Assistant coach Matt Proudfoot says the only criticism that the Springboks will pay attention to is their own, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Johannesburg.
The Boks have ensconced themselves at their Montecasino team hotel after returning from an overseas leg in the Rugby Championship that saw them suffer three successive defeats.
This week, there has been a very real sense that the Boks have looked to close themselves off to the public and press criticism that has followed their recent performances, and left them just one log point ahead of the bottom-placed Pumas.
On Tuesday, a defiant Proudfoot fronted up to the media and insisted that the pressure and criticism would not affect a team that holds itself to their own standards.
‘Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and we can’t afford to worry about that. Ultimately, from a personal point of view, if I’m positively contributing to the team and the players, then I’m doing my job. And it’s similar for the players in terms of how they make a contribution and handle any criticism. We measure ourselves on our own criticism, and that’s the only thing that should affect our performances. How we look at ourselves and handle ourselves is what needs to be transferred to the team.’
In recent weeks, inexperienced backline coach Mzwandile Stick and new defence coach Chean Roux have particularly come under fire from various quarters.
When asked specifically whether he thought such criticism had strayed offsides, Proudfoot emphasised that the coaching staff operated on a system of honest introspection that ensured they held each other accountable.
‘We as a coaching staff look at ourselves harshly; when we have a coaching meeting, we close the door and honesty prevails. If [attack and lineout coach] Johann [van Graan] feels I’ve overstepped or done something wrong, then he can share that. Ultimately, I can only speak on my behalf, and how I would respond if that’s where criticism comes from.
‘At the end of the day, people are passionate about rugby in this country, and it’s good that we feel that responsibility. And if we didn’t, what would that say about how much we care about the Bok brand? How we manage it [criticism] and handle ourselves are up to us. We set the benchmark in terms of how the team responds, and how we improve.’
This week, the media has had very limited access to the Springboks’ training sessions as they’ve seemingly looked to come together as a team behind closed doors. It now remains to be seen whether a prevailing sense of defiance translates into a passionate response in this Saturday’s Test against the Wallabies at Loftus.
It’s a happy hunting ground for the Springboks, but the Wallabies have jetted into South Africa on the back of morale-boosting wins over the Boks and Pumas.
Considering that the All Blacks will be overwhelming favourites to emerge victorious in Durban next weekend, this Saturday’s Test has quickly become a must-win clash if the Boks hope to avoid the ignominy of potentially ending the tournament with just a solitary victory.
However, Proudfoot reiterated that the team was not concerned about past records or log standings, but rather about upping their standard of performance.
‘We had a few days off [after returning from New Zealand], and it provided an appreciation for how special this environment is. At the beginning of this week when we got together again, Allister [Coetzee] laid out the goals for this week, and in the first couple of days of training we’ve seen how the team has responded.
‘The players are pushing themselves to a new level of excellence and contribution. Everyone here is really motivated for another big challenge against the Aussies. We’re back home and going to be at a venue where we can perform a lot more comfortably. We have to take responsibility for a good performance this Saturday.’
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