John Smit and Peter de Villiers said their impressive victory over Fiji is only a step in their journey rather than it being indicative of an arrival at their destination.
The 49-3 scoreline was emphatic and reflects the Springboks’ utter superiority in a contest that could have become tricky had they allowed Fiji to believe they had a chance of an upset. They never, shutting them down through a brutally efficient defensive performance, and an attacking exhibition that, while not flawless, was very encouraging.
Before the sweat had dried on the players’ bodies there are already those hailing the win as the sign of the Springboks rediscovering the form that earned them the title in France four years ago. Smit was having none of that.
‘It was better [than the one point victory over Wales a week ago],’ Smit said. ‘I don’t know about it being the breakthrough performance though. The assessment of our performance is influenced by who we are playing against, which players are selected and what our stated objectives are.
‘Last week I wouldn’t have given us a good mark. This week we controlled the game in a way we never did against Wales and played on our own terms. The most encouraging thing is that the way we played was closer to how we prepared to play in training. There were a couple of players who played well last week and a couple more who did so tonight. We’ll keep building. The intention is to get better every week. It is important to progress and I think we did that tonight.’
De Villiers’ reaction was similarly measured. ‘There are things that were pleasing, like how we broke down the [defensive] wall with our directness. But we haven’t ticked all our boxes,’ De Villiers said. ‘The first 20 minutes belonged to them. We missed some tackles in that period and that gave them momentum. We pride ourselves on our defence. We must be more ruthless there.’
Encouragingly Smit said he started to sense parallels with the quiet confidence that was the outstanding feature of their approach to matches in France four years ago. ‘Before the Test and indeed yesterday afternoon at the captain’s run there was an easiness about our preparation that was similar to 2007. That was so central to our success. It is important to take that attitude into every game,’ he said.
Smit added that he placed more value on restricting Fiji to a solitary penalty than he did on scoring six tries. ‘We spoke about developing the right balance between an aggressive attitude and composure in our defensive game and we’re doing well. Our defence at this point is making it really difficult for teams to attack effectively,’ he said.
De Villiers said there were no serious injury concerns at this stage and allayed fears that Bakkies Botha, who recently recovered from an Achilles injury, had suffered a recurrence, explaining that it was planned to substitute the lock at half-time. The Springboks play Namibia at North Habour Stadium in their third pool match on Thursday.
By Ryan Vrede, in Wellington.
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