White upbeat despite life without Smit

Wednesday’s Springbok team announcement saw coach Jake White look more upbeat than he has for some time.

It could be something to do with the politicians having the good grace to leave him alone during the build-up to what is undoubtedly the biggest match White will take his team through before the rugby World Cup, but it could also be that White is happy with his options despite the injuries niggling away at the core of his team.

Captain John Smit will miss the All Blacks Test – White was less than optimistic about Smit’s chances of making the rest of the tournament and flanker Juan Smith is also labouring with a knock (“At this point I have given him the benefit of the doubt,” said White on his fitness) – while Gurthro Steenkamp, who might not have played anyway, was ruled out of the match as well.

Yet it gives Victor Matfield – ‘a logical choice’ according to White – the chance to test his mettle as captain, it gives Os du Randt a chance to measure himself against Carl Hayman, and it gives Gary Botha a chance to get a full Test debut at last. And, as White pointed out, it gives the team a chance to show how much of Smit’s responsibility they can assume. The Boks are hardly a second-string outfit, even with the enforced changes, and White also stressed the necessity of careful man management.

“Those guys – Fourie, Bryan, Gurthro and John – who are on rehab programme, there is no use rushing them back now,” said White.

“We only have three more matches and then it is World Cup time. So now we just have to move ahead.

“John has been a very successful captain and he is a very important part of the way we play. But saying that, I would much rather he sat out now going into a Rugby World Cup and it gives me chance to see how the guys react without him.

“It’s a big challenge for Victor as well I am sure. It is his first run-on test cap as captain and it is against the All Blacks, so you don’t get much bigger than that on debut.

“But he has been very successful at the Bulls and there are a lot of Bulls players in this team as well, so I am sure they will help him make sure that he is assisted during the game.

“Having Os will help Gary. Os has 71 test caps – very important to us anyway, but Gary, with only 6, will surely be grateful to have someone like Os propping down next to him. It makes us more confident having a more seasoned campaigner next to Gary too.”

Injuries are never welcome though, and it is clear to see that white’s troops are succumbing to the niggly injuries – bruises, knocks and pulls – while Graham Henry, major injuries aside, has a fresh and healthy troop to choose from.

The re-conditioning programme that saw Henry distort the New Zealand Super 14 franchises so has reaped its rewards for now, but as White also pointed out, there are also benefits from being more battle-hardened.

“I think with these little injuries we are seeing the cumulative effects of a long Super 14 campaign and two tough Tests against England,” said White.

“Physically this is hard. But mentally this game is as big as it gets. People are saying this is a rugby World Cup final rehearsal, which is a big boost to us. A couple of years ago people wouldn’t have said that.

“The positive is that we have played at that level of intensity (last week against Australia) and won.

“The negative is that we have yet another heavy encounter coming while the All Blacks have had a week off. So what we gain psychologically we might lose physically.”

That Test against Australia last week was as close as it gets, but White saw patterns in the game that showed his team were superior on the day, irrespective of the score. It was also an indirect compliment to the magnificent Australian defensive performance.

“It was an unbelievable test match, I don’t think people realise how tough it was, and it is incredible they are not more ba

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