Springboks take a humble approach ahead of RWC game vs US
LONDON (AP) Of the four teams in action Wednesday, only two-time champion South Africa has a realistic chance of progressing to the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals.
Don’t expect that to take any heat out of the contests when the Springboks bid to seal top spot in Pool B with a win over the United States at the Olympic stadium, and Georgia takes on Namibia in Pool C.
The South Africans have selected a nearly full-strength lineup to play the winless Americans – they aren’t taking any chances after being upended by Japan in the first weekend of the tournament, a shocking loss that ranks as the biggest upset ever at the World Cup. Veteran flanker Schalk Burger, a former world player of the year and World Cup champion, is set to equal John Smit’s South Africa record of 17 RWC appearances.
”You have to stay humble and respect every single opponent,” Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer said, reflecting Monday on the main lesson of the tournament to date. The U.S. Eagles ”have shown they are a world-class team, they’re very difficult to play against, very physical, a lot of big, strong forwards and great runners in midfield.”
The top two teams in each pool advance to the quarterfinals, and there’s a consolation prize for the teams which place third – automatic qualification for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
The U.S. Eagles only have a short turnaround between their third and fourth games, so they’re following the lead of some other Tier Two countries by leaving a core group of first-choice players out against the top-tier nation so they can focus on chasing a win in their last game against Japan on Sunday.
The Georgians rested several key players against defending champion New Zealand last Friday, although with inspirational skipper Mamuka Gorgodze leading the way they gave the All Blacks a torrid time despite the 43-10 score. They’re back to full strength against the last-place Namibians.
Here’s a look at Wednesday’s matches:
SOUTH AFRICA vs. UNITED STATES (3-0 overall, 1-0 in RWC), Olympic Stadium, 1545 GMT
Meyer didn’t want to take any risks against the Americans, making only two changes to the starting lineup that beat Scotland 34-16 over the weekend. He didn’t want to gamble on the fitness of some key players, either, so he left veteran lock Victor Matfield, prop Jannie du Plessis and flying winger JP Pietersen out of the 23-man squad for South Africa’s last pool game.
”Victor and Jannie were a 50-50 call but you want to go with guys who are high percent fit. To look past this game would be arrogant and we don’t want to do that,” Meyer said.
The South Africans were comprehensive 64-15 winners in the last head-to-head at Montpellier in 2007, the year they went on to win the World Cup. Burger and winger Bryan Habana played for the Springboks in that game.
Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez will lead the Springboks for the second time and Morne Steyn to the reserves bench, giving him potentially his first cap for the tournament.
After losing 26-16 to Samoa and 39-16 to Scotland, U.S. coach Mike Tolkin wants to keep most of frontline starters fresh for the Japan match.
South Africa-born scrumhalf Niku Kruger will make his World Cup debut in a team led by No. 8 Samu Manoa.
Lou Stanfill, who faced the Springboks at the 2007 World Cup, hasn’t ruled out a repeat of Japan’s ”massive upset.”
”At any point of contact one person can lose,” Stanfill said, ”and we’re planning on not being on that losing end.”
GEORGIA vs. NAMIBIA (3-1 overall, 1-0 in RWC), Exeter, 1900 GMT
Gorgodze is shifting back to No. 8 to start his 11th Rugby World Cup match, a record for Georgia, which opened with a 17-10 upset win over Tonga.
Gorgodze started in the 54-9 loss to Argentina and the loss to the All Blacks but is more confident when taking on Namibia, which is 0-17 in Rugby World Cup matches. He was part of the team that won the only previous World Cup meeting between the two countries in `07, Georgia’s first win the tournament.
Gorgodze is the leading tackler so far in the tournament with 40, including 24 in a man-of-the-match performance against Tonga.
The 18-year-old Vasil Lobzhanidze, the World Cup’s youngest ever player, returns to the starting XV at scrumhalf in an otherwise very experienced Georgia team boasting 693 test caps – the national record. It will be Georgia’s last game of the tournament, where they’re aiming to finish third.
Namibia lost their first two matches 58-14 to New Zealand and 35-21 to Tonga. There were some highlights against the Tongans, with captain Jacques Burger becoming the first Namibia player to score two tries in a Rugby World Cup match and Namibia scoring three times in a match for the first time on the sport’s biggest stage.
Loosehead prop Johnny Redelinghuys returns to the starting lineup and is set to be the first Namibian to appear in 50 tests.