Mortlock: All Blacks anything but "vulnerable"
Mortlock: All Blacks anything but "vulnerable"

Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock has rubbished suggestions the new-look All Blacks have become increasingly "vulnerable" following their post-World Cup exodus.

The inexperience factor in several areas has been raised as an area of concern following the All Blacks' 30-28 loss to the Springboks in Dunedin last weekend.

The world champions have now crossed the Tasman and will play Mortlock's Wallabies in Perth on Saturday night.

Mortlock said he was surprised at the comments, saying the talent the All Blacks had both in their squad, and also on the fringes of selection, meant they were still one of the true forces in world rugby.

"New Zealand have been in good form this year," Mortlock told Yahoo!Xtra.

"That game in Dunedin could have gone either way in the end. And if it had of gone New Zealand's way, I don't think there would have been any issue talking about whether they were under-strength or are they vulnerable.

"They are still a force to be reckoned with.

"And they are a little bit wounded, like we are, from results from last year."

Springbok coach Peter de Villiers confirmed his match squad for Saturday' Tri Nations encounter on Thursday afternoon.

He has included Francois Steyn at centre for the injured Adrian Jacobs, brought back fullback Conrad Jantjes for Percy Montgomery and introduced Pierre Spies at No 8 for Joe van Niekerk.

He has also gone for a five forward/two back split on the reserves bench.

The Wallabies go into their first match of the Tri Nations on the back of a win over Ireland and two victories over a weakened French outfit.

Mortlock said he believed his side had progressed with each of their tests in 2008, but the evidence of how much they had grown would remain a mystery until after Saturday's clash with the Springboks.

"It is a big challenge for us, in particular facing the world champions first and foremost," Mortlock said.

"It is the first time we will be facing South Africa with the tag of world champions.

"They have come off a massive result in Dunedin. I have no doubt their confidence would have grown immensely by that win."

The Springboks hit back to beat the All Blacks last weekend after losing the first test of the Tri Nations 19-8.

They then had a tumultuous week off the field, with coach de Villiers being slammed in the media in both New Zealand and South Africa.

They also lost their captain John Smit with a tournament-ending groin injury.

But Mortlock said the fight shown by the South Africans had to be expected.

"Personally, I didn't see it as a huge surprise," he said.

"They have put it out there publicly in the media that for a fair few of their players the reason they stuck with South African rugby was that a lot of their guys hadn't won in New Zealand.

"As a crew, they have grown from their World Cup success last year and they would have been quite disappointed by their first-up effort.

"I was expecting a very tight game and that was exactly what we got. It was a very spirited performance, you only had to look at their reactions afterwards to see how impressed and happy they were with the win."

Springboks v Wallabies: Conrad Jantjes, JP Pietersen, Francois Steyn, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Butch James, Ricky Januarie, Pierre Spies, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield (c), Bakkies Botha, CJ van der Linde, Schalk Brits, Gurthro Steenkamp. Reserves: Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira, Brian Mujati, Andries Bekker, Ryan Kankowski, Ruan Pienaar, Peter Grant.

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