Let’s win it for Jake!

2007-11-24 00:00

Intensity will be the key to the Springbok chances of giving coach Jake White the send-off he deserves by beating Wales at the Millennium Stadium in their one-off Test match this afternoon.

Even with several big players missing in crucial areas, the Springbok team, as it lines up today, would normally still be heavily favoured to beat a Welsh team that is at t

he start of a rebuilding phase after a rather over-hasty exit from the World Cup in France.

However, if the people who organised this game had the best interests of the Boks and the standing of South African rugby at heart, they had rocks in their heads. The big event of the year, the World Cup, is now behind them and was a resounding success, so the South Africans really don’t have a lot to play for, something that may have come through with the number of players who weren’t keen to make the trip and got out of it for various reasons.

Coupled with that the fact that most of these players haven’t actually played any kind of rugby, let alone a full Test match, since October 20, and suddenly it becomes apparent that the dice is actually quite heavily loaded against the Boks. The Welsh are in season, their players have been playing club rugby the last few weeks.

“Rust might be a bit of a worry from our side and it is something we are going to have to somehow guard against,” agreed Bok skipper John Smit on the eve of this final Test match of a momentous year for South African rugby. “For us the key is that we need somehow to start with the right intensity. After a lay-off of five weeks that can sometimes be difficult, and after a break, match fitness does become an issue. However, we have worked hard this week, and the guys had a tough week in Johannesburg before flying out. So hopefully we will be up to speed.”

If Smit sounds more hopeful than convinced, that should be a worry for Springbok fans. Although Wales are languishing in 10th position on the world rankings after their poor World Cup, and the Boks are first, the hosts are always a tougher proposition at home, where they will have thousands of Welsh voices present to lift their own intensity levels.

Several of the Welsh players have spoken in the media during the week about the need to use this game to prove that the World Cup performance was an aberration, and the fact that the Springboks are now the world champions certainly raises the ante for the locals.

“They [the Springboks] are all world class players, but I don’t doubt myself. It does hurt when people come up to you in the streets asking you questions — it makes you want to put things right,” said Welsh lock Ian Evans.

In some ways, the Boks will do the same. Smit knows that a chapter was closed when his team won the World Cup, but a new one is about to begin. “It wasn’t an unhappy chapter, it was a great one; we achieved what we set out to do and worked towards for four years,” said the Bok captain.

“But this is a new beginning, this is a chance for us to show that we intend defending the World Cup with pride and with honour. This is Jake’s last game and we are all sad to see him go. He handed out the jerseys today, and he told us a couple of stories relating to the last few years. It is quite an emotional time.

“At the same time though this is a new beginning, a chance to show what we will be about for the next four years. There are some special players making their debuts in this game and we want to make it a happy occasion for them.”

The main player in question is Ryan Kankowski (Heinke van der Merwe is one of the reserves) and Smit made it clear he expects big things from the No. 8.

“I think this is the start of a long and illustrious career for him. He reminds me a lot of a combination between Bob Skinstad and Shaun Sowerby,” said Smit.

Indeed, the 22-year-old is a class player. And he is going to have to be if he is to shake off six weeks of rust (in his case) and strut his stuff at the Millennium Stadium as if he owns the place. If the Boks don’t fire today, don’t blame them; blame the people who decided it was clever to play a Test match five weeks after the season has ended.

Teams

Springboks: Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, Francois Steyn, Bryan Habana, André Pretorius, Ricky Januarie, Ryan Kankowski, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Johann Muller, Bakkies Botha, Jannie du Plessis, John Smit (captain), CJ van der Linde. Reserves: Bismarck du Plessis, Heinke van der Merwe, Albert van den Berg, Hilton Lobberts, Wynand Olivier, Akona Ndungane, Conrad Jantjes.

Wales: Morgan Stoddart, Mark Jones, Sonny Parker, Gavin Henson, Tom Shanklin, James Hook, Dwayne Peel, Jonathan Thomas, Robin Sowden-Taylor, Colin Charvis, Ian Evans, Alun-Wyn Jones, Rhys Thomas, Huw Bennett, Gethin Jenkins (c).

Subs: Thomas Rhys Thomas, Duncan Jones, Luke Charteris, Alix Popham, Mike Phillips, Stephen Jones, Tom James.

Referee: Chris White (England).

Kick-off: 5 pm SA time

TV coverage on SuperSport on M-Net and SS1 from 4.15 pm.

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