DURBAN - One of the mantras in the Springbok camp since they regrouped for the November tour is “one swallow does not make a summer", a reference to the need to replicate the intensity of their last performance against the All Blacks in Saturday’s Test against Ireland in Dublin.
The Irish have been asking in their media (and they are not alone around the rugby world) which Springbok team will pitch at the Aviva Stadium - the one pumped 57-0 by the All Blacks in Albany or the one that was arguably unlucky to lose 25-24 in a classic encounter in Cape Town on October 7?
That Rugby Championship Test was the last occasion the Boks were in action and forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot said in Dublin that the Springboks are steadfast that they will not “take a step backwards” on Saturday.
“I can understand why people would think that our performance was about righting the wrongs of the previous match against the All Blacks, and might have been a one-off,” Proudfoot said.
“Some of that is true. Of course we were hurting from that humiliation, but that game was also about the Springboks and how we want to play and what we wanted to say about ourselves.
"We proved to ourselves what we are capable of doing and it is crucial that we transfer the emotion with which we played and the good parts of our performance to the Aviva Stadium. But we have to be shrewd about how we do that because each top team has some unique characteristics.”
He pointed out that the Boks had tactically played differently in their two draws with Australia and then designed a game plan for Newlands that was about the Boks’ strengths but also designed to counter the New Zealand style, in particular the way they defend with their quick line speed.
Ireland are a position above the Boks on the IRB rankings (fourth) and have an experienced side that beat the All Blacks last November and a number of their players featured in the Lions’ drawn series with the All Blacks.
“It is fact that (Ireland coach) Joe Schmidt is a smart technician and has a very clever support staff,” Proudfoot said. “Joe shows you one thing (in a match) and then hits you with another in the next game.
"Brendan Venter has spent a lot of time looking at what they do on attack and how effective they are. A culture of innovation permeates through their coaching team.”
Venter has an exceptional rugby mind and it takes a lot to impress the good doctor.
Boks must be alert
“It’s not just one thing you have to look out for; it’s this and this and this. We’ve got to be well prepared and very alert. That’s why they Ireland are so successful,” Proudfoot added.
Proudfoot’s counterpart at Ireland, former All Blacks prop Greg Feek is one of the cogs in Schmidt’s machine and a reflection of his success with the Ireland pack was the number of Irish forwards in the Lions' Test squad.
The Lions front row that was on the field at the final whistle of the second Test win and the draw in Auckland will start against the Boks on Saturday - Tadgh Furlong, Rory Best and Jack McGrath.
“Feeky has been fantastic with the Irish scrum. It is one thing to have brawn in your players; it is another to have them playing intelligently, as the Irish pack do. We respect that,” Proudfoot said.
“The scrum is as vital as ever in influencing the result and we cannot let their pack get an ascendancy,” Proudfoot said before colourfully adding: “The scrum is like the swim in a triathlon. If you come out of the swim 10th you are not going to win a triathlon. You might not (directly) win games with the scrum but you will definitely lose them if you have a poor scrum.”
Proudfoot hinted that the experience of the Irish front row would prompt Bok coach Allister Coetzee to start with Beast Mtawarira ahead of Steven Kitshoff.
“We are thrilled with the form of the two of them,” he said. “It has been so pleasing to see Steven come back from France to play in South Africa because of his Springbok ambitions. And because of what Steven has learned, I think Beast is playing some of his best rugby for a long time.”