Boks can ben­e­fit as their ‘pride of Li­ons’ re­turn home to Ellis Park

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

CALL it what you want: Emi­rates Air­line Park or Ellis Park – the venue of South Africa’s great­est ever rugby tri­umph, when they won the World Cup at the first time of ask­ing, in 1995 – has not al­ways treated the Boks well, but to­day they can make a mas­sive state­ment and re­ally turn the ground into a place feared by the op­po­si­tion.

Al­lis­ter Coet­zee’s Spring­boks go into the third and fi­nal Test against France 2-0 up in the series and in a very good space to make it a white­wash. Boost­ing their chances of do­ing just that is the fact eight Li­ons players – who call the venue home – will be in the Bok team to­day, and how they love play­ing at Ellis Park.

In Super Rugby, they have gone 12 games un­beaten at home, stretch­ing back to April last year, with many of those tri­umphs com­ing with big win­ning mar­gins, and plenty of tries being scored.

Un­der War­ren White­ley’s lead­er­ship, fel­low Li­ons players An­dries Coet­zee, Court­nall Skosan, El­ton Jan­tjies, Franco Mostert, Mal­colm Marx and now also Ruan Dreyer in the start­ing team, and Jaco Kriel sit­ting on the bench, will be able to give the Boks “in­side knowl­edge” of what to ex­pect. It could even have been a few more Li­ons men in green and gold to­day had Ross Cronje not picked up a con­cus­sion a week ago and Lionel Mapoe not been re­leased from the squad.

Be that as it may, the Boks will be hop­ing a full crowd will cheer them to a third straight vic­tory this year – as they’ve done with the Li­ons in re­cent times. And the Boks will need ev­ery bit of help they can get be­cause, his­tory tells us that not only do the Boks en­joy Ellis Park, the op­po­si­tion do, too.

Just last year, the Boks had to rely on Ruan Com­brinck – an­other Li­ons man who could have been in­volved to­day had it not been for a lengthy in­jury ear­lier in the year – to come off the bench and save the day at Ellis Park (32-26) to level the series against Ire­land, while we all know how much New Zealand have en­joyed it as a venue be­fore. Added to that France have a good his­tory at the ground, hav­ing never lost in four pre­vi­ous vis­its.

The Boks though are favourites to­day. With White­ley lead­ing the way, why would any­one think oth­er­wise? And how he is look­ing for­ward to the op­por­tu­nity of lead­ing the na­tional team on his home ground.

“It’s special, for sure,” he said yes­ter­day. “I’m ex­cited and look­ing for­ward to it, but I know I have a job to do. That’s where my fo­cus is.”

But he knows hav­ing a near full-house cheer­ing on the Boks will be a boost. “It’s an un­be­liev­able feel­ing know­ing it’ll be so full. We’re grate­ful as players to re­ceive that kind of sup­port. It’s amaz­ing that the coun­try is so much behind us. The at­mos­phere is go­ing to be awe­some.”

Coet­zee, who’s come un­der some fierce crit­i­cism since tak­ing over the Bok hot seat, said he is also look­ing for­ward to fin­ish­ing the series at a venue as iconic as the Li­ons’ home ground.

“To think there are go­ing to be over 50 000 fans there ... it’s won­der­ful and the players en­joy play­ing in front of big crowds.

“I know they’re go­ing to want to play well and re­ward those fans, es­pe­cially at this time, it’ll be good to lift the spirit of the coun­try.”

For sev­eral of the Boks to­day, like full­back Coet­zee, wings Skosan and Ray­mond Rhule and flank Jean-Luc du Preez, among oth­ers, to­day will be a special Test; their first for South Africa at Ellis Park. Coet­zee agreed it’s a big oc­ca­sion for many of the squad mem­bers.

“It’s ev­ery young players dream to run out at the place where the Boks ar­guably en­joyed their great­est tri­umph. The re­spon­si­bil­ity on their shoul­ders is mas­sive, but I’m sure they won’t let any­one down.”

France might want to fin­ish this series on a high, but so, too, do the Boks. And they’ll be keen to let the world know they are back af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing 2016 – and that Ellis Park is again a place to be feared.

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