Lions tighthead Phil Vickery was extremely diplomatic in his assessment of the Springbok No 3s.
You wouldn’t expect anything else from these tourists. They’ve been at pains to praise everything about the Springboks and South African rugby in general.
Vickery was no different, not wanting to provide any soundbites that could be used to motivate the Bok tightheads. The Englishman believes Deon Carstens, who played the entire Super 14 at loosehead, will have no difficulty in switching to the role as the Boks’ back-up No 3.
‘It won’t be particularly difficult for him at all,’ Vickery told keo.co.za. ‘It’s a settled side so one new guy shouldn’t affect them. If they made massive changes, then you’d have to worry.’
Vickery, who has slimmed down but still weighs 118kg, tried to play down the role of the tighthead in the success of a team, even repeating some of Peter de Villiers’s quotes from Monday night.
‘If we are hinging the success of our entire tour chances on their tightheads, then we are going to struggle. There are many more factors in the game. The Springbok coaches know their players and the way they want to play, and that is what they have based their selections on. I’m not surprised at their choices.
‘You could talk about squad selections until the cows come home – people are probably still talking about Lions selections. But if I was the Springbok coach, I’d back John Smit.
‘They’re a great all-round team. South Africa have been through a few tough times, you never want to bring politics into it, but they are back at the top. I was watching the schoolboy rugby on TV on Monday night. That was great watching 17-year-old beasts pummeling each other. I wish we had that back home.’
Vickery, who has made one of the more remarkable recoveries after three operations on his back and one on his neck, will make his first start in a Lions jersey since 2001.
‘The only real concern for me personally is getting into our Test team,’ Vickery said in reference to Wednesday’s match at Ellis Park. ‘I have to make the best of the opportunity and force the coaches to look at me.’
In other team news, a fully-fit Leigh Halfpenny arrived in South Africa on Tuesday. He will be up for selection after Wednesday’s game.
By Grant Ball, in Johannesburg
Read what Smit has to say about playing tighthead in the new issue of SA Rugby magazine, on sale now