Smit: Europe tour can set tone for Lions series

Springbok coach Peter de Villiers is leaving no stone unturned to ensure his team is literally fighting fit ahead of their three-Test European tour, starting against Six Nations champions Wales in Cardiff on Saturday November 8.

Hennie Bosman, the reigning world senior karate champion and kickboxing expert, was leading the charge when the Boks started off their training session at the University of Cape Town’s Groote Schuur field on Wednesday afternoon.

There he was, with the help of another martial arts expert, teaching the Boks the art of handing off opponents in the tackle situation. He also drilled the players in exercises that were aimed at freeing themselves when held up in tackles.

Once Bosman and his partner gave way, Springbok assistant coaches Dick Muir and Gary Gold put the players through their paces. Muir kept the backs busy with basic handling exercises, although players did not run in structured playing patterns.
As a result one could not gauge how new flyhalf Ruan Pienaar and new cap Earl Rose would be fitting into the Boks’ playing pattern, or what roles have been set out for them.

Jean de Villiers, the Boks’ key backline decision-maker, was absent from training. He has been laid low with a stomach bug and has been kept indoors at the team’s Foreshore Hotel in the Mother City.

Gold spent the afternoon working the forwards hard on the Australian-made scrummaging machine, and there was lots of interest from the few thousand spectators in John Smit, who was packing down in the unaccustomed position of tighthead prop, alongside hooker Bismarck du Plessis and loosehead prop Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira.

This front row was backed up by second-rowers Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, flanked by Juan Smith and Pierre Spies, who usually plays at eighthman. However, the opposing pack also packed down without a number eight.

Later on in the scrummaging session, Gold, who was assisted by referee expert Neville Heilbron, moved the permutations around, which saw Smit packing down with hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle and loosehead strongman Gurthrö Steenkamp.

However, the only position that remained constant as Gold moved the players around was that of the “scrumhalf”, who would-be spies might have mistaken as the Boks’ new secret weapon.

The “scrumhalf” was none other Springbok flanker Schalk Burger, who was sitting out at training because of a hamstring strain, which apparently is no cause for concern.

Weather conditions were fair in Cape Town on Wednesday afternoon and totally unlike what the Boks will encounter on their United Kingdom tour.

“It can be tough in the cold, rain and wind that we are bound to experience on tour,” said Bok skipper Smit. “The really good teams adapt quicker to the local conditions. It’s the same when teams tour here.

“There are other aspects, like the mis-timing of the seasons, but given there’s not really an off-season anymore, you can’t blame the fact that we’re at the end of our season.”

Smit also spoke about the importance of this tour in the light of the British and Irish Lions’ campaign in South Africa next year.

“The bulk of the Lions squad will come from the teams that we meet on this tour,” said Smit. “Although the conditions will be different in South Africa ... it is important that we win.

“Beating Wales, Scotland and England make it easier to set the tone for next year.

“Every player who goes on this tour will understand the magnitude of what is waiting for us next year.

“This is a great opportunity to suss out what they [the Lions] have in store for us and for us to score early psychological points. Any advantage we can gain against Wales, Scotland and England will be beneficial.”—Sapa

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