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Sunday, September 25, 2022

‘Proud’ All Blacks will be desperate to get a win over the Springboks at Ellis Park, says Lood de Jager

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It is possible, when future generations pour over the statistics of the Springboks v All Blacks or reminisce of the great games that have come before, that the Mbombela Test will stand as a watershed moment in world rugby.

There is no doubt that New Zealand has been the dominant power between the two nations for the last quarter of a century and that the last time they lost to SA before the 26-10 dismantling this past weekend was in 2014. There should, therefore, have been a massive sense of relief permeating through the Boks and their coaches after the match in Nelspruit.

On Monday, that was certainly the sense when the always calm Deon Davids and gentle giant Lood de Jager radiated contentment while speaking to the media. Nevertheless, both know that if they are to make this trickle of success a raging rapid of domination, the Boks will have to improve on their performance on Saturday at Ellis Park.

“The All Blacks are a very proud team,” De Jager mused pragmatically, “a very proud rugby nation, so they will be even more desperate than they were in Mbombela.

“We have been in that position before where you fall to fifth or sixth in the world, and you will do anything to get back to that top spot. They will definitely be in that mindset.

“We are fortunate to play them again this weekend where we can focus on ourselves a lot and what we can still improve on what we did well and what we can do better, but, ja, they will come with everything they have, and we are expecting a massive battle.”

There weren’t many players in the 2014 squad in this Bok team that can attest to beating the All Blacks on home soil – only Willie le Roux, Handre Pollard, and Trevor Nyakane had achieved the feat. So, while De Jager expressed gratification of finally getting that particular monkey off of the squad’s back, he tempered his response with caution.

“It is always massive to win against the All Blacks,” said De Jager.

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“They are a quality team. It doesn’t matter the results or the world rankings.

“They are one of the best teams in the world, and you have to prepare like you are playing against one of the best teams in the world. So, to beat them, for a lot of us, was the first time in South Africa, and it is a proud moment.

“But you are only as good as your last game, and we have got a massive challenge again this weekend. We have to really try and work on ourselves and our game to put out our best performance.”

Much has been said, reported and opined about New Zealand missing the physical component that this rugby nation brings, but a thoughtful De Jager believes that it swings both ways – as much as the Kiwis miss South Africa, South Africa also misses the Kiwis, but for different reasons.

Said De Jager: Just the way the game went in the first half, there were long passages of play, and when the ball is in play, it is at a very high intensity.

“We tried to bring our game to them – the mauling, the confrontation which we believed worked. They tried to enforce their game back on us, which is a bit more expansive due to the quality players they have. It made for a very high intensity game when the ball was in play.

“I think on both sides, there were times when you were sucking diesel trying to catch your breath. As they missed not playing against South African teams who bring the maul and that confrontational play, we probably don’t play against teams that expansive anymore.”

Coach Jacques Nienaber announces his team on Tuesday, and De Jager is expected to be in the match day 23. The 29-year-old lock believes that the Boks will have to be even better this weekend, if they are to achieve a rare treble of victories over the Old Foe.

“We had to work unbelievably hard to stop their plans and the way they play, and it is going to be the same this weekend.

“You are probably going to have to work harder than you have worked against any other team. They just raise the intensity to a massive level, and you need to match that or try and top that to beat them.

“We need to prepare ourselves again for that massive intensity at the weekend.”

The second Test in the Rugby Championship kicks off at 5pm on Saturday.


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