For the sake of centenary clash, wounded Springboks must win against Australia
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DURBAN - THE Springboks will tell you that the most important game to them is the one directly in front of them but that is not necessarily always true, particularly if you happen to be playing the All Blacks the following week in an eagerly awaited centenary jubilee.
This is the situation for the Boks as they tackle the Wallabies in a return Rugby Championship match in Brisbane tomorrow which can be seen as a warm-up of sorts to that almighty 100th Test in 100 years clash with the Boks’ oldest and most bitter of rivals.
And that is said with the greatest respect to the courageous Australians who surprised the rugby world by beating the error-prone Boks last week and will be hellbent on winning their first back-to-back Tests for two years.
The Boks dearly want to win next week but if they lose tomorrow, the gloss will not only be taken off the ’Clash of Champions’ but the Boks’ confidence would also be seriously — perhaps fatally — impaired.
After all, the All Blacks have just demolished the self-same Wallabies in three consecutive Tests and last week, in the “curtain-raiser” to the South Africa-Australia game, they contemptuously brushed off Argentina.
The Kiwis are indeed building up a mighty head of steam going into the centenary Test while their opponents faltered last week and cannot afford to do so again.
A convincing Springbok win over the Wallabies tomorrow will keep intact the allure of the centenary Test, a loss would dull the gloss.
Before last week’s match, South Africans who understand the Springbok psyche were deeply worried about the outcome because history shows that the Boks have a knack of losing matches they are expected to win, and that they play their best when their backs are against the wall.
It is the big difference between the Boks and the All Blacks, who are the favourites every time they step on the pitch yet rise to the occasion almost every time.
The stereotype of “beware the wounded Springbok” was alluded to yesterday by impact substitute Kwagga Smith when he spoke to the media.
“We like it tough — it is what we like — and we’re looking forward to what is coming,” Smith said. “It is going to be a huge battle because while we will be going hard at them, we know they will be doing the same. They know what to expect from us.”
Of course they do. The rugby world knows that the Boks are always at their most menacing the week after a shock loss.
“It was a very disappointed changeroom last week,” Smith said.
“Obviously we had analysed them beforehand and looked at things they do off the ball to manipulate the defence but even though we knew it was coming, I feel we did not do enough to stop their momentum, and that gave them a chance to build phases and attack us,” the 28-year-old lamented.
“We could have closed the game out easily at the end, but there were also opportunities in the game to take control, and we did score three tries to one,” Smith said.
“Although they scored only one try, they did get a lot of momentum, so we have to make sure we back our defence and stop them in their tracks.
“Luckily it is stuff we know we can fix — it really boils down to us establishing momentum while halting theirs — and we will be ready.”
For the sake of next week’s big centenary bash, let’s hope so. I have a feeling the whole of New Zealand will join South Africa in cheering on the Boks.
Springbok starting XV: Willie le Roux, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Duane Vermeulen, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (capt), Marvin Orie, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane; Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith, Jasper Wiese, Herschel Jantjies, Damian Willemse
Wallabies starting VX: Tom Banks, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Nic White; Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (capt), Lachlan Swinton, Matt Philip, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper; Replacements: Feleti Kaitu’u, Angus Bell, Tom Robertson, Darcy Swain, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, Reece Hodge, Jordan Petaia.