Frans shores up Bok midfield

Peter de Villiers has picked Frans Steyn at centre while Pat Lambie and Odwa Ndungane have been brought straight into the starting side.

Other changes to the team that started against Wales include Bakkie Botha in the second row, and Gurthro Steenkamp at loosehead prop. Ruan Pienaar and Juan de Jongh are named on the bench for the first time in the tournament. Bryan Habana (patella) and Butch James (hip-flexor) weren’t considered because of injuries, while Johann Muller (hamstring) will face a late fitness test and could be replaced by Francois Louw.

The Bok coach explained that the selections were based on the need to give some of the fringe players game time. He added that Steyn’s positional switch from fullback to inside centre is because Fiji will target the Boks’ No 12 channel.

‘We looked at the opposition’s strengths, and we can’t allow what happened last week to happen when we play Fiji on Saturday,’ said De Villiers. ‘Frans has played the whole year at 12 [at French club Racing Metro], and is suited to the task. We can’t give them any momentum, we need to have someone who can stop them in that channel.’

Jean de Villiers is unavailable due to a rib cartilage injury and initially it was expected that one of Juan de Jongh or Butch James would replace him at No 12. But De Villiers is adamant that Steyn, who played inside centre for the Boks for much of their successful 2007 World Cup campaign, is the man to stifle the hard-running Fijians.

‘Juan has been selected on the bench, and so he will get his chance [in the second half],’ he said of De Jongh’s involvement.

Lambie returns to the side having recovered from a shoulder injury, while Botha (Achilles) only began running with the team on Wednesday. The Bok coach doesn’t believe that it is too soon to start these players.

‘We will never take risks. There probably isn’t a player on that list that isn’t carrying a niggle, but they are all fit enough to play.

‘It’s going to be a brilliant exercise. Some of these players need game time. A guy like Gurthro also needs to get on the park. We will need all these players at the end of the tournament. If they come off the bench or if there’s an injury later on, you want them to be match-fit.’

Bok captain John Smit added that Fiji would be a much tougher prospect than they were in 2007. The Boks had to fight tooth and nail to win that quarter-final encounter, and many of the players who featured on that occasion are still with the team.

‘We need to try and apply ourselves in the right areas of the field,’ said Smit. ‘We’ve seen how they played [against Namibia] and it’s going to be far more challenging this time around.’

Springboks - 15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Odwa Ndungane, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Danie Rossouw, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Gurthro Steenkamp
Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Johann Muller, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Juan de Jongh.

By Jon Cardinelli, in Wellington