Boks hoping to seal season at Twickenham

South Africa head into their final Test of 2008 seeking a morale-boosting victory against England here at Twickenham ahead of next year’s home series with the English and Irish Lions.

The world champions “hit-and-run” tour of the United Kingdom this month has so far yielded wins for the past two weekends over Six Nations grand slam champions Wales, 20-15 in Cardiff, and Scotland, beaten 14-10 at Murrayfield, in a match where the Springboks were 10-0 down at half-time.

Victory over England, the team they defeated 15-6 in last year’s World Cup final in Paris, will complete the treble.

By not playing Ireland, the other country which along with the three other Home Unions contributes players to the Lions, South Africa have denied themselves the chance of a grand slam.

But while Lions coach Ian McGeechan has been taking the opportunity to observe the Springboks, South Africa centre Jean de Villiers said they too had been engaged in useful reconnaissance.

“We always knew this whole tour would be important for our preparation for next year and so will this result,” De Villiers said.

De Villiers, who missed most of last year’s World Cup campaign through injury, added: “We just want to improve on our two performances on this tour and end on a high.

“You want that mental edge, you want to go into a Lions series knowing you’ve beaten the individuals first.”

South Africa were due to reveal their Twickenham team on Tuesday but have delayed that announcement until Thursday because of injuries to key players such as scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, who missed the Scotland game with a strained quadriceps muscle.

Hooker Bismarck du Plessis and prop Gurthro Steenkamp are both definitely out of the first meeting: the pair suffered hamstring and ankle injuries respectively against Scotland.

However, South Africa assistant coach Dick Muir said he was “sure Bryan Habana will start” after the wing suffered a thigh knock at Murrayfield.

England manager Martin Johnson, who captained his country to World Cup glory five years ago, recalled on Tuesday flanker James Haskell in the only change to the starting side, which was beaten 28-4 by Australia at Twickenham last weekend.

That match saw England fans booing both Matt Giteau and Australia captain Stirling Mortlock as they lined up penalty attempts.

If the aim was to distract the Wallaby duo, it had little effect with outside-half Giteau landing six penalties and a conversion from his eight shots at goal while Mortlock added an important penalty from near the half-way line.

So embarrassed was English Rugby Football Union president Brian Williams by the jeering, he wrote to the Australian high commissioner in London to apologise for the “bad manners” of the home crowd.

But South Africa said they would not be bothered if this Saturday’s match also saw the “boo-boys” doing their best to go against the grain of a tradition much-cherished by many longstanding rugby supporters.

“It happens every time we kick, wherever we play,” said Springbok vice-captain Victor Matfield, before Stormers star De Villiers chipped in: “When the Stormers play at Loftus Versfeld it always happens.” - Sapa-AFP

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