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Boks injury crisis

The Springboks suffered another huge blow yesterday when Juan Smith was ruled out of Saturdays test with a hamstring injury, suffered in yesterdays captains run. It is the sixth withdrawal from the test squad of 22 suffered by the Boks. Smiths withdrawal forces a shuffle in the loosies with Pedrie Wannenburg moving from No 8 to Smiths openside and Jacques Cronje coming off the bench into No 8. The Cats lock Gerrie Britz, who had a storming end to the Super 12, has come onto the bench. Smith joins fullback Percy Montgomery (broken hand), Jaque Fourie (hamstring, subsequently recalled), Ashwin Willemse (knee and ankle), De Wet Barry (ankle), Joe van Niekerk (groin) and Faan Rautenbach (shoulder, knee and calf) among the injured squad members.

The Boks injury problems will have increased the Irish teams quiet confidence that they can beat the Springboks on their own ground and take out the series. O'Driscoll is fit and along with Six Nations stars Dempsey and D'Arcy, returning winger Murphy and big Shane Horgan have a skillfull, pacey and strong backline that will give the Boks all sort of problems. They have a great lineout and good forward pack overall and the confidence to match it with the Boks after beating England in the Six Nations.

The Boks still have a good team, even after the injuries, and will be looking to Zurich premiership star Jaco van der Westhuyzen to spark them from first-five. The enigmatic Gaffie du Toit has been given another chance for the Boks at fullback. Wayne Julies and Marius Joubert offer a potentially fantastic mid-field but could also be dreadful, especially Joubert who can go missing. It seems strange that Craig Davidson, who had a great season for the Sharks, has not been given a chance, and probably will not get one after his outburst at Jake White after missing selection. Bolla Conradie had an absolute shocker against the Crusaders in the Super 12 semi and was up and down all season but still gets a place on the bench. Injuries have weakened the loose forwards but in Schalk Burger have a real star who could be the difference. The test will be very close but I'm picking a slight victory to Ireland.

The teams:

South Africa: 15 Gaffie du Toit, 14 Breyton Paulse, 13 Marius Joubert, 12 Wayne Julies, 11 Henno Mentz, 10 Jaco van der Westhuyzen, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Jacques Cronj, 7 Pedrie Wannenburg, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Eddie Andrews, 2 John Smit (captain), 1 Os du Randt.
Replacements: 16 Hanyani Shimange, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Quinton Davids, 19 Gerrie Britz, 20 Bolla Conradie, 21 Jaque Fourie, 22 Brent Russell.

Ireland: 15 Girvan Dempsey, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Gordon D'Arcy, 12 Brian O'Driscoll, 11 Geordan Murphy, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Anthony Foley, 7 David Wallace, 6 Simon Easterby, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Malcolm O'Kelly, 3 John Hayes, 2 Shane Byrne, 1 Reggie Corrigan.
Replacements: 16 Frankie Sheahan, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 Donccha O'Callaghan, 19 Alan Quinlan, 20 Guy Easterby, 21 David Humphreys, 22 Kevin Maggs.

TAB ODDS: $1.65 South Africa    $2.15 Ireland    Points start: [-4.5 NZ $1.87 +4.5 ENG $1.87]

CENTREBET ODDS: $1.65 South Africa  $2.20 Ireland      Points start: [-3.5 NZ $1.90 +3.5 ENG $1.90][-5.5 NZ $2.10 +1.5 AUS $2.10]

Preview - South Africa v Ireland

Coetzee pinpoints Bok targets

There has been plenty of talk this week, mostly from the South African camp, about how they should deal with the supposed physical threat of the Irish team, when the two sides meet in the first of two Tests in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

The Irish believe this Test is their best chance yet to win an international and a series against the Boks on South African soil.

That there will be plenty of brawn out on Vodacom Park on Saturday is a given. Some of that physical stuff will be needed, because the team that imposes itself on the opposition will have won half the battle.

But there is also plenty of place for clever rugby, where tactical superiority could sway the match.

It was when he was asked about possible tactics, that Springbok backline coach Allister Coetzee pinpointed a couple of areas on which the Boks should focus if they are to upstage Brian O'Driscoll's tourists.

The first is to remove the double midfield threat posed by the world class Irish centre pairing of Gordon D'Arcy and O'Driscoll, a combination that was instrumental in Ireland's Triple Crown victory in this year's Six Nations tournament.

