John Smit believes that the massive pressure generated by public expectation had an adverse effect on the Springboks’ performance against Wales.
The Boks were fortunate to sneak a win against the Welsh in Wellington, as the Dragons were the dominant side for much of the match. Providing the Boks can negotiate Fiji, Namibia and Samoa in the next three matches, they will top Pool D and avoid playing Australia in the quarter-finals.
When asked to assess the Boks’ performance at the Cake Tin, Smit said that the result was the only thing that mattered. Both the Bok captain and coach believe they are on the right track with their structures, and Smit said that it was the external factors that impacted the most on their display.
‘I’m delighted to come through that game with a win,’ Smit said. ‘There were a lot of nerves and a lot things outside the game [that effected our performance]. In the end it was great show of character and we played the pressure moments well.
‘There was huge pressure created from all the public send-offs [in South Africa]. It got to the point where it felt like a play-off before we had even started the game.
‘It took awhile to get settled, and that we still got the job done in spite of all that pressure was impressive. Some of the boys have been around for awhile and it was good to see there was a lot of calm towards the end, we never lost the belief that we could win. It was very difficult to get into their half, but we knew we just needed to get there to give ourselves a chance.’
Smit also suggested that referee Wayne Barnes allowed the Welsh to get away with some offside play at the breakdown, and this inhibited the Bok attack.
‘It’s been said that we don’t play rugby, but we weren’t allowed to play much today. Wales flood the breakdown and the gate doesn’t seem to be a priority [with the referee]. It makes it very difficult to go forward if that area isn’t patrolled well.’
Wales missed two penalties and a drop-goal attempt, but coach Peter de Villiers refused to entertain suggestions that the Bok game plan required work or that individuals let themselves down.
‘It wasn’t a rugby Test, it was a test of character,’ De Villiers said. ‘I think that we got our starting XV right, and the bench made the difference in the second half. They upped the tempo and put the opposition under pressure.’
By Jon Cardinelli in Wellington