This weekend sees the start of a truncated Tri Nations competition and there’s plenty of interest in this opening fixture for Ulster and Irish supporters with two Ulster players in the South Africa starting XV and Australia, of course, the highest seeded team in Ireland’s World Cup Pool.
There’s been much criticism of the South Africa side picked for the annual mini-tour to Australia and New Zealand, and with 21 “star players” left behind it would be fair to say it’s not the strongest Springbok side ever but in my opinion the reigning World champions are having a prudent look at their options while resting some of their more established players.
Ulster’s Johann Muller starts in second row alongside Flip van der Merwe and his experience will be invaluable as the Boks field two new starts in the front row in props Werner Kruger and Dean Greyling.
Openside flank Heinrich Brüssow has failed to recover and is a big loss for the Boks who will come under pressure in the back row which is a pityas I’d have loved to have seen the half back pairing of Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar and Morné Steyn behind a big agressive Bok’s pack. Unfortunately I expect the Boks to be under pressure for most of the game and their exciting a pacy back three may feature more in defence than attack!
Australia have problems of their own particularly after their thorough working over by Somoa last weekend.
The gifted Matt Giteau appears to be the main casualty from the defeat with the Toulon bound star dropped from the match day 22 all together. However a back line featuring Genia, Cooper, O’Connor, Ioane and Beale is going to be pretty sharp and Pienaar v Genia is going to be a contest to savour.
The under fire Auzzie pack will be much bolstered by the return of Pocock and with Reds pair Simmons and Horwill reuniting in second row they should have the more stable platform, for this game at least.
Despite last weeks embarrassing defeat, or maybe because off, Australia remain my favourites to lift the World Cup in October and I expect them to respond on Saturday morning [Sky Sports KO 11:00am] to kick off their Tri Nations campaign with a win. Hopefully for the sake of us viewers it will be close with Pienaar and Muller keeping the Boks in it!
Australia: Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, Rob Simmons, James Horwill, Rocky Elsom, David Pocock, Ben McCalman. Replacements: Saia Fainga’a, Pek Cowan, Nathan Sharpe, Matt Hodgson, Scott Higginbotham, Nick Phipps, Anthony Fainga’a.
South Africa: Gio Aplon, Bjorn Basson, Juan de Jongh, Wynand Olivier, Lwazi Mvovo, Morné Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Ashley Johnson, Danie Rossouw, Deon Stegmann, Johann Muller, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, John Smit (c), Dean Greyling. Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, CJ van der Linde, Alistair Hargreaves, Jean Deysel, Charl McLeod, Adi Jacobs, Pat Lambie.
Update 21st July 2011: Ulster’s Johann Muller, who failed to pass a fitness assessment on a strained hamstring has been withdrawn from the squad. Sharks player Alistair Hargreaves steps up from the bench.
Hargreaves’ place on the reserves bench has been taken by his Sharks team-mate Ryan Kankowski.
South Africa (revised): 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 Juan De Jongh, 12 Wynand Oliver, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Morn? Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ashley Johnson, 7 Danie Rossouw, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Flip Van Der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Dean Greyling.