Bismarck back for Boks against All Blacks
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Bismarck du Plessis was recalled as expected by South Africa on Wednesday to start against New Zealand in the Rugby Championship decider at Ellis Park this weekend.
Du Plessis, who was sent off in the loss to the All Blacks in Auckland, was one of two definite changes to the run-on team, with Juandre Kurger also in for suspended lock Flip van der Merwe for Saturday’s showdown against the world and southern hemisphere champion.
New Zealand is favorite to take the title, and can win a 12th crown in 18 seasons with a losing bonus point. The Springboks must win with at least four tries and deny the All Blacks any losing bonus points to win the title for the first time since 2009. New Zealand has conceded only six tries in five games in the championship.
Coach Heyneke Meyer said center JJ Engelbrecht was a doubt for the last-round match and young Jan Serfontein will start his first test if Engelbrecht doesn’t recover from a thigh injury.
Uncapped lock Franco van der Merwe was picked on the bench and will probably make his test debut at his home ground in Johannesburg. Prop Tendai Mtawarira plays his 50th test, South Africa’s latest front-rower to reach the mark this season after the Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, earlier in the competition.
Meyer said he wanted “Bismarck to be Bismarck” on his return and give the Springboks a physical edge against a New Zealand team that has won five from five and is in line for a perfect Rugby Championship.
Engelbrecht’s possible absence in the backline with a bruised thigh muscle may be a more important factor for South Africa, which must show attacking initiative and score four tries against the All Blacks for the first time since 2004, and shut down the world’s best attacking team, to come from behind and take the title.
Smiling, Meyer repeatedly said at Wednesday’s news conference at the team hotel that he had not promised his team would score four tries, a comment that might be seen as mind games. A prized victory over New Zealand might be enough for South Africa.
“We’re just going to play positive,” Meyer said. “Obviously you have to believe.”
Should Engelbrecht not prove his fitness by South Africa’s light training run at Ellis Park on Friday, Serfontein would wear the No. 13 jersey outside captain Jean de Villiers, Meyer said. The coach rates the 20-year-old Serfontein highly after he captained South Africa to victory in the 2012 Junior World Cup, beating New Zealand in the final.
“I’m really confident with Jan. I think he’s going to be one of South Africa’s greats,” Meyer said.
South Africa: Zane Kirchner, Willie le Roux, JJ Engelbrecht or Jan Serfontein, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez; Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Adriaan Strauss, Gurthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Franco van der Merwe, Siya Kolisi, Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein or Juan de Jongh.
Follow Gerald Imray at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP