Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - John Smit believes the key to his Springbok team’s chances of beating Australia in their fifth Vodacom Tri-Nations encounter at Loftus on Saturday will be the level of intensity they can bring to the game – and he is 100% on the money.
Australia have over the years displayed a penchant for imploding on the Highveld, and if the Boks care to look back through the history books, they will be emboldened by the knowledge that often the Wallabies have conspired against themselves when playing at upcountry venues.
If you speak to former Australian coach Eddie Jones he will tell you how cowed Australian players tend to be when they get on a plane and the destination is a match in Johannesburg and Pretoria – and this year they have two matches scheduled for the Highveld.
Unlike the All Blacks, Australia have elected not to stay at altitude in the buildup to Saturday’s match. Instead they have spent the weekend in Cape Town, and will fly to Johannesburg on Thursday, and next week they will be staying in Durban for most of it.
The decision to build up at the coast was taken jointly by the coaching staff and the players, but coming up two days before does seem like an odd decision. The conventional wisdom is that you go to altitude either on the day of the match or a week before if you want to stand the best chance of acclimatising.
But while the Wallabies may find the dry fields and air of Loftus and the hostile atmosphere of Pretoria a far cry from the more moist air and softer fields of Cape Town, the Boks nonetheless need to tread warily going into two matches they should be expected to win.
The Wallabies appear to have seen what many others saw at FNB Stadium this past weekend, where the All Blacks came from behind to beat a Bok team that was clearly out on its feet in the last quarter. They have made no bones about the fact that they will be trying to outpace and out-last a team they feel only plays in patches.
The one big thing that should be of concern to South Afrcans is the level of intensity the Boks through into last week’s big occasion match. Can they repeat it again, or did they in a sense play their final then and now their emotion is spent? Only Saturday will tell, but Smit is under no illusions as to what is needed.
“The Australians play with a different style to the All Blacks and are not as physical, but for us to win we are going to have to take the same intensity into the Loftus match that we had last Saturday,” said Smit.
Of course, what he did not add was that the intensity has to last for 80 minutes, and not just 60, and it is going to be crucial for the Boks to put points on the board if they dominate the early stages of the game when they will still be fired by the emotion of Victor Matfield’s 100th appearance and the experience of being back on a field that so many of them regard as their stomping ground.
Australia vary their attacking game much more than New Zealand do, and the defensive system is going to have be even more efficient than it was in the first half last week. Halfbacks Will Genia and Quade Cooper offer attacking options through the middle and on their inside, where skipper Rocky Elsom is a key ball carrier.
But Smit, who says the disappointment of the last minute defeat to the All Blacks has been swept away by the focus that needs to be put on the next game, reckons that it is less about what the Wallabies are going to do and more about what his own team need to do.
“We need to step away a bit and think less about what we are playing against and more about what we are going to do. We must focus on ourselves and getting our game right and not worry too much about the opposition.”