gorgodze v Bakkies Botha World XV v South Africa

Harder than a bag of old rusted nails: Mamuka Gorgodze

Of the four matches the Springboks will play in June, Saturday's clash against Nick Mallett's World XV in Cape Town is the most attractive.

Watching Wales talk up a big game before ultimately falling short or seeing Scotland battle valiantly for an hour only to be overcome when it counts carry little novelty. But the chance to watch a team featuring Hosea Gear, Matt Giteau, Steffon Armitage, Mamuka Gorgodze (etc, etc, etc) attempt to punch holes in the Bok defence? That will get me excited, for sure.

The weather could well be miserable on matchday but fans at Newlands will get lots of bang for their buck this weekend. Don't be fooled by the international 'friendly' label, there will be nothing friendly about this battle, which the hosts are treating as seriously as they would a full Test match.

And they should. Mallett - who is a very competitive man with a proven track record for extracting the best out of players - has assembled a team truly worthy of the name 'World XV'. Even the bench - which includes France's best attacking fly-half and a former All Blacks captain - is impressive.

With only enough time for two practice sessions together, for all their star value, the visitors are unlikely to win against the second-best team in the world. Nevertheless, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer has called this game "probably the hardest" of his team's fixtures during the Test window since his preparations, too, have been hampered by a series of injuries and late arrivals.

Both sides' press conferences this week were very interesting, although very different. Both had very clear underlying themes though. At Wednesday's Bok team announcement, I stopped counting the number of times Meyer said "World Cup". When Mallett and Alan Solomons named their starting XV on Thursday, it was a similar situation as the coaches, and captain Giteau, constantly repeated the need for the tourists to have "the right attitude."

Indeed, while Saturday offers South Africa a rare opportunity to experiment (though Meyer tries to avoid the word) as they build towards their ultimate objective, the World XV's goals do not extend beyond 19:00 local time on Saturday. Mallett has drilled into his players that this is not a holiday and the importance of pitching up with the right mindset to do battle with the most physical team on the planet. If not, "they will be in for a very unpleasant afternoon" he warned.

Any game involving the Springboks of the last decade has had particular emphasis placed on the line-outs but this weekend even more so, not least because the old 'Blood Brothers', Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, will reform the best second-row combination the world has ever seen for the first time since the 2011 World Cup.

Botha said that the bond is as strong as ever and that he can still recognise what Matfield will want at a line-out "just by his body language". But their unique partnership will be given a stern examination by a man they have taught everything they know.

Juandre Kruger is the World XV player closest to being in the Bok squad. Meyer has said that the Racing Metro lock would have been called up had Matfield been injured and he still receives all the emails with the Bok line-out calls.

"He knows our systems at the Boks very well. Most of the things he has learnt he probably did from myself and Bakkies when he was a young guy at the Bulls," said Matfield.

"I coached him last year at the Bulls when he was a Springbok. So I must say this is one game where I am nervous about the line-outs. He knows exactly how I think and I carried over everything I know to him. So it will be a difficult challenge, but I am very lucky to have a lot of great jumpers around me, and we will use them all.

"We will get their insights and maybe I will change a few things and look at how the Stormers do their line-outs with Duane Vermeulen."

An unstoppable line-out is a key part of the plan for success at the World Cup next year. Mallett is so focused on combating it that he has picked two specialist number fives to ensure they have some hope of securing decent set piece possession.

It's just one example of how this game may not be an official 'Test' but it will be a test of South Africa's foundations.

Players to watch:

For South Africa: A 2007 World Cup winner and with over 50 caps to his name, JP Pietersen will not be the first wing to reinvent himself as an outside centre. Jaque Fourie's ankle injury and underwhelming performances last November mean Meyer must now consider other options at 13. While most fans in Cape Town would have liked to see Juan de Jongh get a chance, the truth is that the Stormers centre just does not fit the mould for the kind of player Meyer wants. At 6ft 3" and almost 100 kg, Pietersen most certainly does. He played at 13 - with success - for the Sharks and features there for Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan. The 27-year-old has told Meyer that he actually prefers to play in the midfield these days. When asked on Wednesday if the switch was permanent, Meyer said "we will see how he goes on Saturday. It is in his hands."

For World XV: The name Mamuka Gorgodze will not be familiar to most South African rugby fans, but in Europe he is recognised as one of the hardest men in the game. The big Georgian, who will join Toulon next season, was one of the standout players at the past World Cup and his battle with future team-mate Bakkies Botha when the European champions visited Montpellier was one of the highlights of the Top 14 season. His job is very clear, Gordzilla he will be the kingpin in the visitors' attempt to match the Boks' physicality.

Head-to-head: Another star of the Top 14, Castres scrum-half Rory Kockott will have a point or two to prove in his tussle with Ruan Pienaar and Fourie du Preez, who are set to play a half each. Kockott was never in the frame for the Boks during his time in South Africa but his career has taken off in France, where there have been suggestions that he may have a shot at national selection when he becomes available for les Bleus in August. France are not short on excellent scrum-halves so it may have been a little premature for the South African press to be asking him whether he would accept a call up, but the quality of his skills set is beyond question. Pienaar meanwhile is a favourite target for abuse on SA rugby forums and Du Preez is hardly a spring chicken. It's too late for Kockott to convince Meyer he is good enough for the green and gold but you can bet he'd enjoy outshining his countrymen.

Previous results: South Africa have played against World XV's on three occasions at home since 1977, with the Springboks winning all three matches. The score in 1977 was 45-24 and in 1989 20-19 and 22-16 respectively.

Prediction: The World XV will put on a show, guaranteed, but at this level the finest details make massive differences. With literally only hours together to prepare, defensive organisation will be a problem. South Africa by 20 points.

The teams:

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Gurthro 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, 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
Kick-off: 17:00 local (15:00 GMT)
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Television match official: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)

By Ross Hastie in Cape Town

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