Springboks to give Vermeulen late fitness test

A late fitness test will decide whether outstanding South Africa No. 8 Duane Vermeulen plays against New Zealand Saturday in the Rugby Championship.

He suffered a rib cartilage injury in the 28-10 triumph over Australia last weekend and retired during the second half.

Should Vermeulen be unable to line up against the Championship winners in Johannesburg, veteran Schalk Burger will start with Warren Whiteley coming in on the bench.

“We will give Duane as much time as possible before making a final call,” Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer said Wednesday after the team was named.

“He has been one of our best players in the last couple of weeks and is responding well to medical treatment.

“However, if he cannot make it we can fall back on the experience of Schalk to start at No. 8 with Warren coming on to the bench.

“The impact of Schalk when he came on last weekend was massive, but so was the rest of the bench and we will be looking for more of the same this Saturday.”

Should Vermeulen start, there will be only one change to the side that buried the Wallabies under a late try avalanche with hooker Bismarck du Plessis replacing Adriaan Strauss.

“We have decided to rotate Bismarck and Adriaan, both of whom must rank among the best hookers in the world at the moment,” Meyer said.

South Africa hope to end a five-match losing streak against New Zealand in one of the great rugby rivalries.

The All Blacks edged the Springboks 14-10 in Wellington this month this month thanks to an opportunist second-half try from flank and skipper Richie McCaw.

New Zealand, who clinched a third consecutive Championship title by winning in Argentlna last weekend, name their team Thursday.

Team (15-1)

Willie le Roux; Cornal Hendricks, Jan Serfontein, Jean de Villiers (capt), Bryan Habana; Handre Pollard, Francois Hougaard; Duane Vermeulen or Schalk Burger, Teboho Mohoje, Marcell Coetzee; Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth; Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Marcel van der Merwe, Bakkies Botha, Schalk Burger or Warren Whiteley, Cobus Reinach, Patrick Lambie, JP Pietersen

Coach: Heyneke Meyer