Boks get a Kiwi boost
Mitchell’s peptalk revs up the South Africans
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