Time to de-rust the Boks

2011-08-01 00:00

THE Springboks’ depth was tested, and failed, on their tour Down Under and the SA spotlight for the rest of the Tri-Nations will now centre on the intensity and desire of their senior players.

The Springboks returned to Johannesburg late last night with captain John Smit saying that his young players were “gutted” after being thumped 40-7 by New Zealand and 39-20 by the Australians on their overseas travels. The Boks now have a brief break before their next Tri-Nations match, against Australia in Durban on August 13.

A number of the tourists, their Rugby World Cup dreams in tatters, will return to their Currie Cup squads this week while De Villiers will be assessing the fitness of his senior Rustenburg squad in making changes for the two home internationals. “On Monday we will get them all in and have some medicals to asses them again to see if they are ready,” said De Villiers.

“I hope that some of them will be ready to go,” he said and he was speaking for the whole of SA.

De Villiers has had a full starting line-up of Boks working with Rassie Erasmus in Rustenburg, some concentrating on rehabilitation and others sharpening up minds and bodies for the home Tri-Nations Tests and the RWC. One hopes their time has been better spent than those you travelled with De Villiers, who achieved little more than playing the Wallabies and All Blacks into some form ahead of the RWC.

The return of the senior Boks cannot come soon enough, but it is doubtful they will be at their best in Durban after their break of some six or more weeks since their last Super Rugby outing. Still, De Villiers has to get the rusty veterans, players like Victor Matfield, Butch James, Fourie du Preez, Jean de Villiers and company, back into the swing of big time rugby before the World Cup.

Few of the young touring Bok squad did themselves any favours but, in their defence, they were not helped by poor selection, particularly in the backrow and in midfield.

Gio Aplon, Danie Rossouw and Lwazi Mvovo had their moments against the Wallabies while Jean Deysel, Gerhard Mostert and — behind a beaten pack — Pat Lambie and Juan de Jongh battled away against the All Blacks. They should all be involved in the RWC squad.

But the Boks’ RWC prospects will depend on the players who have been in Rustenburg and not those who have been unsuccessfuly chasing bigger, faster, and more creative rugby players in Sydney and Wellington this past fortnight.

Smit admitted to reporters that there were few positives to take out of the tour.

“It’s always terrible to lose a Test and 40 points is not what we had in mind. We are gutted with the effort over the last two weeks. We will try and pull as many positives as we can but, at the end of the day, it’s very disappointing.”

Bok coach De Villiers agreed. “Obviously I am very disappointed. To me a Test match should be the ultimate experience. There were a few positives. I think a few of the new guys did put their hands up but there are a few that didn’t,” he explained.

He highlighted the many turnovers as a problem. “At times we looked very good. Our execution was better than a week ago. But you can’t lose the ball at critical stages and give the All Blacks turnovers,” he said.

Smit said defence remained a Bok problem and they missed 22 tackles against the All Blacks. “Defence is probably the biggest factor that we will have to look at when we get home. It is the thing that has let us down the most. By and large it is the turnover defence. Once we cough ball up and how we react to what they do. We had a few opportunities, but they were a lot more enthusiastic about providing a defensive line from a turnover. The line that we provided just wasn’t good enough. We knew what to expect but there wasn’t enough effort in terms of providing a defensive line,” he said.

Smit said the All Blacks had not surprised him. “Their performance is very similar to what we have got from them over the last two years. They are a team that really does take advantage of turnover ball. They are really good at it and they have some special players in their backline.

“If you don’t take care of your ball you are going to be in a large amount of trouble,” he said.

De Villiers was also a generous loser. “The All Blacks are a formidable side. They deserve the tag of being World Cup favourites. The Tri-Nations is pretty much gone for us and we will now move our focus to the World Cup,” he added.

But South African supporters will first be looking to Durban and hoping that the real Springboks come out of cotton wool and stand up to the Wallabies on August 13.

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