The second is the tall timber in the Irish squad, locks Paul O'Connell and Malcolm O'Kelly. At least here the Boks have a strong counter of their own - with Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha no slouches when it comes to the line-outs.

But, it is the midfield menace of D'Arcy and O'Driscoll that could cause most of the Boks' headaches in Bloemfontein.

The warning lights that are flashing are as much a result of the brilliance of the Irish duo as it is the injury scourge that has bedevilled the South African team the past few weeks.

The injury suffered by veteran inside centre, De Wet Barry, at training this week was without doubt the biggest blow the Boks have taken since they started their training camp at base Bloemfontein three weeks ago.

His defence, as was so pertinently illustrated in a Tri-Nations fixture against Australia last year, can turn a Test on its head.

With Barry out, the injury prone Wayne Julies has to step into that crucial No.12 channel, and not just shut the Irish down, but also act as the crucial link between fly-half Jaco van der Westhuyzen and the outside backs.

But the Boks' backline coach, Coetzee, is confident his charges will have the measure of the dangerous Irish pair.

His tactics are also simple.

"Hit them hard and shut down their space," is his advice to the Bok midfielders. "O'Driscoll has got plenty of pace and he's also got a low centre of gravity, which makes him a tough customer.

"So it'll be up to Wayne [Julies] and Marius [Joubert] to shut them down from the start by limiting their space and hitting them hard with some telling tackles," the backline coach added.

Coetzee is a lot more confident about the battle up front, where the Boks field their first choice lock pairing in Matfield and Botha.

"We have in them [Matfield and Botha] two very good locks who are up there with the best in the world. The line-outs are a strength in the Irish armoury, but I feel we have a good counter for that," he added.

The Irish team management have opted for the silent approach, with the closest thing to a prediction coming from coach Eddie O'Sullivan when the team arrived in South Africa on Sunday. "We're not here to make up the numbers," was his veiled threat to the Boks.

That the Irish believe in themselves and their ability to mix it with the best was evident in their victory over England, at Twickenham, in this year's Six Nations tournament. They showed they are no longer a 'hit and hope' outfit, but rather a well-drilled unit that execute the team tactics to perfection.

Players to watch:

For South Africa: The fly-half position has been a nightmare for a succession of South African coaches and - as Jake White has found out - injuries can easily destroy the best laid plans. But on Saturday, Leicester Tigers star Jaco van der Westhuyzen (who played fullback at last year's World Cup) has been entrusted with the play-making role in the No.10 jersey. By his own admission kicking is not the strong point of his game, which means his creative skills will have to be at its brilliant best.

For Ireland: The Leinster fullback Girvan Dempsey was one of several stand-out players in Ireland's Triple Crown march in this year's Six Nations. He may be a touch injury prone and has missed a number of Tests as a result, but when on top of his game, he is one of the most devastating fullbacks around. He loves running back at defences when the opposition launches aimless kicks in his general direction and the Boks are often guilty of aimless kicking.

Head to head: Wayne Julies (South Africa) versus Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland). There is no doubting Julies' talent. The powerful centre showed his class when he walked into the 1999 Springbok World Cup squad straight out of the Under-21 ranks. But he also played his only Test against Spain that year and has missed plenty of game time since because of injuries - so much so that he has played just 20 Super 12 games in the last four years. His creative abilities are beyond doubt, when he is fit. His defence has not been tested by a player of O'Driscoll's calibre recently. Talking of the Irish captain. O'Driscoll - or BOD as his is fondly referred to - will play in his 51st Test on Saturday - which shows the real difference between him and Julies.

Recent Results:
2000: In Dublin: South Africa won 28-18
1998: In Dublin: South Africa won 27-13
1998: In Pretoria: South Africa won 33-0
1998: In Bloemfontein: South Africa won 37-13
1981: In Durban: South Africa won 12-10
1981: In Cape Town: South Africa won 23-15

Prediction: There will be plenty of adrenaline flowing in Bloemfontein on Saturday and adrenaline is one thing that can lift a Springbok team. This will be a close call, in which the Boks may sneak it.
Planet Rugby Prediction: South Africa by less than 10 points Prediction: South Africa by three points Prediction: Ireland by 7

Date: Saturday June 12
Kick-off: 15.00 (13.00 GMT)
Venue: Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein
Conditions: More sun than clouds. High 17C, low -2C
Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England)
Touch Judges: Jol Jutge (France), Giulio De Santis (Italy)
Assessor: Les Peard (Wales)
Television match official: Nigel Owens (Wales)