The opposition, not revenge, should be Boks’ focus

The moment is almost finally upon us. This Saturday at 2pm UK time, when Bryce Lawrence (the Kiwi referee not too popular with Bok fans) blows his whistle to commence proceedings in the 1st Test in Durban, it will bring to an end a 12-year wait for the Springboks to exact revenge over the pride of the British Lions. Revenge and righting wrongs of the past will feature highly on the Boks’ radar, but they must not lose focus on winning a series against a Lions touring team. Realistically, most players only get one shot at it in their careers; you blow it, like the 1997 Springbok class did, and it’s night-night nurse!

Scribes in many quarters have claimed the squad selected by Peter de Villiers and his colleagues is too conservative. Viewed differently, it shows that the cornerstones of their selection policy are consistency and experience, something his predecessor Jake White was heralded for, even before the World Cup triumph. One only has to look at New Zealand boss Graham Henry’s failed mission in France in 2007, to show that squad rotation is not necessarily the right way forward.

Is John Smit the right man for the number 3 jersey?

There is also picking players based on form; I would hazard a guess that half the selected squad would not be crashing into tackling bags in Durban currently, as they would either have been injured for most of the Super 14 or shockingly out of nick. So what it comes down to is striking a balance between form, combinations, depth and experience, whilst maintaining some semblance of stability within the ranks. On this basis, the Bok selectors have got it largely right, which is commendable.

There should be some interesting match-ups in the opening battle, most notably Andrew Sheridan against Springbok captain John Smit, who is playing at tighthead prop. Much has been made of the Bok skipper’s switch from hooker, but he has looked accomplished since moving, and we have to remember, he has giant lock Bakkies Botha wedged behind him. Not too many players will go backwards with that sort of surety backing you up!

The two teams are swimming in entirely different waters; so that everyone in the squad got a run, the Lions Test team will not have played in tandem at all, while the Springboks have been wrapped in cotton wool, and most haven’t played a proper game since the last Super 14 round in mid-May. One-half of me says the Lions will have had 6 chances to get into a groove, compared to our solo effort in Namibia with our fringe players, while the other half says there are 6 chances they can pick up injuries, in addition to giving the Boks 6 opportunities to do some analysis.

What is certain is that it might not be easy as we think. The pedestal we currently perch ourselves atop has a breathtaking view; but if we’re not respectful, it can be a long way down.

This article originally appeared on The South African in 2009.

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