South Africa vs World XV | Saturday 11 June | Newlands | 17:05
The Springboks start their World Cup preparations this weekend with a test against a star studded World XV side at Newlands. The match will see the return of Jean de Villiers who is likely to get some game time in the second half. It will also see some former ‘Boks take to the field in World XV colors, including hard man Bakkies Botha who turned out for South Africa in last year’s fixture against the representative side. With the World Cup close approaching Heyneke Meyer will use this game as an opportunity to test some new combinations and start finalising his squad to take to England. The two sides have met six times prior to this encounter with the Springboks holding an unblemished record against their globetrotting opponents. The last match between these two took place just over a year ago with the ‘Boks overcoming a spirited first half display from the World XV to run out 47-13 victors.
To Win (80mins)
South Africa 1/8
World XV 11/2
South Africa (-15.5) 9/10
World XV (+15.5) 9/10
With rugby’s showpiece tournament taking place in just over seventy days, Heyneke Meyer is facing a selection dilemma. Ideally he would have liked to be in a position akin to the one Jake White constructed for himself in 2007. White had built up a solid core of players to take to France and used the summer Tests and Tri-Nations series to give South Africa’s best Super Rugby performers a bash at getting into his thirty-man squad. Heyneke Meyer is currently facing the polar opposite of the White scenario. Injuries to senior ‘Boks coupled with the financial lure of continuing a playing career overseas means that some of the names that would have been penciled into his side to go to England haven’t played Test rugby in over a year. Meyer is now stuck with having to perform a balancing act; he’s got to get the aforementioned veterans fit and ready for the rigours of Test rugby whilst blooding some of the top Super 15 performers. He seems to have struck this balance, at least on paper with the side he’s opted to select for this weekend.
The young centre pairing of Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel will bring a refreshing attacking verve to the side. Although Kriel donned the fifteen jersey for the Bulls this season, he does have experience in the thirteen jumper having played there for the Junior ‘Boks in 2014. In my opinion he is a massive upgrade from his predecessors, Serfontein and Englebrecht, who although were solid when it came to the defensive side of the game, offered little with ball in hand. With Kriel on debut and De Allende yet to surpass the twenty Test mark a lot of pressure will fall on the shoulders of Bulls ten Handre Pollard. The young pivot has been impressive in a ‘Bok jersey and will want to stake a claim for a starting place at the World Cup this year. While the Springbok midfield is filled with inexperienced campaigners the back three of Habana, Le Roux and Pietersen are all Test veterans and will offer cool heads for the youngsters to fall back on. In terms of the pack the Sharks front row will test their mettle against Carl Heyman and Co.
The side will be skippered by Victor Matfield who, along with his locking partner Eben Etzebeth, are in for a tough day, they will come up against the Toulon duo of Ali Williams and Matfield’s former partner in crime - Bakkies Botha. The ‘Boks have opted to go in with two fetchers on the flanks in Marcell Coetzee and Francois Louw, whilst Lions eighthman Warren Whitley starts in place of the injured Duane Vermeulen. South Africa have a plethora of experience and talent on the bench including incumbent skipper Jean de Villiers who has overcome the horrific knee injury he picked up on last year’s tour to Britain. He is joined by Province teammate Schalk Burger, as well as the Sharks halfback pairing of Reinach and Lambie on the pine.
Boasting a squad made up of players from six different countries and containing over 460 international caps among the ranks, the World XV will provide a solid test for this experimental South African side. This will be the representative side’s second trip to South African shores in thirteen months. Last year’s tourists managed to contain the Springboks in the first half but were blown away in the second stanza by a ruthlessly efficient pack. The World XV are coached by former Canterbury Crusaders and Wallabies mentor Robbie Deans. His charges are predominately made up of players from current European Championship holders Toulon. Although Deans is yet to announce his starting fifteen Bakkies Botha will most likely be joined by club lock partner and All Black legend Ali Williams in the starting lineup. Another former All Black talisman Carl Heyman is likely to start in the front row and he could be joined by former Sharks hooker Craig Burden. The other two South Africans who may turn out for the World XV forwards are Bulls lock Flip Van Der Merwe and one-time Bulls man Guthro Steenkamp. JJ Engelbrecht is the sole representative for South Africa among the backs and he is likely to be paired with either Rudi Wulf or Mike Harris in the centres. The World XV’s forward pack will want to produce a similar performance to the one their counterparts managed in the first half at Newlands last year, and are likely to take the Springbok pack head on at the set pieces as well as in the loose. With Bakkies Botha knowing Victor Matfield's lineout calls like the back of his hand they should be able to disrupt the Springbok lineout and stifle their threat from rolling mauls. If the World XV get some ball in hand and they play on the counter-attack like all good representative sides do, they may be able to give Meyer’s men a run for their money, particularly in the first half.
VERDICT: World XV (+15.5) 9/10
As New Zealand showed against Samoa earlier in the week it’s not easy to produce a free flowing game of rugby when you’re testing combinations. With the World XV containing a massively experienced pack of forwards, the majority of whom have played together at Toulon, the Springboks are in for a massive test. I expect Robbie Deans and his men to put on a fantastic first half display but tire after the halftime oranges.