DURBAN – South Africa 'A' coach Johan Ackermann has urged his players to put in strong performances in Friday's match against the touring French Barbarians at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
Ackermann said the players should use their South Africa 'A' stint to prepare for Springbok call-ups; "The South Africa 'A' players now have an opportunity to ready themselves for the Springboks should there be call-ups.
"You will never know when the Springboks require players because injuries sometimes occur and I've told them that they need to make sure that they are fit and ready to make the step up. They need to ensure that their performance on Friday will put them in line to make the step up."
There is a fair amount of international experience in the South Africa 'A' ranks and Ackermann feels that despite limited training time, the players will strike up cohesion in the match.
"The players arrived here at the weekend and are all in form and excited which is a good sign. We have been working hard and hopefully, we'll get to work at the stadium before the match," said Ackermann.
"It's good to get the feel of the stadium because rugby is not usually played there. Last year we didn't get the desired results (against England A) but again this is a home game for us and we want to give a good account of ourselves.
"We know how the French play and we've seen their players in the Top 14 competition. It's going to be challenging for us. We have quality players in the squad, with a number of Springboks in our ranks.
"Since rugby is coming to the Moses Mabhida Stadium for the first time, it's a real honour for me as a coach. Obviously, l learnt a few things last year when I did it for the first time. There's not much time and there are a lot of boxes to tick.
"You have to give the team a crash course in a few days and get them to gel. As coaches, our purpose is to add value to the team and it is our responsibility to challenge the players. We must let them know that they are representing the country, and when they do it is an opportunity to showcase their talents."
South Africa A captain Juan de Jongh is one of seven Springboks in the squad. He feels the team will cope with the unusual surroundings in which the spectators will be rather close to the playing field (than is the case at the neighboring Kings Park Stadium).
"At this level of rugby, players can play anywhere in the world. You just know it is going to be a challenge when you get to a new venue," said De Jongh. "We often drive past this stadium and it is going to be awesome to finally play there. It will be great if there is a big crowd because that will inspire us on the field of play.
"From a player's point of view, it’s a massive honour to wear a Springbok on the chest. It doesn’t matter if it’s for the A team or the B team. We are players from different unions, so it’s important for us to be up for the big challenge on Friday."
Centre Francois Venter, who was named in the SA 'A' squad for Friday's match, has been called up to the Springbok squad as midfield cover after Jesse Kriel was sidelined after suffering concussion in the first Test against France at Loftus. Bulls flyhalf Handre Pollard has been called up as a replacement for Venter, but will only join the squad on Sunday when they arrive in Johannesburg.
Juan de Jongh was named captain of the SA ‘A’ team. Photo: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix