Proteas level series in a Taun­ton thriller

White­ley calls on Spring­boks to main­tain their win­ning mo­men­tum

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

CAP­TAIN War­ren White­ley has called on his team­mates to make an­other step up to­day as the Spring­boks con­tinue to re­build af­ter a dis­as­trous 2016 sea­son.

The Boks go into to­day’s third and fi­nal Test against France at Ellis Park 2-0 up af­ter con­vinc­ing wins in Pre­to­ria and Dur­ban and will start as the hot favourites at a venue where no less than eight Boks play their fran­chise rugby.

But af­ter win­ning just four of 12 matches last sea­son, the class of 2017 know they still have plenty to prove, but the good thing, ac­cord­ing to White­ley, is that the foun­da­tions for a better fu­ture are being laid this month.

“I sup­pose, this being our third week to­gether, things are a lit­tle eas­ier,” he said yes­ter­day. “The con­fi­dence is def­i­nitely grow­ing in the group and the players are get­ting to know each other better. There’s con­ti­nu­ity and the guys are fa­mil­iar with what we want to achieve, what the pro­cesses are and what the game-plan is.

“I sup­pose you could say we’ve set the foun­da­tion (in the first two Tests), but it’s very im­por­tant that we keep the mo­men­tum go­ing; it’s what we’re work­ing to­wards (ahead of the Rugby Cham­pi­onships later in the year),” he said.

Asked what he specif­i­cally wanted out of the Test, White­ley said an all-round im­prove­ment. “We’re an evolv­ing group and we’re hungry for suc­cess, to keep im­prov­ing. We just want to get better at ev­ery­thing we do and this weekend pro­vides us with an op­por­tu­nity to do that.”

What­ever hap­pened to­day though, White­ley said it would not have too much bear­ing on big­ger chal­lenges down the line.

“We’re not here to send out state­ments to any­one ... it’s not part of our DNA. I do feel we’re mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion, not just on the field, but off it too in terms of our team en­vi­ron­ment and our cul­ture, but we’ll stay firmly on our feet (if we do man­age to make it 3-0).

“These are early days ... there’s a long sea­son ahead for us and there are lots of chal­lenges to come. We just want to keep im­prov­ing and we’ve got a chance to do that.”

France, said White­ley, would pose a big chal­lenge to­day as they’ll be keen to keep their un­beaten record at Ellis Park in­tact. The vis­i­tors haven’t lost at the venue in four pre­vi­ous meet­ings and, said White­ley, they’ll want to end their tour on a high.

“We’ve been in a real fight in the last two Tests and I be­lieve this weekend will be the same. They’ll be up for it, make no mis­take, even though the series is done. They’re not go­ing to just roll over; they’re play­ing for their coun­try’s pride. It’s go­ing to be a mas­sive Test.”

With eight Li­ons players in the match­day squad the Boks will be heavy favourites to go all the way for their third week in a row and give coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee and his whole management team the per­fect start to the 2017 sea­son. One of the men who’ll feel to­day is per­fect no mat­ter what hap­pens be­tween the four white lines is Li­ons tight­head Ruan Dreyer who’ll make his debut.

White­ley said he could not be hap­pier for his pro­vin­cial team- mate. “We’ve come a long way to­gether, we’ve travelled a long jour- ney. My­self, Jaco Kriel and Ruan went on our first Bok tour to­gether at the end of 2014 and we were the only three guys on that tour to not get a game. It was a tough four weeks, not get­ting a game.

“I’m so proud he’s got his op­por­tu­nity. He’s worked so hard and been knock­ing for a while.”

For two weeks the Boks have knocked on the door; to­day they need to smash it down and end this series on the high they have so des­per­ately craved af­ter the disaster of last year. In the words of full­back An­dries Coet­zee, to­day’s per­for­mance will hope­fully be the cherry on top for the Boks this June.

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