Photo Ready: John Smit (centre) will lead the Boks to Australia and New Zealand

By Charity Knight

THE START of this year’s Tri-Nations will be marred by controversy, as South Africa have withdrawn 21 players from their World Cup training squad for the away leg of the tournament because of injuries.

The Springboks are set to meet Australia in Sydney on 23 July and New Zealand in Wellington on 30 July with a significantly weakened team.

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) called for an investigation by SANZAR into the high number of injuries. The ARU highlighted a similar tactic by the Springboks in 2007 when they claimed a lack of availability before going on to win the World Cup.

ARU chief executive John O’Neill said: “The difference between 2007 and now is that we now have a permanent SANZAR office with a CEO, who has the job of monitoring and policing such matters.”

He added: “We’re not in a position to second-guess the Springboks, and we also have our share of injured players. But it is nowhere near 21. The sheer size of the number of players who are injured is unusual.”

Flex: Springbok training camp

However, SANZAR’s chief executive officer Greg Peters dismissed the ARU’s fears commenting that SANZAR had “sought and received” assurances from South Africa that they will field their best possible side during the competition.

“The list is longer than we had hoped for, but there are clear and unambiguous injuries in that team,” he added.

Many of those injured are prominent players in the Springbok squad, including vice-captain Victor Matfield, hooker Bismarck du Plessis, fly-half Butch James and winger Bryan Habana, meaning their team will feature many second string players.