Boks open battle on two fronts

2011-09-10 18:23

The Springbok team’s battle to retain their status as World Cup champions will be fought on two fronts today.

The first step in the Springbok campaign takes place against Wales in the Wellington Regional Stadium this morning.

Wales is an opponent that the Springboks have beaten 22 times in 24 attempts, have lost against once and drawn with once, and the Boks need to prove their dominance in this first game.

The second front is in the arena of Springbok humiliation that will have to be put to rest.

In this regard, John Smit and the team have to make it clear to the pessimistic rugby world that they have the firepower to overcome their opponents.

The Boks’ 2007 World Cup triumph is seen by the team’s detractors as a lucky win, and commentators have said openly that the team is too old and too predictable to retain the Webb Ellis Cup.

So it’s a fight as much for survival as for recognition.

Many of the criticisms?– that key players have passed their sell-by date, that coach Peter de Villiers has not adapted the team’s game pattern sufficiently since he took over the reins in 2008, and that he is not starting the game with his 15 best players?– would be wiped away by a good performance and victory over Wales.

Wales is currently sixth in the world rugby rankings.

Victory will also make the Springboks’ journey to the play-off much easier, whereas a loss would obviously make their way there so much more difficult.

Three crucial questions for the Boks today are:
» The extent to which Smit’s level of fitness will justify his selection as captain. Bismarck du Plessis is champing at the bit to take his place.

» ?How successfully the Springboks interpret northern hemisphere referee Wayne Barnes’s application of the scrum and break-down rules.

» ?The correct medical decisions regarding Victor Matfield and Bryan Habana, who have both been included, but did not do much training this week owing to hamstring injuries.
In the five games played in the competition so far, it is clear that a high match tempo is one way for smaller teams to try to upset the bigger ones.

Wales even did some of their preparation in a Polish survival camp, especially so that they could increase the match tempo against the Springboks.

De Villiers’s Bok team for today’s game is the most experienced green and gold team of all time, with a starting line-up having played a total of 815 tests – and, with the exception of Bakkies Botha, the coach was free to pick anyone he wanted.

Botha is recovering well from an Achilles tendon injury and should be in action against Fiji next week.

For De Villiers and the team, today’s test will be an indicator of the way ahead.

The Bok’s scrumming power will be put to the test, as well as their adaptability to the referee.

Their patience in gradually wearing down their opponents and a more imaginative game pattern than high up-and-unders and driving mauls will also be under the spotlight.

Thousands of Springbok supporters are expected at the match.

At least concerns that the South African national anthem will once again be massacred have been settled because a recording of the national anthem by a New Zealand World Cup choir will be played before the game.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe will be among the Springbok supporters filling the stadium’s 35 000 seats, as will Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and cabinet minister Rob Davies.

Two Pool C matches will be played today, with Australia facing Italy and Ireland engaging the USA in New Plymouth.

Yesterday’s results: Argentina 9, England 13; France 47, Japan 21; and Fiji 49, Namibia 25

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