Boks primed and ready for Fiji

There’s no disguising this one. South Africa against Fiji should be a mismatch of a Rugby World Cup quarterfinal.

Fiji would have to produce the perfect game to upset South Africa and advance to the semifinals. So that’s what coach Ilie Tabua is asking his squad to do.

Fiji qualified for their first World Cup quarterfinal since the inaugural edition in 1987 with a 38-34 upset last weekend over Wales, considered the best match so far of the tournament.

”After a win like that it would be easy for the players to think ‘this is done’. It can be hard to get the focus back,” Tabua said. ”But we have told the players we need to perform better than last week. We are aiming to play the perfect game.

”If you can play the perfect game … the result will come.”

But something about the vibe in the South African squad indicates they’re not about to let a golden chance for a second World Cup title slip lightly.

”We’ve come to a stage now where the big guns have to put their hands up,” said winger Bryan Habana, who has crossed for six tries in three matches. ”I’m very excited.”

Coach Jake White is wary of the Fijian running game, and named the most experienced ever Springbok line-up to shut them down.

The draw has opened up perfectly for the Springboks, with the recognised heavyweights on the other side in the knockout rounds.

Favourites New Zealand are up against France and Australia take on defending champions England in Saturday’s quarterfinals.

The winner of the South Africa-Fiji match meets either Argentina or Scotland in the semifinals, increasing Springbok confidence of making the final.

”The most important thing for us is not wondering who we’re going to be playing against,” White said. ”Because when we left South Africa people were saying we’d be playing Wales in Marseille.

”People said that France would win their pool and they didn’t. None of those things have occurred.”

South Africa won all four group games, including a 36-0 thumping of defending champions England. Fiji had three tight wins over Japan, Canada and Wales, and their second-string line-up was trounced 55-12 by Australia.

With that in mind, veteran prop Os du Randt, the only survivor of South Africa’s World Cup-winning team in 1995 and the 1996 Test win over Fiji, thought the Springboks were ideally placed.

”I couldn’t have asked for a better scenario — it’s like first prize for us,” Du Randt said. ”But first prize really would be if New Zealand don’t make it” to the final.

The Springboks are expected to dominate the scrums and line-outs and are aiming to deprive the dangerous Fijian backline of possession.

White had a minor concern over tighthead prop CJ van der Linde and was giving him until Sunday to prove his strained right knee will not impede him or get any worse against Fiji.

He bracketed Gurthro Steenkamp and Jannie du Plessis on the bench, but otherwise has a full strength side with a combined 639 caps — a Springboks record for a starting XV.

Bakkies Botha was recalled to partner Victor Matfield in the second row and Danie Rossouw returned at number eight, with Schalk Burger reverting to the flank.

Matfield said the Springboks were taking a win-at-all costs attitude to Stade Velodrome.

”Fiji would like an open game but we will play to our game plan, even if it does not please the crowd.”

”We still have a few things up our sleeves to surprise them — as long as we keep them from playing Sevens rugby,” added Du Randt. ”If that happens, then we could be in trouble.”

Adding to the odds stacked against Fiji is the absence of playmaker Nicky Little, who injured his knee against Wales.

Seremaia Bai moved in one place to flyhalf and skipper Mosese Rauluni said he was confident in his new halves partner.

”South Africa are a great force and have good depth and every right to feel confident,” he said. ”But that Wales match has given us confidence. Our forwards are ready to give them a go.

”We set a goal to get to the quarterfinals and now we want to get to the semis. Whatever we have to do, we will do to win this game.” — Sapa-AP

Teams:

South Africa: Percy Montgomery; JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, Francois Steyn, Bryan Habana; Butch James, Fourie du Preez; Os du Randt, John Smit (captain), CJ van der Linde; Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield; Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Danie Rossouw. Replacements: Gary Botha, Gurthro Steenkamp or Jannie du Plessis, Johann Muller, Wickus van Heerden, Ruan Pienaar, Wynand Olivier, Andre Pretorius.

Fiji: Norman Ligairi; Vilimoni Delasau, Kameli Ratuvou, Seru Rabeni, Sireli Bobo; Seremaia Bai, Mosese Rauluni (captain); Graham Dewes, Sunia Koto, Henry Qiodravu; Kele Leawere, Ifereimi Rawaqa; Semisi Naevo, Akapusi Qera, Sisa Koyamaibole. Replacements: Bill Gadolo, Jone Railomo, Aca Ratuva, Wame Lewaravu, Jone Daunivucu, Waisea Luveniyali, Gabiriele Lovobalavu.

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