Pretoria - The past few weeks have seen Willem Alberts pass several new frontiers in his rugby career, with a win in a Currie Cup semifinal being followed by a win in the final – and now he takes another step when he makes his debut for the Springboks this weekend.
Alberts is making his first appearance in a Bok match 22 a week later than he would have liked as it was only injury that prevented him from doing so in the opening test match of this tour against Ireland in Dublin last week.
On Thursday he was cleared of the calf injury that has been bugging him since the Currie Cup final and he has been named as the missing part of the jigsaw from the team announced earlier in the week for Saturday’s clash with Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
For Alberts, the past few weeks have seen a pleasing upward spiral in his form and what he has experienced as a rugby player, and he says the momentum that has been picked up over the past month is something he will be only too happy to draw on against Wales.
“When you pick up momentum and form you pick up confidence. And when you have confidence, it makes it so much easier for you to step up to a newer level of rugby,” said Alberts.
“I have been part of a few really big games in the past few weeks, and that definitely does make the prospect of playing my first game for the Boks so much easier. Hopefully I will get a run on Saturday, and I will be able to draw on what I have experienced in the massive games that I have played for the Sharks over the past few weeks.”
Alberts has been cleared to play, though he doesn’t give the impression the affected area is completely 100% yet.
“I picked up a small calf strain in the Currie Cup final, and it was one of those difficult types of injuries. It wasn’t what you would call a serious injury, but it is one of those that hangs around and is difficult to play with and requires a different kind of rehab to other injuries.”
Considering how poorly the Sharks started the 2010 season, it was interesting to hear Alberts say that the pre-season in Durban, immediately following his move down from the Lions, was the key to the excellent form that by the end of the year made him a near certainty for this tour.
“I think the key to my form and the improvement in my game goes back to the pre-season phase. It was very good training with a new franchise, and the Sharks fitness trainers Mark Steele and Jimmy Wright helped me a lot. After that what was important was that I started to get a lot of game time, and that is how you build your form and confidence.”
Ball carrying is Alberts’ big strength, and it was one of the crucial ingredients that helped the Sharks win the Currie Cup. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that their worst game of the domestic competition, the final league game against Western Province, came on a day when Alberts was absent.
However, Alberts was not giving any secrets away on what he would be expected to do if he comes onto the field on Saturday.
“I think I will just be expected to carry on from the guys who I replace and keep it going,” he said.
Alberts noted though that Wales have the physical and imposing Andy Powell on their bench, and does not require a massive leap of the imagination to foresee him involved in a head to head duel with the big Welshman as the two teams look to gain forward momentum in what could be the crucial last quarter of the game.
“He is a big physical guy so I am sure they will bring him onto the field later on and look to him to step up the physicality of the game,” said Alberts.
He is under no illusion that it will at forward that the match will be won and lost, as although this is his first rugby trip north of the equator, he knows enough about the rugby imperative in this part of the world.
“The forwards play a big role here, and because of the conditions they tend to play a lot tighter, so we are expecting a tough forward battle on Saturday. Wales would have gained a lot of confidence from the way their forwards went against Australia, but we did well against Ireland. I hope I can get onto the field, it will be a dream come true for me.
“The Millennium Stadium will be a great place for me to play my first match as there is a lot of rugby tradition at that venue.”
15. Lee Byrne, 14. George North, 13.
Tom Shanklin, 12. James Hook, 11. Shane Williams, 10. Stephen Jones, 9. Mike
Phillips, 8. Jonathan Thomas, 7. Martyn Williams, 6. Dan Lydiate, 5. Alun-Wyn
Jones, 4. Bradley Davies, 3. Adam Jones, 2. Matthew Rees (captain), 1. Gethin
Substitutes: 16. Huw Bennett, 17. Paul James, 18. Ryan Jones, 19.
Andy Powell, 20. Richie Rees, 21. Andrew Bishop, 22. Chris
15 Gio Aplon, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13
Frans Steyn, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ruan
Pienaar, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield
(captain), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast
Substitutes: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18
Flip van der Merwe, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Zane Kirchner,
22 Pat Lambie