PdV: Defeat exposed stragglers

Peter de Villiers cited the coming Tri-Nations as motivation for making 10 changes ahead of the dead rubber in Johannesburg.

The Springboks suffered their worst ever defeat to the British & Irish Lions when they went down 28-9 on Saturday. It was also the first time they had lost at Ellis Park since 2001.

Injuries forced the Lions to field a vastly changed side, but before the game, De Villiers explained his own eight changes as an opportunity to field fringe players. It was more important to give the youngsters an opportunity than to push for an unprecedented whitewash over the northerners.

‘We’re grateful we’ve won the series. When we sat down before the series, we said this was one of our goals. I’ve always said the Lions are a brilliant team and they showed it [on Saturday],’ De Villiers told keo.co.za.

‘How will we know [if the youngsters are good enough] if we don’t give them a chance? This was very important with the Tri-Nations just around the corner. We’ve learned a lot.’

De Villiers refused to single out players that have effectively ruled themselves out of the Sanzar tournament with an awful showing at Ellis Park.

‘It’s not in my principles to discuss players here. But I now have a clearer idea in my head of who they are.’

Bok captain John Smit explained the Boks wore white armbands in a show of solidarity for the banned Bakkies Botha. The irony was the belligerent Boks were outbullied on the day, with the Lions forwards the more intense unit.

‘I suppose you could say it was a distraction now, but there’s no excuse, we were poor,’ he said. ‘I’m experiencing some mixed emotions right now, but to be frank they were all over us at the contact area. Their counter-rucking was great and we didn’t respect our own ball enough. We need to learn from that going forward.

‘But if you had to said to me the series would have been 2-1 beforehand, I would have taken it. The Lions series was always going to be our priority this year and it’s been an amazing experience. To win a series, for me, is right up there with [winning] the World Cup.’

The Boks have adopted a game-by-game strategy and will only start planning for the Tri-Nations when they reconvene in 10 days time. While Smit said their major objective has already been attained, they are desperate to improve on last year’s dismal showing in the Tri-Nations.

‘I think we let ourselves down last year. This is going to be a colossal tournament and even though it was a priority to win the Lions series, it would be naive to think we couldn’t win the Tri-Nations with the team that we have. We just need to fix the mistakes and produce a better balanced effort.

‘There’s so much to be achieved and this team is young enough to go all the way through to the next World Cup. I’m committed until the end of 2010, so that’s not too far away [from the 2011 World Cup], but I’m going to take it one year at a time.’

By Jon Cardinelli, at Ellis Park