A major theme of the week in the build-up to the Springboks’ final Test match of the year against England at Twickenham on Saturday has been their alleged fatigue and demotivation, but at Thursday’s team announcement press conference, captain John Smit described this as “stuff and nonsense” and kicked it all into touch.
“There are a thousand excuses for losing rugby matches, and if it does not go well on Saturday, we will wheel them out for you,” Smit smiled before turning deadly serious.
“Look, we are Springboks. This is what we do for a living. We get to play for our country at the highest level and we get paid for it as well, so our responsibility is not to ourselves,” Smit said.
“There is no question of any player not being in the right frame of mind for this Test. To have one foot on the plane would mean opening the door to somebody else to take away your dream.”
Speaking of planes, there was shock when it was announced that Juan Smith would be flying home on Friday, along with Fourie du Preez.
Mike Greenaway reports for The Mercury that the latter was known to be fighting a losing battle with a quadricep injury, but it was a well-kept secret that Smith was suffering from concussion.
“It is Juan’s fourth concussion of the year, so we are putting the person before the rugby player and sending him home,” coach Peter de Villiers said.
Danie Rossouw replaces Smith, the man of the match against Scotland, on the blindside flank, which means young Cheetahs sensation Heinrich Brussouw is on the bench and in line for his first cap.
As expected, Jannie du Plessis comes straight into the team at tighthead prop, with John Smit reverting to hooker and Tendai “Beast” Mtawriria completing the front row.
Chiliboy Ralepelle is the other newcomer to the bench.
Du Plessis’s selection means he has leapfrogged Brian Mujati into the starting line-up, but a rather jumpy De Villiers quickly pointed out that Mujati had a sore shoulder. “We don’t want to chuck Brian into the deep end when he took a knock against Scotland, so he will play off the bench,” the coach said.
Smit said too much had been made of this match being the last of the year for the Boks.
“We are past the stage of talking about rugby in years, the rugby just keeps going with the games offloading in different times of the 11-month season,” he said.
“The biggest factor for us this week, the thing that has motivated us since we arrived from Edinburgh, is that this is an opportunity to beat one of our biggest rivals at Twickenham, the home of rugby.”
Many of the senior Boks were rested when Jake White brought an under-strength team to play two Tests in London in 2006, the second of which was won by the Boks, with that defeat precipitating the axing of England coach Andy Robinson.
“Guys like Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger have never won a Test match at Twickenham, and have lost quite a few, so it is very much a box they would like to tick,” Smit said.
The Boks, of course, have held sway over England in recent years, with victories in France and South Africa.
“We were discussing it on the way home from training today,” Smit said. “We have won five in a row, but I quickly reminded the guys that before this run, we lost seven in a row to England, so we have two more wins to go before we make amends for that unfortunate sequence.”
Smit said that when his team looked back over 2008, the biggest disappointment was the fact that the Boks were no longer the No 1-ranked team in the world.
“This was always going to be a tough year for us after winning the World Cup last year. It is hard to maintain standards, and then there is the adjustment required when you get a new management team,” Smit said.
“Before you know it New Zealand are ahead of you on the rankings. We are very keen to reclaim that spot, and our fight to get it back would be greatly assisted by a win at Twickenham tomorrow.”Tweet