The Springboks are still convinced they can win the Rugby World Cup, and veteran wing Bryan Habana has poured scorn on accusations that the members of the squad may be too old to repeat what some of them did in France in 2007.
While many critics have expressed concern that some of the older players appear to be struggling to regain former glories, the 2007 IRB Player of the Year says there are no such doubts from within the squad.
“It hasn’t been a happy couple of days and I would easily count it alongside the loss to Argentina in Durban as my unhappiest experience as a Springbok, but we still have full belief that we can go on and do something special in this tournament,” said Habana.
“There is no doubt in our squad about our ability to win this thing. I have been in many Bok squads and I know there is something special about this squad. From player one to 31, and including the management members, we believe we can go on and do the job and what happened last Saturday hasn’t changed that belief.”
The 111-test match veteran said that the time of introspection was over and that the motivation now was to correct what went wrong in Brighton.
The 32-year-old was the first Bok spoken to since the opening match defeat who admitted that the uniqueness of the Japanese approach to the game might have been what caught the Boks out, with the then 14th ranked team in the world catching the then third-ranked Boks out with their game-plan.
“We have spent 48 hours reviewing the game and the biggest thing that has come out is that having not played Japan before, we did not fully know what to expect,” he said.
“We did not know what they were going to bring, and when they brought it, we could not adapt. The Japan coach Eddie Jones had a simple plan and he had been preparing for this one game for five months. Full marks to Japan for the way they so perfectly executed their plan.
“They disrupted us at the breakdown, scrummed quickly and not many of us had experienced being chopped down below the knees like that. They were also intelligent in the way they negated our superior physical strength in the set pieces. This weekend in Birmingham our adaptation to Samoan tactics must be a lot smoother and a lot quicker.”
The last time South Africa and Samoa met in a World Cup match was in the final Pool match of the 2011 tournament in New Zealand, with the Boks winning a match marred by truculence from both sides and with several yellow cards being brandished by referee Nigel Owens.
The Samoans were playing for broke as they had to win to make the knockout phase, whereas the Boks were reasonably certain of advancing, but Habana disagreed that the different space the sides found themselves in contributed to the over-robust play.
“Every time I play the Samoans it is the same. They are just a team that has tremendous pride in the jersey, they are very physical, and they just don’t leave anything out there. It will be the same at Villa Park this coming weekend. It always is. But that does not mean there will be provocation. Both teams will be playing to win the game and we know how indiscipline gets punished.”