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South Africa's Victor Matfield fit to tour Australia and NZ; Willem Alberts to be assessed

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa - Victor Matfield has been declared fit to tour in a timely boost for a struggling South African forward pack that faces back-to-back Rugby Championship tests in Australia and New Zealand.

Matfield — a veteran second-rower and South Africa's most capped player — has recovered from a knee problem that kept him out of the Springboks' narrow home and away wins over Argentina, the South African Rugby Union said.

The 37-year-old World Cup winner's return is welcome news for South Africa, which was dominated in the scrums and unsettled in the lineouts and only scraped home against the Pumas in Pretoria and Salta.

Prop Frans Malherbe was ruled out of the Australasia tour with an ankle injury, however, robbing the under-pressure Springboks front five of one of its options. Malherbe fractured his ankle in the 33-31 win over Argentina in Salta on Saturday and will likely not play again this season. Marcel van der Merwe was called up.

Along with Matfield, powerful flanker Willem Alberts will also rejoin the squad in Johannesburg on Thursday and have a fitness test on a hamstring injury that kept him out of the opening two rounds of the Rugby Championship. The Springboks fly to Australia on Saturday ahead of games against Australia on Sept. 6 and top-ranked world and southern hemisphere champion New Zealand on Sept. 13.

With 113 test caps, Matfield's experience will be vital to South Africa after it made a stumbling start to the tournament and needed a 20-minute burst at the end of this weekend's game in Argentina to overhaul a 28-16 deficit.

"It will be good to have them back," Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer said of the impending return of Matfield and Alberts.

No. 2-ranked South Africa was hoping to close the gap on the All Blacks this season ahead of a World Cup year in 2015, but produced stuttering performances in its first two championship matches while New Zealand dismantled Australia 51-20 on Saturday in Auckland.

Wing Bryan Habana is in line to play his 100th test in Perth against Australia, the fourth South African to reach that milestone after Matfield, John Smit and Percy Montgomery.

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