Durban - Bryan Habana insists that rustiness should not be a concern for South Africa ahead of their Tri-Nations encounter against Australia in Durban on Saturday.
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The Springbok winger last played competitive rugby for the Stormers in the Super 15 semi-final, which was five weeks ago, and along with several other of his international team-mates, was rested for the Australasian leg of the tournament.
Peter de Villiers’ side suffered demoralising defeats in both games, losing 39-20 to the Wallabies and then 40-7 to New Zealand.
The coach has since recalled more than 15 of his first-choice players, amongst them vice-captain Victor Matfield, Jaque Fourie and Jean de Villiers – all in a similar position having hardly played any rugby for five to seven weeks.
“I don’t think it should be a concern because we’ve been playing rugby for six months now," he told reporters in Umhlanga, “In terms of actual game fitness, I think it’s something we have to push ourselves as players.
“A lot of us have played four or five weeks ago. But we are putting in the hard work and are over our niggles now.”
However, not all the players are over their injury woes with Springbok management revealing earlier on Tuesday that their team announcement would be delayed by 48 hours due to problems with their loose forwards.
Pierre Spies (groin), Danie Rossouw (illness) and Willem Alberts (back) have all struggled this week, prompting the call-up of Ashley Johnson and Ryan Kankowski as cover for the Durban clash.
Spies and Rossouw did resume training on Tuesday, but De Villiers said he needed "a little time to see if there was any reaction”.
Habana, meanwhile conceded that the backline was not up to scratch in the last two games and confessed that the Springboks needed to physically improve if they are to be a bigger threat as they build towards the World Cup.
“I think the main focus for now should be Australia,” he said. “The World Cup may be in the back of all our minds, but I think if you start worrying about two or three weeks ahead, you’re going to slip behind the actual goal that’s there at the moment.
“For now that is Australia on Saturday. The core group has joined and we’re all together again.
“A lot of us haven’t played together since the end of year tour last year.
“I think our physicality needs to step up a bit from where it has been in the last couple of games.
“The backline, hopefully we can start executing a bit better than we’ve done.
“So lots of challenges, lots of goals that we have set out as a team, first of all for this Test and then looking forward to the World Cup.” The world champions have won just one of their last five meetings against the Australians, that win coming in Pretoria last year.
“We’re expecting the same thing we always do against Australia,” Habana said.
“They’re definitely a world class outfit.
“We haven’t got a good record against them the last five or so games, so it’s going to be tough.”
He noted that the visitors will be desperate to get back to winning ways after being themselves beaten by New Zealand 30-14 in Auckland last week.
“After the loss, I definitely think they are going to come out fighting.
“When you play the number two side in the world, you have to put your hand up and show that you deserve to be there.
"So we’re expecting a backlash from them, but expect us to stand up and make our country proud.”