Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - All Black assistant coach Steve Hansen disagrees that the Springbok defeat to Australia last week was a train smash for the South Africans in their World Cup build-up.
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On the contrary, considering the length of time some of the players had been out of the game, he felt John Smit’s team had done “particularly well”.
“How do you judge the Boks on last week? Some of their players had been out for quite a while, so considering that some of them hadn’t played for eight weeks, and were clearly short of a gallop, I think they did particularly well,” said Hansen.
“The Springboks have clearly made a decision that they are running their own course, that the Tri-Nations is not their tournament this year, and that is fair enough. It was probably the right decision too because the Super 15 was brutal and quite clearly the players who competed in it can benefit from having a break.”
Hansen feels the five changes the Boks have made for Saturday’s clash with his team at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium were directed towards giving players a chance to show they could fit into the Bok plans. That said, he hinted that some of the selections would improve the Boks.
“I think they just want to use this opportunity to see how some players could fit in. But we know from Super Rugby that Willem Alberts is a big hitter and could make an impact, and the selection of Morne Steyn suggests they will be hitting us with an aerial game,” he said.
Another player who Hansen clearly feels will improve the Bok effort on Saturday is Bismarck du Plessis, though he did take care to not be seen to be criticizing Springbok captain John Smit, who is on the bench for this game.
“Bismarck is one of the best hookers around. He is more mobile, which means he is probably better defensively, he brings a lot of physicality, he is great over the ball and good at making turn-overs, just like (All Black hooker) Andrew Hore. Like Smit he is also a good scrummager, so it is good for the Boks to have them as they are both good players, just like our hookers.”
The All Blacks have arrived in the country with eight top players out, but the Crusaders came to South Africa and beat the high-riding Stormers with basically a second string side in the league phase of Super Rugby. Hansen believes there are enough senior players on this trip for the All Blacks to still win.
“I think we have prepared as well for this game as we have for any game over the past eight years,” he said.
“There are still a lot of senior guys who are here and the rest of the players are relying on them for leadership.”
A lot has been made this year of the playing schedule’s impact on the players and many see that as the main motivator for the Bok decision for the overseas leg and the All Black decision for this game to rest frontline players. However, Hansen issued a reminder that the travel load played as big a role when he spoke about Conrad Smith’s decision to ask if he could stay behind in New Zealand to play a provincial game.
“One of the reasons that some of the top players didn’t come was because of the travel. They have all carried big travel loads this year and that does take something out of you,” said Hansen.