Boks in a tight corner

2010-07-24 00:00

THE Springboks, who have gone from world champs to world chumps in a couple of short weeks, face a daunting test of character and skill as they take on the Wallabies in their Tri-Nations international at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane today.

The Boks, at a venue where they have never won, are in the tightest of corners. They have this past fortnight been badly exposed by the smarter, faster All Blacks on the field, hammered by the referees, slated by their critics and now backed against the wall by the ill-conceived words of coach Peter de Villiers.

Their coach is taking most of the flak, but the future of their captain, the commitment of their senior players and their tactical approach are also under scrutiny.

The South Africans certainly suffered from inconsistent refereeing in New Zealand, but for De Villiers to blame defeat on the officials — when he selected poorly and the players performed badly — has transformed the Boks into whingers.

These are the worst of days for bulky Bok captain John Smit. He has battled through similar moments during a long, distinguished career, but with the World Cup a year away, time is no longer on his side.

Smit, speaking at the pre-Test briefing yesterday, preferred to remember the golden days.

“This Bok team has learnt to enjoy winning. The success has made the team stay together and keep growing. That’s all the motivation we need, and now it’s just a matter of being accurate and doing the job well.

“We haven’t won at Suncorp, but we’ve managed to turn things around at a lot of other stadiums around the world.”

The Bok captain refuted Australian media claims that his team are “bashers”.

“We wouldn’t have achieved what we have over the last three or four years if we were. Sometimes you have to bash, but if we play the way we can then that will give us a good chance of getting the show back on the road,” Smit said.

Significantly, the All Blacks, with fluent, counter-attacking rugby and quick recycling behind a physical pack, have presented the Wallabies with the perfect blueprint to beat the Boks. The Australians in turn believe they have the tools, the physicality at forward and the pace at three-quarter, to pick up where the All Blacks left off.

”You have to take the Springboks on up front,” their veteran lock, Nathan Sharpe, said. “You have to physically match them and then bring the speed. The two need to work in tandem.”

With playmakers Quade Cooper and Will Genia pulling the strings at halfback, and Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O’Connor, Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau providing the pace and creativity on the outside, the porous Bok defence will again be tested.

The Australian scrum has been boosted by the return of loosehead Benn Robinson, who made a meal of the Bok pack last year, and Bok prop BJ Botha needs to stand up strongly today. The Australians are also looking to David Pocock, Rocky Elsom and Richard Brown to take advantage of an untested Bok loose trio which has Ryan Kankowski out of position on the flank.

The Springboks, belatedly, have added some pace to their line-up with the polished Ruan Pienaar replacing the abrasive Ricky Januarie at scrumhalf, Gio Aplon providing a sharp edge on the wing and the mobile, ballcarrying Kankowski certain to trouble the Wallabies on attack, if not at the tackle or in the physical contest.

The Boks desperately need their senior players performing like world champions. Bryan Habana, Jaque Fourie and Wynand Olivier made little impact in New Zealand and the muscular number eight Pierre Spies may have looked like Superman, but played like Clark Kent.

Smit and his men need to show all the old intensity and urgency in placing the Wallaby forwards under fierce pressure, in hitting the breakdowns, in chasing kicks and in making tackles. If the skilful Genia and Cooper are allowed to weave their magic over the advantage line, and in space created behind an advancing pack, then South Africans everywhere are in for another black day.

The Boks, as Wallaby coach Robbie Deans says, “will be grumpy and wanting a result”, and surely Smit and his maligned players will respond with a positive effort today.

The Wallabies appear to hold every advantage and they are favourites, but the Boks, desperate to regain their pride and self-respect, are hurting … and that makes them dangerous.

TEAMS

Australia: Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O’Connor, Rob Horne, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Richard Brown, David Pocock, Rocky Elsom (captain), Nathan Sharpe, Dean Mumm, Salesi Ma’afu, Saia Fainga, Benn Robinson.

Replacements: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Ben McCalman, Luke Burgess, Berrick Barnes, Kurtley Beale.

South Africa: Zane Kirchner, Gio Aplon, Jaque Fourie, Wynand Oliver, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar; Pierre Spies, Ryan Kankowski, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield, Danie Rossouw, BJ Botha, John Smit (captain), Gurthro Steenkamp

Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, CJ van der Linde, Flip van der Merwe, Dewald Potgieter, Francois Hougaard, Butch James, Juan de Jongh.

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland).

ON TV

Kick-off: 12 noon – live on M-Net, SuperSport HD and SuperSport 1

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