AJ: I’m the man for the big games

AJ Venter says he relishes the titanic clashes of world rugby … much like the one against Australia this Saturday.

Venter made a rousing return to international rugby against the All Blacks on Saturday, after he requested to not be considered for selection this season in order to commit more time to his burgeoning storage business.

But now his resistance has crumbled and the robust loose forward says he wants more.

“I’m the man for the big games,” he told Keo.co.za. “They bring out the best in me. And our game against Australia on Saturday is one of the biggest you get.”

Venter’s performance in Rustenburg was lauded by his teammates and the media alike. And though there is no official word on the Bok team selection, he is largely expected to be entrusted with his favoured No 8 shirt on Saturday.

Venter though refused to give anything away, opting for a hypothetical response.

“If Jake had to give me a choice between flank, lock and No 8, the choice would be easy. I’ve always loved packing down at the back of the scrum and it’s where I’ve played for the whole season with the Sharks.

“That said, if Jake asked me to play hooker I’d jump do it because I really want to be part of the action. ”

Venter will have to nullify the influence of the hard-running, 120kg frame of Wallaby No 8, Wycliff Palu at Ellis Park. But he dismissed the Waratahs player as a factor.

“There is no harder-running or stronger loose forward in world rugby than Jerry Collins. We took care of him on Saturday and you’ll find that he didn’t make too many metres for his team.

“Sure Wycliff is good with ball in hand, but we won’t be too worried about him. I’ve got full confidence that the loosies will take care of him adequately.”

Bobby Skinstad and Gary Teichmann continue to be the benchmark for the modern South African No 8. And Venter has been criticised for possessing neither the former’s flair nor the latter’s commanding presence. But he rejects the notion that his play is predictable and stresses that he is more than a one dimensional player.

“I’m not too worried about what people say. I’ve always played to my strengths, which has been my ability to dominate physically.

“That’s what makes me a good player, but I can adapt to play any style. It depends what the coach wants from me on the day.”

The Springboks much hyped win in Rustenburg broke a five-game losing streak. But even in that adversity, the team’s set phases remained solid. When asked whether the Boks will look to dominate a Wallaby pack that has in the past been perceived to be inferior, Venter was clearly not buying into the assessment.

“When it comes to Test rugby, the pack you’re facing are eight of the world’s foremost players. There’s this idea that the Aussies have a poor pack but that’s rubbish.

“Maybe they are not as reliant on muscle to dominate but they are a clever and cunning side who are always looking to outwit you in the forwards,” he said.

At times last Saturday the Springboks should glimpses of their full attacking potential when the ball went travelled down the backline, but has Jake White instructed his players to try and keep it tighter to make sure that Phil Waugh is not a factor at the breakdown if players become isolated?

“Absolutely,” said Venter. “But With guys like Jean De Villiers and Jacques Fourie, you don’t have to plan to play a more adventurous style, it comes naturally to them.

“But at the end of the day it’s about winning Test matches and we’ve won many Tests in the past by keeping the game tight.”

By Ryan Vrede