We will be ready - Jean
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers believes his side will be ready to face “anything and everything" Argentina throw at them in Saturday’s Castle Rugby Championship opener at FNB Stadium in Soweto.
De Villiers will lead the side out on Saturday as the Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture day serves up the first double-header of national rugby and football teams playing at the same venue on the same day, and he says his team are confident and ready heading into the game.
De Villiers believes no matter how much Argentina has improved going into this game, his team won’t get caught like they did in Mendoza last year, where they were lucky to squeeze out a draw in trying conditions.
“We are expecting anything and everything and we are well prepared in that regard,” De Villiers said.
“We put up some good performances in the three June tests and at the end of last year, not conceding a try. We will be ready for whatever they throw at us.”
De Villiers is correct on the June tests. The Boks scored no fewer than 17 tries against Italy, Scotland and Samoa as their attack took shape and they looked dangerous with ball in hand.
Considering that the All Blacks scored just seven tries in three tests against France, who have lost to all three of the Boks’ June opposition in the last 12 months, there is reason to be confident.
But De Villiers cautions against overconfidence, and knows his side have to be at their best if they are to honour the former State President and country with a performance worthy of the event.
“I don’t think it's ever easy going into the Rugby Championship, but our preparation has definitely been better this time around and we’re feeling confident,” De Villiers explains.
“As any team, going into a new competition, we would be confident because we haven’t played a game together yet. Our preparation has been good and the games we played earlier in the year were good, so all the signs are there that hopefully we can have a good game.”
De Villiers believes Argentina will be better this time around, but that as long as the Boks execute their game-plan properly, they will be ok.
“They’ve [Argentina] been in the competition now for one year, and more importantly for us, we know where we are at as a team. We know what to expect, but we also know what to expect from ourselves and the standards that we have for this team.
“Coming into the competition last year they definitely had a point to prove, and they definitely show they belong in this competition. They did well and were competitive throughout the campaign.
“Obviously we can’t make too much of their performances against England because that was their second-stringers that played. They’ve been together for a long time now. They will be well prepared, and it definitely won’t be an easy game or an easy campaign.”
While much of the focus has been on the scrum this week, De Villiers has confidence in his pack matching the famous Bajada scrum.
“They are renowned for their scrummaging but we have come a long way as a team in terms of scrummaging. I think the individuals will be up for the challenge tomorrow. We’ve been really good with the scrums with our performances, and we’ve been up against good teams and we’ve managed to get good results.
"I’ve got no doubt that we will do well tomorrow with the new sequence of calling and its just about adapting to that as quickly as possible. As soon as we get that right I have no doubt we will do well with the scrums.”
The one area where the Boks are looking for an improvement is the breakdown. This was their Achilles heel in Mendoza last year and popped up again versus Scotland. With Scottish consultant Richie Gray with them these past two weeks, they will be looking for a much better performance.
“They (Argentina) are very physical at the breakdown, they compete for your ball and that is probably where we let ourselves down last year in the second game in Mendoza. We couldn’t manage to get quick ball.
“We actually played some good rugby at times in that game but we weren’t able to penetrate their line at times and they were good in that aspect. We are going to have to be more effective in that area and we’ve put the hard work in at that area. Those are areas we are constantly working at and want to improve every single time we play.”
De Villiers did hint his side may see a more expansive approach from Los Pumas, as was evident in their two big wins over the Waratahs last week.
“We looked at the games they played against New South Wales, and although that is a Super Rugby side, they showed they wanted to throw the ball around a bit more. Last year they would simply just kick back. This time around they looked at counter-attacking first and then kicking back.
"They’re obviously looking at progressing as a team. Whatever we face tomorrow and whatever they throw at us, we’re prepared for that. It is more about getting our stuff right and making sure we execute our game plan tomorrow.”
If the Boks do that, they will have little to worry about.