WALES, repeatedly exposed in the line-out during the recent World Cup warm-up programme, cannot be terribly confident of prospering against the master of the art, Victor Matfield of South Africa, when they take on the reigning champions in their opening match on Sunday. Their chances will be even slimmer if Matfield's partner in crime - the phrase is used advisedly - is declared fit for purpose of the dark and menacing kind.
Bakkies Botha, the ruthless enforcer who played a central role in the Springbok triumph of four years ago, is struggling with a nasty Achilles condition that occasionally flares up and renders him immobile. "He's a person you'll always miss in a special way," said his fellow forward Pierre Spies, rather euphemistically, in confirming that Botha was regarded as doubtful for the contest in Wellington. "But it's important for us to keep to our routine and, fortunately, Danie Rossouw is very similar. We won't change. We'll stick to our plans."
Ireland also have their injury concerns, not least over the high-calibre flanker Sean O'Brien - a crucial back-row figure, given the absence of the Lions Test forward David Wallace and the questionable form and fitness of Stephen Ferris. O'Brien has been struggling with a knee problem, and there were rumours circulating yesterday that he might struggle to play in any of the four pool games.
Argentina, meanwhile, have made only a single change to the side beaten by Wales in Cardiff last month for this weekend's opener with England. Gonzalo Tiesi, a centre who spent time in the Premiership with London Irish and Harlequins before switching to Paris with Stade FranAais, will start in midfield ahead of another France-based player, Marcelo Bosch of Biarritz. As expected, the new tight-head prop Juan Figallo holds his place ahead of the more experience Martin Scelzo.
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