John Smit believes the Springboks are in better shape now than after their World Cup triumph.
Last year was one of mixed results for the Boks and notably lacked any silverware. The euphoria of record defeats of Australia at Ellis Park and England at Twickenham, as well as a historic result in Dunedin, were tempered by home losses to the All Blacks and Wallabies.
Smit feels that the Boks will need a similar display to 2007 in order defeat the Lions.
‘I’d like to think we’ve moved forward,’ said Smit. ‘The influence of the new coaching staff has given us some new ideas and I think we pose a bigger threat with the majority of the same players here. Those guys have two years more experience and we definitely haven’t regressed.’
The success of the 2007 was marked by a dynamic balanced display from both backs and forwards, but all the points in 15-6 final victory over England came from the boot. Smit said the current Boks could also produce a hybrid of game-plans necessary to out-think as well as out-muscle the Lions.
‘Our priority is to win. The person who couldn’t appreciate that final win doesn’t know their rugby. The Lions series will be similar and it’s a final of sorts as its such a special event played over three Tests. If it takes five penalties or five tries to win the series, that’s what we’ll do. We have the players to do both.’
Smit, who has visibly bulked up since his move to tighthead, says this series is more important for the hosts than the visitors. Smit emphasised that the added incentive of such an event and the additional pressure will only serve to improve the quality of the Boks’ performances.
‘I spoke to [former Wales centre] Mark Taylor and I think it’s more of a privilege for us. We have to wait every 12 years for such an incredible occasion, but they are up for selection every four years.
‘I wouldn’t say I fear failure, but that little bit of fear will drive us to new heights. Pressure is part and parcel of international sport. The more of it, the better you will do. Winning the World Cup created more public expectation on us, which is a positive.
‘If there was no pressure, that would mean no importance, and that certainly isn’t the case.’
Jake White moulded a squad over four years for the Boks to achieve world domination, while Peter de Villiers has successfully maintained that core group. The Boks have just one warm-up before the Lions series against a Namibian XV on Friday, but Smit said there shouldn’t be a worry of lack of preparation.
‘The concern would be about the consistency of the squad that hasn’t been together for a while. But the team has been together for more than four years and we’ll get the answer on 20 June.’
By Grant Ball, in Pretoria