John Smit says victory over France has had a massively galvanising effect on the confidence of the squad.
The Springboks had a poor record in this fixture in recent years, but this group of players were determined to redress the imbalance, and did so with an emphatic performance to secure a 42-17 victory over the Six Nations champions.
The quality of the performance and scoreline against a side of France’s calibre ensures this victory will be remembered as one of the best in Springbok history, and Smit was clear about the psychological benefits it had on their squad.
‘[Victory] was paramount and in our preparations we discussed the psychological benefits of a victory over France. It was our last chance to put a Springbok stamp on this fixture after France’s dominance. It was crucial in the greater scheme of things that this result went our way,’ Smit told keo.co.za.
‘It was an important week. They put out a good team and so did we. It was hyped up as the Six Nations champions versus Tri-Nations champions and there were plenty of distractions competing for our focus, not least of all my injury just before the start of the match,’ Smit said referring to the hamstring strain that forced him off at half-time. ‘I thought we did the basics really well and that was the secret to our success.’
Head coach Peter de Villiers added: ‘It’s frightening how similar these sides are. France don’t play the run-from-anywhere brand they used to. They’re structured, like us, and that similarity scared me. Their forwards are bulky and physical and we had to be on top of our game to just match them. We did well today.’
The Springboks raced out of the blocks striking twice in quick succession and banked a penalty for a 17-0 lead within the first quarter. That blitz seemed to paralyse their opponents who never recovered. Smit said their success could be attributed largely on their ability to stun the French in that manner.
‘I was very happy with the start, we showed intent from the beginning of the match and were direct and accurate in everything we did. That pressure resulted in two early tries and in a Test that’s a difficult position to come back from,’ he said.
De Villiers, however, lamented a flat period that followed their early dominance.
‘I felt we took our foot off the pedal in the last 20 minutes of the first half and couldn’t understand why given how dangerous a team we were up against. Why put ourselves under pressure like that? Thankfully they didn’t punish us,’ he said.
Most notably the Springboks weren’t bullied at scrum time in the manner they were in Toulouse at the end of 2009. The confidence gained from achieving relative parity in that facet of play contributed to the collective confidence of the side across all facets of play, and De Villiers noted that they had made a vital step forward.
‘In the last two years everybody spoke about our perceived weakness at the scrums and we fell into the trap of believing that. So we brought someone [Os du Randt] in to work on that and start from zero in order to get the players to believe in themselves once more. Today was a good start in that process.’
By Ryan Vrede, at Newlands