Revenge will be on the Springboks’ minds when they face Wales in the World Cup quarter-final at Twickenham on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in London.
The Boks arrived at their new base in Bagshot on Monday. Pennyhill Park has long hosted the England national team in the lead-up to home Test matches. A range of first-rate facilities include a training field that’s an exact replica of the Twickenham pitch.
The Boks held their first training session at the venue on Monday afternoon. Lock Victor Matfield and wing JP Pietersen did not train with the rest of the group. It is hoped that these senior players will be fit to start against Wales this Saturday.
South Africa could well be based in Bagshot for the next three weeks. A win against Wales this Saturday will see them progressing to the semi-finals. Even if they lose the penultimate game, they will remain in England for the third-place play-off on 30 October.
As far as digs are concerned, it doesn’t get much better than a five-star resort in the tranquil English countryside. And yet when you speak to some of the players and coaches, the mood is anything but relaxed. There’s a new edge about the team, and it has as much to do with the opposition as the magnitude of the game this Saturday.
The Boks feel they owe Wales one. The South Africans have not forgotten what transpired in the lead-up to the Test in Cardiff last November, and in the game itself. While they have a greater goal in mind, namely winning the World Cup, the Boks will be determined to put Wales in their place this coming Saturday.
For those who need a reminder, last year’s match fell outside of the World Rugby-sanctioned Test window. The South African management released players of the quality and experience of Bryan Habana, Pietersen and Schalk Burger to their overseas clubs.
It was assumed that the Wales management would do the same. However, it quickly emerged that the Wales Rugby Union had secured the release of several big-name players for the clash against the Boks. Fullback Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon), centre Jamie Roberts (Racing 92) and scrumhalf Mike Phillips (Racing 92) were suddenly available for the big clash.
Wales fielded a full-strength side for the game. The Boks had to make do with a depleted outfit. At that point, the likes of Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Fourie du Preez were all unavailable due to injuries.
To make matters worse, South Africa lost Jean de Villiers to a serious knee injury late in the second half of that match. Wing Cornal Hendricks was harshly yellow-carded, as TV replays would confirm, and the Boks went on to lose 12-6.
The Boks left Cardiff the next day with mixed feelings of anger and disappointment. They were desperate for a chance to set the record straight. Instead, they went back to their respective franchises to prepare for the 2015 Super Rugby tournament.
This Saturday, however, the Boks will have their opportunity for revenge. The players and coaches that fronted the press at Pennyhill Park on Monday were in no mood to praise their opponents. They’re clearly up for the physical battle this weekend. If anything, the Boks will need to ensure they don’t go too far this Saturday. Discipline will be key.
Wales showed some heart in the 15-6 defeat to Australia last week, and coach Warren Gatland said afterwards that he felt confident about the Dragons’ chances of beating South Africa. When this was put to Bok defence coach John McFarland, he didn’t beat around the bush.
‘We’re confident about beating them too,’ he said bluntly.
And so the Boks should be. They’ve lost just two matches to Wales in over a 100 years. They feel that the most recent defeat was an aberration. They also haven’t forgotten about the events leading up to the match in Cardiff last year.
The Boks will go into the World Cup quarter-final at Twickenham on Saturday as the favourites due to Wales’ long list of injuries. But if what one is hearing from the South African coaches and players is to be believed, there will be no risk of complacency.
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