South Africa will be handed a timely reality check by the all-conquering New Zealanders in Saturday’s Tri-Nations Test at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
Last week, against Australia in Durban, the Springboks showed they were capable of playing at a decent level for about an hour, after which coach Peter de Villiers was forced to send on fresh legs.
He admitted afterwards that he did so reluctantly because the team was showing signs of picking up good form after a sound start to the match.
The Boks — who have been largely inactive for the past six months or so — have by now seemingly regained their match fitness, and match-day captain Victor Matfield said on Friday that the matter of rustiness among their ranks is no longer in question.
“Our fitness levels, including mine, is right up there and that can no longer be an excuse for unacceptable performances,” Matfield said.
The Springboks are still trying to find their way about three weeks away from the start of the World Cup and they still don’t know who will make up their final Cup squad.
De Villiers earlier in the week said that there were still places up for grabs, and the withdrawal of flanker Juan Smith has set them back even further.
The injury to fullback Frans Steyn has forced a major rethink among the Boks’ brains trust and the performance of the young Patrick Lambie will be a major focus point.
The All Blacks are sure to oblige with help for Lambie’s test by bombarding him with tactical upfield kicks.
And then there is flyhalf Morné Steyn who the Boks have regarded as their saviour for some time but his form has nose-dived in recent weeks.
Down to the kicker
But the rhetoric coming out of the Bok camp of late, seems to suggest that Steyn has been made aware that his exceptional place-kicking ability could be a major factor at the World Cup.
“I might be wrong, but the World Cup is likely to be dictated by kicking and we sit with a kicker with a 90% accuracy in our country, in Morné,” said De Villiers.
“We have selected him because we need to know what he can do if we give him the chance to work with the best players around him, and then work on the little things that can make a difference to his game.
“Our game differs so much to the kind of game the Bulls play and for me to disqualify him for just doing his job would not be right.
“I just want to give him some more time and assess him again. It wasn’t a difficult decision. It was the right one to make now.”
Up front, scrum time will be under heavy scrutiny and Bok supporters will be dreading a repeat of the Bok scrum being shoved ignominiously back, once hooker Smit was moved to tighthead prop.
Loosehead prop Gurthro Steenkamp makes a long-awaited appearance, and a rare start for hooker Bismarck du Plessis is overdue.
Together with tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis this front-row unit will probably be the most significant factor to the side’s chances of winning, which according to All Blacks’ coach Graham Henry is the Boks’ biggest concern.
“I think [winning is a] hell of an importance,” said Henry.
“I would think Peter [de Villiers] and the whole team will be desperate.
“It would just give them the little kick they need going into the Rugby World Cup.
“They haven’t got another game ahead of the World Cup so I would think it is vital for them to win.” — Sapa