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Sunday, April 21, 2024

John Smit wonders how long Ireland can withstand ‘serious Springbok grunt’

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The battle lines have been drawn for tonight’s monster showdown between the Springboks and Ireland, and 2007 World Cup-winning captain John Smit is confident his old team have got their strategy right and will win the game.

Smit played in three World Cups – 2003, 2007 and 2011 – and it is doubtful that there is anyone better placed to judge the ability of the current Springboks to win back-to-back titles.

“The Boks were smart in showing their hand by announcing their team so early in the week, because the talking point for most of the week is how Ireland will deal with playing against two packs,” Smit said from Paris yesterday.

“Rassie (Erasmus) and Jacques (Nienaber) have established an insurance policy by picking a risky bench. If they lose, they will say they got it wrong, and they will take the lesson on board – and if they win, it is high-fives all round.”

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Smit said it was a clever chess move by the Bok bosses to put the ball in the Irish court, and the No 1-ranked team’s decision to pick a 5-3 split is a declaration of their own.

“It is interesting that Ireland have made no effort to counter the 7-1 split,” Smit said, smiling.

“I think there is a bit of a mental game going on there. They are saying they don’t need to respond, and that they have the players to deal with it.

“But I look at the Ireland tight-five and wonder how long they can withstand what is going to be serious grunt.

“And I look at their bench, and I think that 80 minutes is too long for them to hang on (in) the face of that firepower.”

Smit is in Paris with his former teammate Jean de Villiers. The 2015 World Cup captain shares Smit’s confidence in the Boks.

“I look at the Boks and I see a team in which the individuals are all in good form, and the collective is on a positive trajectory,” De Villiers said.

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“It starts with the captain. Siya (Kolisi) has pulled off a remarkable comeback from a serious injury, and he has immediately hit fantastic form. That is mind-blowing.

“But he is hardly the only one who is playing well,” De Villiers said.

“The guys are in hot form because of the competition for places.

“The Boks have far better depth than was the case four years ago. Each player has to be at his best every single opportunity he gets, because if they do not perform, there is a hungry guy ready to jump in.

“Collectively they are ticking all the boxes. It is a reflection of the work they put in. The coaching staff put a big emphasis on work-rate. You can see that in how the guys get up off the ground after making a tackle and get ready to go again.”

De Villiers’s take on the match-up between veteran Irishman Johnny Sexton and youthful Bok flyhalf Manie Libbok is refreshing.

“The outcome of ‘Johnny versus Manie’ will have a big impact on the result,” De Villiers said.

“Johnny has been there so many times before, while Manie just wants to play. He is not looking to the past, because it doesn’t affect him. He just wants to do his best.

“Manie plays his best rugby when he plays on instinct, and when he does that, the Boks play their best.

“Manie is not worried about Johnny’s experience, and I am sure the coaches are imploring him to play his natural game.”

* John Smit and Jean de Villiers were speaking on behalf of Sage, an official supporter of Rugby World Cup 2023. Visit www.sage.com/za


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