'Samoa stronger now than in 2011'
The challenge facing the Springboks this weekend in the final of the Castle Lager Incoming Series at Loftus Versfeld will be a lot tougher than the bruising encounter they survived in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Springbok winger Bryan Habana, one of the survivors of the battle in North Harbour, believes the Samoan team that will run onto the park on Saturday will be much tougher than any other Samoan team the Boks have faced before.
Samoa have been the beneficiaries of IRB investment over the past few years and they have also seen a mass exodus of players to play professional rugby either in New Zealand or in Europe, something that has strengthened their ability and seen them rise to the No 7 spot in the world rankings.
Their recent victories over Italy and Scotland have underlined this strength and they will be more than motivated to put one over the Boks when the two teams meet on Saturday.
And while most of the Boks were not in action in 2011's bruising encounter, those who were there will remember the off-the-ball hits and cheap shots allowed by officials that took away from the spectacle on the night and which rattled a Bok team desperate not to give away a yellow card through retaliating.
But Habana hasn’t looked to compare the vintage of 2011 with that of 2013, but draws only on it to show the threat the Boks face on Saturday. This isn’t a Samoan side to be taken lightly.
“Looking back at 2011, it was probably one of our most physical games at the Rugby World Cup. The team of 2011 and the team of 2013 are two totally different teams. They have improved significantly over the past two years and in this series as well,” Habana said on Tuesday.
“The Samoans of 2011 were a tough team but this weekend the team we will face will be a lot tougher. Their players are a lot more skilful and they have a lot more players playing in both the Vodacom Super Rugby and European leagues.
"They’ve learnt a lot and grown a lot since 2011. We’re not going to look back at what happened in 2011. We’re going to rather look at who we face this weekend in 2013, which is a pretty tough team to face.”
Habana said his Bok teammates wouldn’t make the same mistake as they did last week, where everyone wrote off Scotland only for their opposition to post a spirited performance that disrupted the Bok plans for a solid victory.
“Everyone wrote Scotland off last week after what happened in that test against Samoa and everyone had us believe it was going to be a walk in the park. Unfortunately test match rugby isn’t like that, test match rugby you have to be prepared every time you face your opposition and Scotland came to the party.
“For a group of youngsters – like Siya Kolisi – to come on and make the step up to international rugby, it was a pretty awesome sight for the rest of us.”
While the Boks have spoken a lot about their frustration at the inability of the referee to police the breakdown, Habana believes the way the team adapted at halftime to the situation, to storm back from 17-6 down to win 30-17 is an indicator of how much the side has grown over the past year.
“Frustration cannot be how you want to play the game. The great thing from last week was although we found ourselves 17-6 behind, there was still calm in that team, there was still belief we would get there. A year ago, we would have probably at best drawn it and at worst probably lost it,” he explained.
“It was frustrating for us, but you have to adapt to the conditions laid out on the field and you’re not always going to expect the same from the ref, so you have to go out and make the difference.
"We’re expecting a tough physical challenge from Samoa, and the off-the-ball stuff may happen or may not happen. We have to be calm within our own game plan and in our structures.”
Italy and Scotland will play in the early game at Loftus on Saturday.