Gulf between Boks and Blacks

RYAN VREDE, in London, reports Jean de Villiers feels there is a significant difference in class between the All Blacks and his Springboks and that will take some bridging.

The world champions have been denied victory just once in 2012 (they’ve won 19 of their last 20 Tests), drawing with Australia. Their hot streak has featured some sublime performances, and they have become the benchmark against which many measure the Springboks. This was particularly evident when the Blacks put 50 on Scotland and the Springboks stuttered to an 11-point victory in Edinburgh a week later.

These comparisons are, of course, unfair on De Villiers’ young and inexperienced side. The Blacks’ standing now has been years in the making, while the Springboks are in the infancy of their journey. De Villiers was liberal in his praise of the Blacks, but also appealed for some perspective when judging the Springboks.

‘I think that gap is very big still between us and them. But then you look at the Dunedin result and we were in the game in Soweto before they outplayed us and we think that we’re really getting there,’ he said.

‘That’s a special team. They are showing the value of experience and of settled combinations. It takes time to build something like that. We’ve said a lot about soft moments costing us games this season, and experience helps to lower the chance of that. As an experienced player you’ve been there, made those mistakes and learned from it. Its about getting through that rough patch, and if they do the value will be there to see.’

But while the standard of measurement is likely to remain the All Blacks and consistent victory over them, De Villiers stressed the importance of the result at Twickenham against England in the context of their season.

‘The reality is that if you don’t win you’re looking at a 50% win ratio, which is below this team’s standards,’ he said. ‘We’ve only lost three [and drawn two], but it is important for us to win this one so we can go into next year with confidence. We’ve worked hard and had a reasonably successful tour from a results point of view. But we have to step up in different facets of our game, especially the attack.’

In saying that De Villiers touched on a sore point for the bulk of the South African rugby fraternity. The Springboks have scored just three tries on tour against opposition considered inferior, which has fuelled the widely held belief that they are conservative to the point of it being terminal. De Villiers disagrees.

‘There’s always ambition. The opponents don’t always allow you to do what you want. But you get judged by the result and people quickly forget about how you played when you win. History will reflect the score not the style,’ he said.

The Springboks will keep believing that they can replicate the try-scoring feats of the 2007, 2009 and 2010 Bulls (who led the tournament for try scoring in the last two of those years), whose method was identical. De Villiers pointed out that the lower standards of defence in Super Rugby had to be considered, but agreed that that is ultimately was where they wanted to take their attacking game.

‘We’re still very far off that. The way that they achieved that is with exactly the same game plan. It comes down to the decision making and clinical finishing, which is where we’ve lacked. Also those were very settled sides. That is the end goal.

‘We won’t lose focus of where we’re going and sticking to what we’re good at. If we can do that and win, I’m happy. We can’t please everybody. The flip side is that the high expectation is so crucial. Once you lose that and people don’t care anymore, then you’re in trouble. Our standards will drop and we won’t be able to get to No 1.’