South African coach Peter de Villiers, saying that he has planned for “all eventualities”, feels that it is better to start with a ‘half fit’ Bakkies Botha than bringing him on as a replacement.
Rugby 365 reports that Botha has been included in the Springbok starting line-up for the World Cup holders’ Test against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.
It had been thought that De Villiers would omit Botha, one of the stars of the side that beat England in last year’s World Cup Final in Paris, because of a lack of match fitness.
But Botha will once again be alongside Victor Matfield in the second row – for a record 43rd Test.
His inclusion came as a major surprise just a day after Bok team doctor Craig Roberts told the media Botha would not be able to last more than 20 or 30 minutes on the pitch – given the lock had been out since August 9 with a knee injury sustained against Argentina.
Botha was named for the three-Test trip to the United Kingdom after overcoming two serious injuries in the past 12 months.
He underwent surgery after injuring his ankle in the Springboks’ encounter with Wales in Cardiff last November.
Having finally worked his way back to full fitness in the latter stages of the Super 14 and then the first half of the Tri-Nations, Botha damaged his posterior knee ligaments in a Test against Argentina in August.
However, the Bok coach was adamant that starting with Botha – despite the obvious risk that the lock could break down again – was the best way to go.
“He looks to be in good shape and we’re prepared to take a chance with him in the starting line-up. We’ll see how he does,” De Villiers told a media gathering in Cardiff on Tuesday.
“We are prepared if we have to take him off and we’re prepared for all eventualities.”
The Bok coach said the risk is “greater” if they send Botha on as a substitute.
“If we start with him and something goes wrong, we can replace him. It could turn out to be problematic if Botha has to depart earlier than planned.”
Andries Bekker will then join Victor Matfield in the second row.
The other topic of debate on Tuesday was the widely anticipated move of captain John Smit from hooker to tighthead prop – to accommodate the in-form Bismarck du Plessis.
“It’s a major challenge for me, and one I am looking forward to,” the Bok captain, Smit, said.
“I’m aware I’m coming up against a strong loosehead in Gethin [Jenkins] and he’s likely to be a tough opponent. But that’s what makes the challenge greater.”
Thirteen of the 22 players that were involved in last year’s November Test against Wales at the Millennium Stadium have been included on Tuesday.
“Such experience is a tremendous advantage. The players have been together for a long time,” said Smit.
“The experience does not only stretch to last year. We have played here a couple of times.”
Matfield has no doubt that Smit will be up to the task.
“John has heaps of experience. He also played in France, where the scrumming is tougher than anywhere else in world rugby,” said Matfield.Tweet