Boks must up ante - De Villiers
Describing the 44-10 win over Italy as the “benchmark” for Saturday’s Castle Lager Incoming Series test match against Scotland in Nelspruit, Springbok captain Jean de Villiers has made it crystal clear that the Boks want an improvement from their five-try romp in Durban.
Despite all and sundry writing off the Scottish challenge – which has suffered from several injury setbacks – and many predicting a massive win by the Boks tomorrow, De Villiers knows all too well that complacency can be a major disaster for the Boks.
Plus, to be honest, this game is certainly one they want to win well. Playing for the first time in Nelspruit, De Villiers and co will be looking for an impressive performance to continue their momentum towards the bigger challenge in the Castle Rugby Championship.
So while it may not be the traditional pressure that he talks about when he mentions the word, there is a renewed vigor in the side this week after the win over Italy, a realisation that the team has settled nicely after a tough first year and the underlining factor that the Boks know they need to win well to impress their coach Heyneke Meyer.
For all the talk of giving players a chance, few have realised that there are several inexperienced players in the team. Two debutants, six who have less than five caps and 10 who have less than 10 caps, certainly aren't indicative of a coach who isn’t prepared to give opportunities to players.
But then again, perhaps it wasn’t the wholesale changes the public had expected. Still, the pressure in the team to perform is probably more intense than anything the Scots can bring at the moment.
And that’s why De Villiers sounded a bit bemused when a journalist asked him if he believed Scotland, who have desperately played the underdog tag this week – had already raised the “white flag” before the game.
“I’ve never played in a test match where there hasn’t been pressure. We want to improve. We want to get better every time we play. Last week was the benchmark for us and we don’t want to dip below that again,” De Villiers said.
“We want to improve every week no matter who is playing against us. We know we must improve. In a way it is a lose-lose situation for us. You say they’ve raised the white flag. If we beat them then by a big margin, you say it’s a bad Scotland side. If we don’t, then we haven’t played well enough.
“We’re focused not so much on the result but on the process of what we need to do in the game. If we improve the areas we didn’t do too well last week, we will be better off after the game.”
De Villiers backed it up by echoing his coach’s comments that test rugby is not a place for too much experimentation. With the Scots in the same pool as the Boks in 2015 Rugby World Cup, much can be learnt from this game.
“I don’t think test match level is somewhere where you want to experiment. We have 12 tests this year and you want to select your best team possible and try and play as well as possible for those games. The fact that Scotland is in our pool for 2015, you want to get the mental edge over them,” he added.
“But that is still two years away. Some of the guys who are playing in this game probably won’t be there in 2015. For us the focus is to build on the momentum that we got last week and hopefully put up a good performance once again.”
There is, though, a very different feeling to the side this season than last. Perhaps it is a few new players selected on their form, or the fact the public may well be moving away from despising Meyer on the basis of perceptions before he had the job. Either way, the excitement in the Bok backline is something that De Villiers relishes.
And he makes the point – as others have – that the game plan has not changed. What has changed, it seems, is the willingness to vary the game plan more, and to be much more positive when the Boks have the ball in hand.
“It is an exciting backline. There is a lot of pace and speed and agility in the backline. We showed it in patches last Saturday. But the key is still to keep on improving. Every year when you pick a Springbok team and pick a Bok backline, you get your positives and negatives. But with this backline we have a nice balance defensively – we were pretty solid. On attack we were able to sniff out the opportunities from counter-attacks. We didn’t get many opportunities from first phase and hopefully we can improve on that.
“When you’re scoring tries as we did from the weekend in counter attacks then it is nice to watch. Nothing has changed for us from a game plan point of view. It is simply identifying the space and getting into the right space. We did that well last week and the decision-making was much better. If we can remain spot-on with that, then hopefully we can see more tries again.”
Something that Bok fans would no doubt agree would be a good thing in Nelspruit.