Boks’ rep­u­ta­tion on the line

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

The Spring­boks have lost just three Test matches this year while on their way to cap­tur­ing a se­ries against the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions, winning the TriNa­tions tro­phy and go­ing to num­ber one in the world.

They are a for­mi­da­ble force in world rugby, and have prob­a­bly just en­joyed their best year ever, but to­day against Italy the Boks face a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge al­to­gether.

They are not play­ing a match to win a se­ries or com­pe­ti­tion – they are play­ing to re­store their sta­tus as World Cham­pi­ons.

While the Test team have only lost once on tour – against France in Toulouse last Fri­day – the re­al­ity is the Spring­boks go into to­day’s match on the back of three de­feats af­ter he dirt-track­ers also lost matches against Le­ices­ter and Sara­cens.

Bok skip­per John Smit is clear on the is­sue of the Boks los­ing three on the trot, and not just one Test.

“We came here (to Europe) as one team and it’s not hap­pened too of­ten that we’ve lost three in a row,” he said. “It’s im­por­tant that we gen­er­ate an ef­fort wor­thy enough of winning this Test, some­thing we have not done up to now.

“Italy have im­proved mas­sively in the last while so this is go­ing to be a big chal­lenge.

“But the im­por­tant thing is that we have to go back to the stan­dards we have set for our­selves and achieved over the last year,” Smit said.

“We’re not con­cern­ing our­selves with any other team. This is about us as a group and the stan­dards we need to achieve to win,” he said.

The Boks have cer­tainly not been at their best on tour and they re­ally did bat­tle in Toulouse last Fri­day so Smit’s got it 100% right when he says there needs to be a big im­prove­ment to­day.

This Bok side is ca­pa­ble of far bet­ter a per­for­mance than was the case against France.

But com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters to­day for them to achieve this is the fact so many changes have been made to the side.

The new-look front row of Smit, Adri­aan Strauss and Wian du Preez doesn’t in­spire all that much con­fi­dence, es­pe­cially when one con­sid­ers the for midable Italy front row they’ll be up against.

And be­hind them, An­dries Bekker starts ahead of Vic­tor Mat­field, while the loose-trio ap­pears to be miss­ing some­thing.

Hein­rich Brus­sow will con­tinue to cause prob­lems at the break­downs, Danie Ros­souw will add some much-needed grunt, but it is Ryan Kankowski who needs to step up big time this af­ter­noon.

Smit says the op­por­tu­ni­ties af­forded to the likes of Strauss, Du Preez, Bekker and the two un­capped men on the bench – Jean Dey­sel and Fran­cois Hougaard – will ben­e­fit his team more than it will weaken them.

“It’s been a while since we had so many new faces in the 22,” said Smit. “A guy like An­dries Bekker will be very hun­gry to show what he can do, as will the oth­ers. I’m ex­cited to see what the new guys of­fer the team.”

While the Boks shouldn’t have too many prob­lems deal­ing with their hosts at the li­ne­outs, break­downs and in the backs, it is at scrum-time where things could come un­done. Italy have a for­mi­da­ble set-piece, with the pow­er­ful Martin Ca­tro­gio­vanni lead­ing the way.

Ac­cord­ing to Smit, the Boks know ex­actly what to ex­pect. “There’s been a lot of talk about the scrums, but the re­al­ity is we start afresh to­mor­row (to­day),” Smit added.

“We know they’re go­ing to use the scrum as their big­gest form of am­mu­ni­tion, but I can tell you, we won’t be caught by sur­prise like New Zealand were. We’re just go­ing to have to im­pose our­selves there.”

Italy have never beaten the Boks and that shouldn’t change this af­ter­noon.

But what the Boks will want from this match is a good all­round per­for­mance, with not too many ques­tions asked af­ter­wards.

They face Ire­land next week and will want to go into that game with con­fi­dence – and not hav­ing to res­cue the tour.

“We need to find enough in our­selves for two more games to make this a won­der­ful sea­son,” con­cluded Smit.


BOK BRAWN: Spring­bok for­wards coach Gary Gold, right, puts Bok play­ers Ryan Kankowski, skip­per John Smit and Bakkies Botha through their paces ahead of the Test against Italy in Udine to­day.

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