John Smit says the Springboks need to dominate up front if they’re going to pressure the Lions from a physical and psychological perspective.
The northern sector has been talking about this impending battle since the Boks’ UK tour. Almost every British journalist believes this is where the Boks are vulnerable. Only one specialist tighthead was named when the squad was announced on Monday, and even this is a stretch. Before last November, Smit played all his rugby for the Boks at hooker.
There has also been a question regarding the scrum’s determining role in modern rugby. The Bulls won the Super 14 despite their average scrum. The Bok scrum hasn’t been the best in recent years, but even when Andrew Sheridan destroyed BJ Botha in the pool game at the 2007 World Cup, the Boks went on to thrash England 36-0.
A biased front-ranker, Smit said the set-piece is going to be crucial from more than one view-point.
‘The scrum is still very important,’ he told keo.co.za. ‘It’s about the laying the platform for the rest of your team. When your scrum is going backwards it puts pressure on your loose forwards which in turn puts pressure on the 9 and 10. Even if you win, it’s not ideal to play under that kind of pressure.
‘I do know that there’s a lot of hype around this area. It’s like when we used to play against Eddie Jones’s Australia, all the hype was around the scrum leading into a game. And what do you know, on game day there are a few other aspects to the game as well.
‘So the scrum is still important, but it’s not as important as it used to be.’
The breakdown is an area where the British & Irish Lions are expected to struggle, but Smit said it may not be as simple the Springboks being superior to the tourists. There is the third force to consider as well.
‘There’s hardly a difference to the way the teams play, and a lot of it will be down to how the game is adjudicated. I think the game is on the right track [with the axing of the hybrid ELVs] but it will be tough for us to adapt and it will also be tough for the referees to adapt.
‘So you could expect to see errors from all three sides – the Boks, the Lions and the referees. I know it’s tough for the referees to deal with.’
Smit added he was pleased with the reintroduction of mauling and that the Lions could expect to see plenty of it in the coming series. Given the Boks boast the best lineout in the world, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
‘I think it’s a fantastic move to bring back the rolling maul. Both teams will want to use it, and it’s just one reason why this series is going to be a cracker of a contest.’
The Bok captain expects a big challenge from the Lions’ forwards and has read nothing into last Saturday’s showing against the Royal XV. The tourists were rattled by a determined Royal XV pack, but Smit reckons by 20 June they will be a different entity.
‘It’s too early to make any comment. They obviously want to try a few things and find some balance in their combinations.’
By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg