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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Springboks Face Scandals, Injuries and New Zealand

DURBAN, South Africa -- Although New Zealand has suffered the loss of elegant fly-half Andrew Mehrtens, it pales into insignificance compared to the squalls that have hit the Springboks in advance of Saturday's first test in Durban.


The All Blacks, who beat South Africa in Saturday's Tri-Nations finale in Cape Town 29-18, lost Mehrtens to a knee injury on Tuesday.


Experienced Simon Culhane, who scored a record 45 points against Japan in last year's World Cup, replaces him in the only change from last weekend's team as the two countries begin a three-test series over three successive weekends.


But the host country has been beset by controversy and scandal.


On Thursday it was announced that utility back James Small was to be disciplined for attending a nightclub into the early hours of the morning less than 48 hours before kickoff in Cape Town.


Small, who is South Africa's most capped post-apartheid international with 31 appearances, had already been excluded for the Durban test on his home turf. Any further punishment is still to be announced.


While Small was being hauled over the coals, hooker James Dalton, sent off and banned for fighting from last year's World Cup, was recalled.


Prop Os du Randt appeared to be fortunate to retain his place after being fined and severely reprimanded for feigning injury in order to be replaced in the Cape Town test.


Local newspapers reported du Randt left the field because he was "fed up" with the way the game was going.


Perhaps even more controversially, hooker Henry Tromp, who served several months in jail over an assault conviction following the death of a black laborer, was awarded his first test cap.


Against that backdrop, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel was reported to have backed the All Blacks during the Cape Town test because Springbok rugby was "a white minority game."


All this comes on the back of a controversy over national flags and injuries to key players such as skipper Francois Pienaar, who is out of the series with a slipped vertebra in the lower neck sustained in last weekend's match against the All Blacks.


"The pressure has definitely been building up on us," said coach Andre Markgraaff. "But when things like this happen, sometimes it can make a side stronger. This team has received no credit for what it has achieved in the face of severe disruptions week after week."


New Zealand, flushed from their Cape Town win, have had a serene week in comparison despite the Mehrtens injury. The only selection dilemma facing coach John Hart was whether to recall giant winger Jonah Lomu.


He made a try-scoring return from injury in the 31-23 victory over Eastern Province in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday but looked less than fully fit following a torn cartilage problem in his left knee.


If New Zealand wins Saturday it will redress the imbalance, as they see it, of their meetings with South Africa.


The Springboks are the only country in world rugby to have won more games than they have lost against the All Blacks. A New Zealand win at Kings Park would give both sides 22 victories in the 75-year history of their meetings.