Boks get a Kiwi boost

Mitchell’s peptalk revs up the South Africans

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - MIKE GREENAWAY

THE mod­ern rugby world is a bizarre place com­pared to the grand old days of yore, but even in this day and age who would have thought a for­mer All Blacks coach and cur­rent Aus­tralian Su­per 14 fran­chise coach would de­liver a spine-tin­gling ad­dress to the Spring­boks on the eve of a Test against the Wal­la­bies?

And the word from the Boks yes­ter­day af­ter noon was that John Mitchell, the All Blacks’ boss at the 2003 Rugby World Cup, had them ready to run through a brick wall.

The West­ern Force coach was in­vited by Spring­bok coach Peter de Vil­liers to present the team with their jer­seys for one of their most im­por­tant matches in years – a victory at the Su­bi­aco Oval to­day will al­most cer­tainly cap­ture them the Tri-Na­tions ti­tle, which would be only the Boks third in the com­pe­ti­tion in 13 years.

“You have a de­ci­sion to make and it must be that you are go­ing to meet Aus­tralia with con­fronta­tion,” Mitchell told the South Africans. “Don’t make life dif­fi­cult for your­selves. Con­front them. Turn the con­fi­dence that you have built this sea­son into be­lief that you will win.

“This jumper has been filled by great play­ers, by great tal­ent. Th­ese days tal­ent can be bought in rugby, and it is cheap.

“But one thing you can never buy is at­ti­tude. Only you can bring at­ti­tude to the jumper and thereby change the way you play.”

Mitchell said that the Boks should hold noth­ing back and build pres­sure on the Wal­la­bies from the first whis­tle to the last.

“You must be am­bi­tious. You must be pre­pared to go the full 80 min­utes. There are never enough min­utes in the Spring­bok jumper and I know you will never take it for granted. You have what the Wal­la­bies want (winning form). Don’t give it to them.”

Mitchell has a very good point. The Spring­boks have won nine out of their last 10 matches, a pos­i­tive patch that started with that mag­nif­i­cent 538 rout of the self-same Wal­la­bies at El­lis Park last year to end a black pe­riod where the Boks were booed off the pitch in Cape Town and Dur­ban.

The only blem­ish over the last 12 months of rugby was the sec­ond­string Spring­bok team’s third Test loss to the Lions.

The ‘Wob­blies’, by con­trast, have lost five con­sec­u­tive Tri-Na­tions matches – the last two of their 2008 cam­paign and three this sea­son.

The prin­ci­pal rea­son for the dif­fer­ing for­tunes is that the two teams are at very dif­fer­ent stages of their de­vel­op­ment.

Over the last two sea­sons Rob­bie Deans has blooded 13 youngsters; the Spring­boks have added just two, Morné Steyn and Hein­rich Brus­sow, and they have im­me­di­ately flour­ished in an en­vi­ron­ment where seven of the play­ers have 50 or more caps and the rest are in the 20s.

And the Wal­la­bies have been rocked in this re­build­ing phase by the loss to in­jury of two of their most ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers, cap­tain Stir­ling Mort­lock (who suf­fered a se­ri­ous knee in­jury in the New­lands match) and lock Nathan Sharpe, who was in­jured last week against the All Blacks.

An­other ca­su­alty of that highly phys­i­cal en­counter was the tal­ented cen­tre Ber­rick Barnes.

In short, the Boks have prob­a­bly never been in a bet­ter po­si­tion to win a Tri-Na­tions match in Aus­tralia (in 13 years of Tri-Na­tions rugby they have only done it twice, and drawn once, all in Perth).

Vic­tor Mat­field, who did press con­fer­ence duty for the Boks yes­ter­day, said the Boks’ poor away record had to be seen in con­text.

“It’s much tougher over here than any­where else be­cause you’re play­ing against the two top teams in the world, but we be­lieve we have changed the psy­che of ‘we can’t win away from home’,” Mat­field said.

“Over the last few years our Su­per 14 teams have been winning more of­ten over­seas and that con­fi­dence is trans­ferred to the Spring­boks,” he said.

“And we want to do bet­ter than usual on this away leg. We want to move up to an­other level as a team and that means winning more of­ten over here.”

Mat­field’s Bulls are one of the teams that has upped its game over­seas and the Boks have copied the Su­per 14 travel plan of the Pre­to­ria team by short­en­ing their tour and arriving in Perth only on Wed­nes­day.

“We are try­ing what has worked for the Bulls in the past. It’s not too far to travel here (nine and half hours) and there’s only a six-hour time dif­fer­ence,” the Bulls cap­tain said.

“Plus there’s a lot of South Africans in Perth to sup­port us, so its a bit eas­ier here.

“We’ve also been stay­ing on South African time, stay­ing awake un­til about 1am and then sleep­ing un­til noon, so I was just up in time for this me­dia con­fer­ence!” Mat­field said of the noon con­fer­ence.

The game, for­tu­nately, is at 6pm lo­cal time so the Boks will have had their beauty sleep.


BROTH­ERS IN ARMS: Spring­bok vice-cap­tain Vic­tor Mat­field, Bakkies Botha, Schalk Burger and cap­tain John Smit join other play­ers in a hud­dle ahead of to­day’s big Tri-Na­tions game in Perth

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