Boks glad the wait is over

2009-06-20 00:00

SOUTH African captain John Smit said yesterday he was glad the waiting was finally over, while British Lions head coach Ian McGeechan described the Springboks as the “best team in the world” on the eve of the first Test at King’s Park today.

Smit, who broke his contract with Clermont in 2008 in order to play against the Lions, said in Umhlanga yesterday that the series was “more special than the World Cup.”

“It is such a rare occasion, it has been a big build-up and a relief it is finally here. I just pray the quality of the game lives up to the hype and excitement.

“The Lions is the last real old-school series that is left. It carries more than 100 years of history and the hype has been much bigger than any other Test match. There’s so much at stake and we won’t have another chance to relive this.”

Smit said the importance of the occasion had made his job easy — “I haven’t had to reproduce my Braveheart speech once to motivate the players.”

The Bok captain said he was happy with the team’s preparations “in two productive weeks in which we covered all the bases”.

Continuity in the squad was also an advantage, he added, with many of the Boks involved in the RWC in 2007.

“It can only be a boost because you can draw on those experiences in a tight game,” Smit said.

McGeechan said that the Springboks have “a settled group of players with the talent to play either the power game or a more subtle one.”

“I agree with Robbie Deans [the Wallaby coach] that they are the strongest team in world rugby and we have no illusions about the challenge facing us.”

Warren Gatland, his assistant and the Welsh national coach, echoed the view.

“South Africa are the best team in the world. They’re world champions and went through the autumn series [in the UK] last year undefeated,” he said.

Gatland, a New Zealander, said yesterday that the Lions were prepared to take on the Boks physically in what will be “a game of chess with collisions”.

“Winning those collisions physically in defence is crucial. You have to create quick ball on attack and slow up the opposition’s ball in defence. It’s a bit like a game of chess,” he said, adding that the team dominating the breakdown would win the series.

Gatland said France’s shock 27-22 win over New Zealand last week was a boost, particularly as many key Springboks have not played for six weeks.

“Traditionally in the first Test, you do have an opportunity to catch the home team underdone. We’ve got six games under our belt so we’ll go into this game full of confidence and self-belief.

“We have to go out there and impose our game on them. We have a lineout that can deliver us good ball and, in terms of mobility of the forward pack, we think we can get around the park and we’ve got some players in the backline that get us across the advantage line.”

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