‘Boks are the best team in the world’

2010-06-17 00:00

ITALIAN rugby coach Nick Mallett reckons the Springboks did not get the credit they deserved after thumping the French 42-17 at Newlands last Saturday.

Mallett, an asute rugby judge — even if he did drop Springbok captain Gary Teichmann on the eve of the 1999 Rugby World Cup — was highly impressed by the way John Smit’s team beat the European champions at Newlands.

“I don’t think rugby people in South Africa even realise how good that performance in Cape Town was. To beat an accomplished French team, one that won the Six Nations, like that, was incredible. There is no doubt that the Springboks are the best team in the world.”

The former Springbok coach is no doubt hoping to talk the South Africans into their comfort zone and then exploit their complacency on match day. But he knows that his Italian players face a searching test, even if the Boks have made a number of changes.

“There is so much depth in South African rugby that it probably does not even matter who they play. It’s going to be another formidable team.”

Mallett told News24 that he had coached the lively Bok wing Gio Aplon when he was at Stellenbosch University a couple of years ago and realised then that he was “a very special player”.

“He’s not easily tackled and his defence is outstanding. No, it’s not a surprise that he’s coming through so strongly. He has all the skills to become a great player.”

He said he agreed with Bok coach Peter de Villiers’s decision to experiment with different combinations.

“I will also be doing that because I want to give all the players in my squad game time in these two Tests.”

Mallett is banking on a strong Italian scrummaging performance and said that tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni would again test the Springboks.

Castrogiovanni, who played for Leicester against the touring Boks last November and made a meal of loosehead Gurthrö Steenkamp, has proved himself one of the strongest tightheads in world rugby, though he has often failed to convince referees that his methods are totally legal.

Steenkamp’s scrummaging has improved since that dark day, but he will be under the spotlight again on Saturday.

Mallett rates his Italian prop as one of the best in world rugby.

“At 28, he’s only maturing in terms of prop play. In the next four years we’ll see the best of him. He’s had another great international season and has also done well for Leicester and he is the rock of their team.”

But Mallett said that the prop was often unfairly blown by referees who do not understand the intricacies of front-row play.

“That is frustrating for both Castrogiovanni and me,” said Mallett.

Mallett said he was taken with the form shown by new Bok hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle, who played in the second half against France after replacing the injured John Smit.

“I was most impressed with him and he certainly won’t let down the Boks.”

The 23-year-old Ralepelle has battled injury and the snide, ongoing criticism that he is a quota selection.

He has only played briefly as a replacement in recent seasons, but on Saturday will finally start in a Test for the Springboks.

“Previously I have tried too hard to fit 80 minutes of rugby into 20 minutes as a substitute.”

He said that playing in the Vodacom Cup this year had enabled him “to get fit, adapt my playing style, strengthen my body and build my confidence.”

“You have to turn criticism around into something positive. You have to keep believing in what brought you to that point and use the criticism to motivate yourself and reward the coaches that believed in you,” he said.

He will have his chance to prove his detractors wrong in Witbank on Saturday (3 pm).

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