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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

All Blacks Set Squad, Look To Take Series

JOHANNESBURG -- The confident All Blacks announced an unchanged team Thursday in their bid to become the first New Zealand side to win a series in South Africa.


Even though flyhalf Andrew Mehrtens has made a rapid recovery from a cartilage operation, they retain the side which won in Durban last week for the second test in Pretoria on Saturday.


Simon Culhane keeps the number 10 jersey as coach John Hart sticks to his policy of consistency in selection.


This is the ninth successive international in which Hart has named an unchanged pack and, in all, he has used only 19 players.


The Springboks will not whittle down their 23-strong squad until shortly before the kickoff. Changes are expected. Seven were made before last week's 23-19 test defeat.


Lock Mark Andrews said, "We've had a few new players come in because of injuries or whatever and it's been hard for us, but that's no excuse."


Andrews is likely to move back to South Africa's problem position of number four in the lineup with Kobus Wiese coming in at number two to replace Hannes Strydom.


Center Japie Mulder should return after a back problem, with Andre Snyman, Mulder's replacement in Durban, expected to be given a second cap on the wing in place of Pieter Hendriks. Justin Swart would make the positional move to the left wing.


Scrumhalf Joost van der Westhuizen is likely to oust Johan Roux for the number nine jersey in front of his home crowd at Loftus Versfeld.


Northern Transvaal flanker Ruben Kruger is likely to take over as South African captain on his home ground for the second test against New Zealand on Saturday if Gary Teichmann fails a late fitness test.


Number eight Teichmann, who badly bruised his left hip in the 23-19 defeat by the All Blacks last Saturday, was clearly struggling with the injury during a fitness test on Wednesday.


If Teichmann fails his fitness test, his probable replacement would be Northern Transvaal loose forward Schutte Becker.


The only other likely change would see the return of outside center Japie Mulder, who also has to pass a fitness test by Saturday after withdrawing from the Durban test with a back injury. South African team manager Morne du Plessis said, "I know nothing about a Natal bias ... we pick the team purely in terms of the green and gold."


On the subject of provincial bias, Springbok lock Mark Andrews said, "Just look at our national team -- we've got a Natal captain."


The Springbok management scotched rumors on Wednesday that Natal provincial players had been under particular pressure to retain their places in the test side.


The Springboks also face a psychological challenge following three successive test defeats by the All Blacks this season.


All Blacks skipper Sean Fitzpatrick is keen to extend the run. "It's always exciting playing South Africa -- it's the ultimate challenge," he said.


"It's certainly going to be tougher than last week because South Africa will have taken heart from their performance in Durban. I think it will be a lot more open game than that one."


The third and final test is in Johannesburg on August 31.