Bloemfontein — The Springboks believe they will use the experience of their huge defeat against the All Blacks positively for Saturday’s match against Australia.
The match looms as a contest that could save the campaign from complete failure.
If the Boks win, it would guarantee them second place, with their final fixture against the All Blacks to follow.
Mathematically, the Boks still have a chance to win the title‚ although it is almost impossible, given that the All Blacks need only two points from their final two matches.
Second place would represent statistical progress for the Boks after a dismal 2016‚ although genuine progress can only be measured on the gap to the world’s best, and after losing 57-0 to the All Blacks in Albany two weeks ago‚ progress is a relative concept.
Beating one of the poorest Wallaby teams in two decades‚ on the Highveld‚ should be a foregone conclusion. But nothing can be guaranteed anymore.
It’s something that most rugby players want to do — to play against the All Blacks and try to beat them in New Zealand. Now we have gained that experience some of the wide-eyed nervousness will be goneFranco Smith
Backline and attack coach Franco Smith refused to dwell on any negatives from the Boks’s recent showing‚ preferring to focus on how the team responds to the Albany agony.
"Experience is not what you know‚ it’s what you do with what you know‚" Smith said.
"And the only way to gain experience is through experiencing up and downs.
"Before playing against New Zealand, we were on a roll‚ had played six games without defeat [and] we played good rugby with a strong team culture.
"The culture hasn’t changed‚ but under pressure‚ with high expectations [against New Zealand] it maybe got to some of the young players.
"A third of the team had never faced the haka‚ and having faced it myself‚ it is quite intimidating. It’s something that most rugby players want to do — to play against the All Blacks and try to beat them in New Zealand. Now we have gained that experience some of the wide-eyed nervousness will be gone.
"The hunger in training is there and we coaches had to hold the players back because they were so keen. It’s easy to motivate players and they can’t wait to get out there."
Smith pointed to better protection of possession as one of the keys to success this weekend. He didn’t dwell on the set piece‚ which crumbled against the All Blacks‚ but it’s obvious that scrums and lineouts cannot be so poor again.
Openside flank Francois Louw joined the squad in Bloemfontein on Monday after completing his club duties at Bath at the weekend.
That is welcome news for the squad that suffered at the breakdown on their way to the worst loss in Springbok history in Albany.
Jaco Kriel‚ who performed well during the early stages of the season‚ missed the match with a shoulder injury and has subsequently had surgery that will rule him out for the rest of the season.
"Francois has come back fully fit‚ had a magnificent preseason‚ is stronger than before and has played three good games for Bath‚" coach Allister Coetzee said.