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Boks will not bow to pressure

Mark Keohane5/9/07

John Smit tells Keo in the Independent Newspapers that the World Cup Springboks will not stumble under the weight of expectation.

Springbok teams of recent vintage have struggled to cope with being favourites and generally have reserved their best performances when written off as no-hopers.

But Smit said there would be no implosion for the Boks in Paris, believing the squad of 2007 to be a class above their 2003 predecessors and arguably the best Bok squad since the 1995 World Cup winners.

“I have been to a World Cup where no-one gave us a chance and we didn’t give ourselves a chance. It was a case of just wanting to get the thing over with four years ago. Our backs were to the wall when we arrived in Australia in 2003 and we weren’t good enough or well enough prepared to fight our way out of it. That’s a different pressure to the one we are feeling now,” said Smit.

“This time the expectation from our support base is that we are good enough to win the tournament. That’s an awesome space to be in and the players want to feed off that positive energy.

“I certainly don’t feel burdened by the public’s expectation. I think it is more accurate to say we’re honoured that South Africans believe we are among the best teams at the tournament.”

The Springboks will be the only team based in the city in the first month of the tournament, and Smit described this as an advantage to the emotional well-being of the players.

“Paris is one of the great cities and culturally a brilliant place. I would have hated to be holed up an hour out of the city and have an insular build-up. We spoke about embracing the culture and the people and as a squad we all believe that the best approach is to see the next two months as a life adventure.

“I know that this tournament will define all of us. We will either be remembered as champions or just another Springbok team at the World Cup. I’ve been the latter in 2003 and it’s awful. I aspire to bigger things than what was produced in 2003 and those other members who were also in Australia in 2003 feel they have unfinished business.

“Guys like Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield are rightly regarded as the best lock combination in the world and the next two months gives them the biggest stage on which to showcase their talents.

“Jake’s (White) message to the squad was to live the campaign and leave Paris better players and better people. He told us he didn’t want us to have a clichéd attitude that we would die for the campaign. He said he wanted us to live it because that would mean we’d have to accept the consequence of whatever we did.”

Smit, who will captain the side after a three-month injury lay-off, said the players were prepared for the physicality of the Samoans. England, their opponents five days later, would only be a consideration on Sunday evening.

“We have to beat Samoa first and then we can think about England. The short turnaround between Samoa and England is going to challenge us and we’ve spoken about the dangers of playing Samoa but thinking about England. Our attention has to be on Samoa. We know they’re always capable of one big game at the World Cup.

“They are a team that thrives on early momentum at the World Cup and we can’t allow this on Sunday. We’ve always had good results against them, but I’ve never known an easy game against them. It will be physical and uncompromising, but it will be the perfect introduction to the event because our boys will know they’ve been in a game.”

The Springboks, captained by Smit but fielding the core of their second string squad, beat Samoa 35-13 at Ellis Park earlier in the year. The Boks also hammered Samoa at the 2003 World Cup.


MARK KEOHANE | keo.co.za | Wednesday, 5 September 2007 | Comment on this article

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