Rugby in Port Elizabeth: Much more to come
Port Elizabeth is going to become much more involved in hosting top rugby fixtures in the near future, with the 46 000-seater Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium set to host at least 1 Test match each year, while the local domestic franchise, the Kings, will be competing in the Super Rugby competition in 2013.
I don't have any ties with Port Elizabeth, but I am very stoked about the opportunities that will now be afforded to rugby fans, and especially to rugby players, in the Eastern Cape. Rugby has been a popular sport in this region for many years and many talented players have been produced by schools in the province.
The absence of a Super Rugby team in the region, however, meant that players like Brent Russell, the Ndungane twins (Odwa and Akona), Luke Watson, Gcobani Bobo, Ryan Kankowski, Rory Kockott, Lwazi Mvovo and Bandise Maku, had to further their careers elsewhere.
Watson has returned to Port Elizabeth and will lead the Kings during their inaugural Super Rugby season in 2013. I hope that many other ex-Eastern Cape players will also return home to make the most of the opportunity that has been created.
People in the Eastern Cape are known for their hospitality, and international rugby fans who visit here in the near future will enjoy the banter they get involved in. Port Elizabeth is a 100-minute flight from Johannesburg, and just an hour from Durban and Cape Town.
People in the Eastern Cape are known for their hospitality, and international rugby fans who visit here in the near future will enjoy the banter they get involved in.
Last year the Springboks beat the All Blacks 18-5 in the 1st international fixture to be played at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, with all of their points coming from the boot of flyhalf Morné Steyn.
On Saturday, 23 June, the Springboks take on England in the 3rd match of a 3-match series.
Because of injuries, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has been forced to pick a very inexperienced pack, with 4 of the 8 forwards in their 1st international series. Hooker Bismarck du Plessis will be key in establishing some momentum for the home team, while the prospect of Gio Aplon, Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen playing together at the back is pretty exciting.
England deserve to go home with a win, given the way they've competed this tour, and if they can build on their second-half performance of last weekend, they could just do that. Manu Tuilagi is a brute of a human being and it's going to be interesting to see how Steyn and centre Wynand Olivier handle his physicality in the midfield.
Below are the teams for Saturday's encounter. The match starts at 5pm South African time.
15 Gio Aplon, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira. Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Bjorn Basson.
15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Ben Foden, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Danny Care, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 James Haskell, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Tom Palmer, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Alex Corbisiero. Replacements: 16 Lee Mears, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Mouritz Botha, 19 Phil Dowson, 20 Lee Dickson, 21 Owen Farrell, 22 Brad Barritt.