More than anything else, Springbok captain Jean de Villiers wants to see an improvement in his team’s defence when they clash with Ireland in the first of three November Tests today.
De Villiers has shaken off a hamstring injury to take up his position in midfield and he’ll play alongside rookie back Jaco Taute, who’ll earn only his third cap this evening. Opposing the De Villiers-Taute duo will be the very experienced and highly rated pairing of Gordon D’Arcy and Keith Earls, both senior Lions players who have several Test caps between them.
And even though Ireland have to do without the inspirational Brian O’Driscoll, De Villiers believes their opponents will ask plenty of questions at the Aviva Stadium. And, he said yesterday, if his side weren’t up to the challenge, Ireland would rip the Boks apart.
“The one area where we really want to improve on this tour is in defence,” said De Villiers yesterday. “We let in a couple of soft tries in our previous games (against Australia and New Zealand) ... and if we’re not up to it on the day the Irish have the capability of cutting us to shreds.”
The Bok skipper also felt his team would have to step up in the breakdown area, especially if the weather was bad tonight, but De Villiers said he was generally pleased with other aspects of his team’s game going into tonight’s match. “When we left home the goal was for us to grow as a team.”
Coach Heyneke Meyer will also be looking for answers tonight, and over the course of the tour, one being about the identity of his flyhalf going forward. Today it’s the turn of Pat Lambie to wear the No10 on his back, the fourth flyhalf to feature for the Boks this season. The others have been Morné Steyn, Johan Goosen and Elton Jantjies.
“Pat’s a class player and over the last couple of years he’s shown what he can do at all levels of the game. He’s a real all-rounder, playing at 10, 12 and 15, but now he gets his chance at 10. He’s got the full skills to succeed at this level and I’m confident he’ll lead the side well. He’s got a great temperament and I know he’ll do everything expected of him.”
De Villiers said it didn’t make any difference that the backs would have a fourth No10 running the show. “It doesn’t matter, they all bring their own touch to the game. They’re four different players, each with something special to add. I feel for Elton (that he misses out on the squad today), but Morné’s won so many games for us in the past. It’s a great position for us to be in, we haven’t had so much depth at flyhalf for many years.”
Going into the last three games of the season, one which has not gone as well as South Africans would have hoped with Meyer in charge, De Villiers said it had been a difficult year with so many players retiring after last year’s World Cup, others moving abroad and several men being out through injury. “Four years ago after the (2007) World Cup the bulk of the team was still there and we simply took everything forward to the next year. It hasn’t been like that this time around and we’ve had to rebuild.
“We got a new coach, new captain and a bunch of new players so while it’s been exciting it’s also been a big challenge. We need to start growing now and getting to know each other better ... and this match, and the tour as a whole, gives the youngsters an opportunity to put up their hands.”
Indeed, several Boks are on trial today ... a Test that could very well determine their continued association with the team. Kick-off is 7.30pm.