Jannie du Plessis acknowledged fatigue has gripped the squad after the longest season in history but refused to accept that it would debilitate the Springboks’ forwards.
Where they’ve drawn the energy from for two tour victories in an season that has seen the bulk of the heavies play nearly every match they could is beyond me. The draconian schedule has had serious implications when you look at the injury crisis the Springboks are enduring but the men left standing have somehow managed to rouse themselves in a bid to achieve their goal of an unbeaten tour.
The heavies have been very impressive in patches on attack and, when pinned in their half against Ireland and Scotland, were industrious, brutal and unrelenting on defence. England, however, will be the sternest challenge of them in this regard, and their drive will be fuelled by their media and respected former players and coaches calling for an almighty effort from their forwards
Du Plessis was acutely aware of the magnitude of the challenge that awaits, but while not denying the impact of fatigue, he called mental strength to be the defining characteristic of the Springboks.
‘England were always going to be a very tough game three weeks into the tour, especially after they’ve had a fortnight of rugby under their belt to settle. But it doesn’t matter that we’re three weeks in. In fact, therein lies the challenge, to be able to lift ourselves to play well,’ he said.
‘It is going to be massively physical, it’ll be trench warfare. We’d be fools to expect anything else. But the mind can overcome anything. We’ve got 80 minutes before we achieve our goal. If that’s not enough motivation to get up for this one, at the home of rugby, then I don’t know what would be.’
With a number of world class forwards injured or unavailable, there were concerns that that area of the Springboks’ armoury would be vulnerable. However, they have discovered a measure of synergy that has seen them dominate for many of their Tests this season, including against the formidable All Blacks eight in Dunedin. They achieved an appreciable level of synergy on attack in periods this tour and responded well when asked to guard their tryline, with the likes of Du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Francois Louw, Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts prominent in blunting their opponents’ attacking ambition.
‘The young guys and those with less experience matured quickly, and have really played well this season,’ Du Plessis said. ‘The more this pack has played together the better we’ve become. There’s a sense of trust among the boys, which is important to success. And there’s a deep feeling of unity. The combined effort here has definitely proven to be greater than the sum of its parts.’
Du Plessis charmed the English media with his quirky manner and flowery descriptions of even the most technical aspects of the game. He knows he has a crucial role to play in general and set play on Saturday, but he earned a good laugh when asked for his thoughts on Adriaan Strauss’s intercept try against Scotland on Saturday.
‘I would love to do that, it would be number one on my list of things to accomplish,’ he said. ‘But there’s no chance I’ll decelerate before the tryline like Adriaan, I’ll probably pick up speed and do a somersault. I do try to do stuff like [interceptions] but I’m probably not good enough. But if I get the chance, I’ll make the most of it in my celebration.’