Francois Steyn out of Tri-Nations NZ clash

A hamstring injury has ruled South Africa full-back Francois Steyn out of the Tri-Nations Test against New Zealand at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.

Steyn, who plays in France for Racing Metro, sustained the injury during a 14-9 loss to Australia in Durban last Saturday and will remain with the Springbok squad in the Eastern Cape coastal city for rehabilitation.

Gio Aplon is the obvious choice to replace 2007 Rugby World Cup winner Steyn, although exciting 20-year-old Patrick Lambie — one of three late additions to the squad — has worn the number 15 jersey with distinction at provincial level and could get the nod.

Better news for South Africa coach Peter de Villiers is that loose forward Juan Smith has been released from the squad to play for Free State Cheetahs in a Currie Cup fixture against Mpumalanga Pumas on Saturday.

Smith — another 2007 World Cup winner in France — has been sidelined for most of this year with an Achilles injury sustained in the Super 15 championship and is considered a certain starter at the World Cup in New Zealand in September if fit.

Making a different call
South Africa conditioning coach Neels Liebel confirmed that the elbow injury of captain and hooker John Smit is not serious after weekend reports claimed it could rule him out of the World Cup.

Smit and fellow veteran and lock Bakkies Botha did not train because of mild ‘flu, but both are expected to be available for selection when De Villiers names his team on Tuesday morning.

The coach has hinted that he may rest 105-cap Smit and give long-time understudy Bismarck du Plessis a chance in the last Test South Africa play before launching the World Cup title defence on September 11 against Wales in Wellington.

“We are blessed to have hookers of the quality of John and Bismarck, and while John was the right call for the Wallabies, maybe we will make a different call for the particular circumstances this weekend,” said De Villiers.

The clash with bitter rivals New Zealand represents the fourth and last chance for South Africa to win a Test this year ahead of the World Cup after two losses to the Wallabies and one to the All Blacks in the southern hemisphere championship.

Not happy but trying
While the away losses in Sydney and Wellington were expected after De Villiers sent a virtual B team because 21 Springboks were nursing injuries of varying seriousness, the defeat of a largely first-choice team in Durban was a bitter morale blow.

South Africa surrendered control after leading 6-0 at half-time and supporters of the green and gold are becoming increasingly concerned whether a vastly experienced but underperforming side can become the first country to successfully defend the world title.

“We were not happy losing to Australia but did a lot of things right in the Test — small things we have really been working hard on — and that was good. This weekend we have to be even better in our execution,” a forever upbeat De Villiers told reporters on Monday.

New Zealand coach Graham Henry, who has rested key players fly-half Dan Carter and flanker and captain Richie McCaw for the first Test between the countries in Port Elizabeth since 1970, will announce his team on Thursday. — AFP

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