Springbok captain Jean de Villiers has brushed aside suggestions that the occasion and the responsibility will be too much for Johan Goosen when the 20-year-old fronts the All Blacks this Saturday.
This match-up has long been viewed as the ultimate, whether you’re a Saffa or a Kiwi, and it’s because neither side will be lacking for motivation that we can expect the traditional grunt and intensity at the Calabash.
While the All Blacks have already won the Rugby Championship, De Villiers feels the Boks are still under a lot of pressure to win this Saturday and take some momentum into the end-of-year tour to Europe.
This begs the question why coach Heyneke Meyer would throw a 20-year-old into the mix in such an intense and testing game, but De Villiers feels the time is right, and that Goosen is ready for the responsibility.
‘Can he handle the pressure? I can tell you that not a lot bothers the Goose,’ said De Villiers. ‘He just gets on with the job. And the bigger the event, the bigger the response.
‘He has a great head on his shoulders, he will be able to handle the pressure. But then it also has to be a case of the other 14 players taking as much of the pressure off him as we can.’
Goosen brought some direction and innovation to the Bok attack last week, but was helped in large part by a dominant pack of forwards. He will need a similarly powerful showing by his heavies this Saturday if the Boks are going to cut that All Blacks defence.
He struggled with his goal-kicking at Loftus Versfeld (zero from two attempts), and the management revealed afterwards that he was battling with a heel injury. He has since recovered from the ailment and will resume the goal-kicking duties this Saturday.
It is an aspect of the game that South Africa will need to improve in if they hope to edge the world champions. They have struggled for consistency this year, and the worst showing of the season was in Dunedin where wayward kicking cost them 21 points.
‘We lost to the All Blacks in Dunedin by 10, and our kicking for goal wasn’t up to task,’ said De Villiers. ‘You can say we were close to beating the All Blacks, but we lost by 10. They were the better side because they took their chances. It’s very important that we take our chances this Saturday.
‘I’m very confident in Johan’s ability. He kicked for the first time this week on Wednesday and it went very well.’
De Villiers added that the Boks are under illusions that they are the finished product. The All Blacks will come to Soweto having won 15 Tests in a row, and as holders of the World Cup, the Bledisloe Cup, and the Freedom Cup. There’s no doubt of who will wear the tag of underdog in this fixture. It would be an upset if the Boks managed to prevail.
‘We will need to take our game to the next level,’ De Villiers said. ‘That game against the Aussies, it was just one of those games where they suffered injury after injury. So we have to look at it in perspective: we’re not suddenly a great team after winning that one game, there are a lot of improvements to be made.
‘I do think we have made progress and it’s important that we continue to improve this week. Unfortunately or fortunately in South Africa improvements are judged by the results. So we will have to get a good one to carry us through to the end of the year.’
A win for New Zealand, however, would spell trouble for top rugby nations like South Africa and Australia.
Lowly Lithuania hold the record for most consecutive Test wins (18), while the All Blacks and Boks are tied for 17 wins on the trot. If the Boks don’t stop the All Blacks in Soweto, it’s likely that the Kiwis will smash the record and go on to post something formidable.
‘It’s scares the living daylights out of me, thinking of how far they can go,’ said De Villiers. ‘It’s possible that if they beat us on Saturday they may go on to win all of their games on the end-of-year-tour and eventually set the record at 23 Tests or something like that.’
By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg