Wellington - Schalk Burger admits with a shrug and a smile that the vast experience South Africa has to draw on for their Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Australia on Sunday may be a two-edged sword.
Relaxed and jovial as he spoke to reporters on a rain-drenched Wednesday afternoon, the veteran Springboks flank said "if we win on Sunday it will probably be down to experience and if we lose it will probably be down to our age."
South Africa will likely name one of their all-time most-experienced line-ups for the knockout match against a comparatively young but rising Australian team. Burger said teams don't win rugby matches on experience alone, but conceded in the tight contest expected on Sunday it would be a factor.
The Springboks are the reigning world champions and Burger was being urged to say the experience they gained in winning the World Cup four years ago will give them a substantial advantage over Australia in a sudden-death match. He was reluctant to comply.
Whichever way the question was framed, he batted it away. He accepted, as Australia has, that Sunday's match will likely be tight and its outcome may be decided in the final seconds. It would stand to reason that a team which had previously played in that situation might have the advantage against a rival less used to that pressure.
But he said South Africa's World Cup victory in France four years ago was not necessarily a decisive factor.
"Four years is quite a long time ago, so hopefully when it comes down to the last seconds we are five metres out from the Wallabies tryline and not vice versa," he said. "At the end of the day, yes it helps (having been) there but when it gets tight like that, you call on individuals to make the right decisions and you call on individuals not make mistakes ... it doesn't matter whether you have a hundred caps or five caps."
Burger, instead, suggested Australia's youth, enthusiasm and the confidence the Wallabies drew from recent successes against South Africa might be more influential factors.
"I think it helps being there and having experienced it before, but then at the end of the day your caps are not going to win you a rugby match," he said. "You have got to go out there and play to the best of your capabilities. So I think our (last) match against Samoa we did well enough to win the match but obviously there are some areas we want to improve on, particularly for this game.
"It's an important match, it's a knockout, the Wallabies are a quality side. These guys have won the Super Rugby competition and Tri-Nations so they're in form, most of their players, so it's not going to be easy for us."
Burger agreed that if the Springboks lose on Sunday, that defeat is likely to see the dissolution of the world champion team - much of the squad has been together for most of the last eight years.
Many of the senior Springboks have signaled their intentions to retire from international rugby at the end of the World Cup, and their impending departure adds to the odds for which the team is playing.
"We haven't actually thought of losing," Burger said.
"Obviously, if we do get knocked out, this team has been together for eight years, a lot of guys are moving on.
"We will probably start thinking about that after the match, maybe drown our sorrows and say goodbye to a few friends. Yes, for this side it's important to finish well."
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