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Youth injection boosts Bok veterans


  • 22 Aug 2013
Springbok wing Bryan Habana in action against Argentina Springbok wing Bryan Habana in action against Argentina

Bryan Habana says the introduction of Willie le Roux and JJ Engelbrecht has served to galvanise the more experienced members of the Springbok team, reports JON CARDINELLI in Buenos Aires.

Heyneke Meyer made the observation before the first Test of the 2013 season. Le Roux, Engelbrecht and Jan Serfontein had all brought a fresh energy to the backline, and even in training it was evident that the more experienced players were being positively influenced by that exuberance.

Bok captain Jean de Villiers told SARugbymag.co.za in a recent interview that while experience wins World Cups, the title-winning teams have always enjoyed a good balance between the old and young heads. Indeed, who could forget a 21-year-old JP Pietersen making a game-saving tackle in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final against Fiji, or a 20-year-old Frans Steyn kicking a penalty to secure the result in the final itself.

Habana addressed the subject on Wednesday when he was asked to talk about the team's progress over the past few months. The Boks have already scored 25 tries in four Tests, and while they are not the finished article yet, there have been some encouraging signs that they are growing as a unit.

'It's a great place to be at the moment,' said Habana. 'We're a family, a band of brothers. As a senior player, you do have responsibilities, you try to lead the way. But then you have these youngsters bringing a fresh energy to the team. They're not content to play a bit-part, they're taking responsibility too.

Engelbrecht played just one Test in 2012, and did not cover himself in glory. The young centre has put in a lot of work over the past 12 months, particularly on defence. He's been a different player in 2013, and the Boks have reaped the benefits.

'He's bounced back, he's banged down the door,' said Habana. 'A year ago, you would have said someone like Juan de Jongh would step into that position, but JJ's performances have been impossible to ignore.

'As a senior player, it's pleasing to see all these youngsters making an impact. They're making the most of their opportunities and that is all you can ask for.'

Meyer said on Wednesday that while the Castle Rugby Championship remains the Boks' focus and that he wants to see progress over the next five matches, they would do well to keep the 2015 World Cup in mind.

The Bok coach wants to keep a nucleus of players together over the next three seasons, and hopes that 80% of the current group is still there in 2015.

'You also want to leave yourself room to bring youngsters into the mix,' said Meyer. 'If you look at guys like Willie, JJ, and Siya Kolisi, they have certainly added something to the side.'

Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

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