World Cup-winning South African skipper John Smit believes the planet’s most experienced Test side can finally get at nemesis Quade Cooper and knock out the Wallabies with their superior temperament for sudden-death rugby.
The crafty Springbok statesman started the mind games for today’s cut-throat quarter-final in Wellington by saying this was a pressured stage unlike any other that young Australians like Cooper, Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor had played on.
“Results entering the tournament certainly favour the Wallabies with a mental edge but those games have been in a different vein to what a World Cup does provide,” Smit said away fromWellington’s all-day rain. Knockout rugby is different and we’re fortunate we have players who’ve seen a few scenarios over the last decade. Pressure is what makes the game beautiful and creates some special performances.
“I can feel the vibe in our team. The World Cup started this week … the do-or-die.”
The Springboks will likely field eight or nine of their hard-headed 2007 World Cup-winners and 110-Test leader Smit senses his team has sharpened from “undercooked” during a lean Tri-Nations to the ideal mood after four straight Cup wins.
“I think the experience we’ve got will come to the fore. You take the heat as much as possible yet remain composed in what you want to achieve with game plans,” Smit said.
The Boks clearly feel they are finally equipped to make life hell for Cooper, who has had staggering success against South African sides over the past two seasons by befuddling their strict structures with his ad-lib brilliance.
Five-eighth Cooper helped guide the Reds to eight wins from nine starts against South African Super Rugby sides in 2010-11 while the Wallabies are on a roll of four wins from five Tests against the Boks with him as a starting playmaker over the same period.
Cooper has spilt several high balls in his defensive position at fullback in a tournament played in slippery conditions so bomb major Morne Steyn will test that frailty.
New defensive coach Jacques Nienaber has turned the leaky Springboks defence into such a formidable wall with a miserly 24 points conceded in four pool games, against attack-minded teams such as Wales, Samoa and Fiji.
The defensive lift will make it harder for Cooper to probe while South African coach Peter de Villiers said not second guessing what the unpredictable Wallaby might be hatching with a pass or a counter-attack was a lesson that had been hard learnt.
“We’ll get it wrong if we make these decisions for him. If we allow him to make it his decision, it is much easier to stop him. We’ll be ready,” de Villiers said.
De Villiers has a huge selection call to make with Bismarck du Plessis playing such outstanding rugby at hooker that Smit could be relegated to the bench for the quarter-final.
De Villiers said the loss of centre Frans Steyn to a shoulder injury was “much bigger” to his team than the All Blacks being stripped of Dan Carter.
by Buford Balony