Johannesburg - The Springboks will take a lot of confidence and momentum into this year’s Castle Rugby Championship, but even so, as captain Jean de Villiers believes, they still need to improve a lot.
According to the supersport.com website, the three back-to-back victories in the Castle Incoming Tours series have given the team a lot of momentum going into the Rugby Championship, and its easier to see the team as a lot more settled under coach Heyneke Meyer this year.
After all, there is a lot more certainty about the way they want to play, about the positions of personnel in the team and there is a real feeling that the side is starting to develop well as a unit.
But they know that in a competition where forgiveness doesn’t exist, and against three of the best sides in the world, there is no margin for error and any weaknesses will not only be detected but also exploited.
The Boks open their fixture list against Argentina next week at the FNB Stadium as part of the celebrations of former State President Nelson Mandela, and they will want to get the game off to a fitting start to celebrate the legacy of one of the world’s greatest leaders.
But at the same time, an epic battle for the first Bledisloe Cup will be on the go, and a constant reminder that in the Southern Hemisphere, things don’t get tough, they are normally so and players will need to adapt under pressure.
De Villiers knows this all too well, a veteran of these battles who leads the side into the Rugby Championship on the back of building momentum and growing confidence.
This aside though, De Villiers also knows too well the battles are about to take a massive step up in quality. But he is still in a confident mood.
“Our preparation is better. Last year we were under pressure from the word go – especially with the England series before the Rugby Championship,” the Bok captain replied to a question of what was different in entering the competition this season.
“ I think the guys are much more comfortable in the environment at the moment. The bulk of the squad are much more settled, and for the new guys coming in, it is an environment that is easy to come into and easy to adapt to.
“The results of the incoming tours were also positive. We progressively got better and we got results, so we’re hoping to take that momentum into the Rugby Championship.”
While the team hasn’t had the ideal opportunity to train yet, with 11 players still overseas, De Villiers’ doesn’t see it as a drawback as most of the players involved know the systems inside out.
“The bulk of those guys were involved in the incoming tours, so they’re used to the systems. Gurthro (Steenkamp) was involved last year so he should be fine and Fourie (du Preez) is the type of guy that should be able to pick it up quickly. We’re happy where we’re at, at the moment.”
But despite all the positivity, De Villiers also knows the challenge that will be posed by the Wallabies and All Blacks, and an improved Pumas side, will be much greater than the team has faced in the last year. For this reason he has called on his team-maes to up their level of work ethic to ensure they can meet these challenges head on.
“We need to improve on everything,” De Villiers pronounced, “This is a different competition and the teams are better and there is much more pressure.
“For us to get to No 1, you need to progress in every single year, and in every competition. From an attacking point of view we did well, but we can still improve on that. Defensively we let in a few tries that could have been stopped and the breakdown has become a massive issue for us.”
The breakdown, of course, will be a massive area and after the problems with Scotland, the Boks are taking no chances. Scottish consultant Richie Gray has joined them this week to work on this, and with the likes of George Smith and Richie McCaw looming, it will be not a moment too soon.
Things look good in the Bok camp, but there definitely isn’t any overconfidence. Rather a determination that De Villiers likes when he sees it.