Boks refuse to react to Lions bait

Assistant coach Mzwandile Stick says the Springboks will do their talking between the “four lines” when they tackle the British & Irish Lions on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.

The heat has been turned up prior to the highly-anticipated first Test between the two sides in Cape Town, and to be fair, this is primarily as a result of several comments and criticisms that have come out of the Lions camp recently.

The verbals have included questioning Faf de Klerk’s yellow card in the SA A game, chirping Rassie Erasmus’ role as a water carrier, and criticising a “lack of foresight” from World Rugby after the appointment of South African Marius Jonker as the series TMO.

ALSO READ: Lions’ criticism of TMO ‘blatant intimidation’

Earlier in the week, Lions head coach Warren Gatland also claimed that they had “dented” the Boks’ ego after denying the SA A side any set-piece dominance last Wednesday.

It’s all added to a rather phony sideshow, with a lot of the talk out of the Lions camp undoubtedly carefully aimed at getting certain reactions, while looking to plant subliminal messages in the minds of the officials.

Perhaps it is also a sign of the pressure that is building as a weight of expectation has shifted onto the Lions, who are seen by many as the favourites for the first Test after all the Boks’ Covid-related disruptions and limited game time.

Particularly in this Test week, though, the Springboks have kept the focus internal, with virtually nothing to speak of coming out of the Bok camp since Tuesday’s team announcement (naturally as a result of two media-free days on Wednesday and Thursday).

Yet, on Friday, a virtual media briefing was held with Stick and captain Siya Kolisi on the eve of the Test.

Inevitably, Stick was asked about some of the verbal warfare the Lions were engaging in, particularly in terms of feigning outrage at Jonker’s appointment as TMO.

“From our side as a Springbok team, we don’t appoint officials, that’s the job of World Rugby,” Stick responded emphatically. “So I can’t go into that and say we are happy or unhappy with the officials because it’s not in our hands. All I can say is that all the officials are professionals, and we all respect their job.

“So to us, it doesn’t affect us, all we want to focus is on how we want to play the game. If they have a problem with that then they can go and have a chat with World Rugby regarding that,” he added.

The second part of the question from an overseas-based journalist related to Gatland’s comments about denting the South African ego.

Again, albeit with perhaps just the slightest wry smile, Stick opted to not get drawn into a war of words.

“On their comments that they dented our ego, I won’t go deep into that either,” he responded. “We are happy as a team [after the SA game], and once again if you look at the most important stat, which is the final score, we were on the right side of that.

“So I’m not sure what was dented. I’m not going to fall into the trap of playing mind games, I’m not a mind games person. The game will be played between four lines, and so if Gatland is talking about denting our egos, he doesn’t really know much about us as South Africans.

“Let’s wait and see on Saturday after the game, and hopefully we can give people a good show. We know the Lions are going to be tough, we know they are going to be physical, so once again when it comes to the egos, we’ll see the egos between the four white lines.”

Kolisi was also asked whether the Springboks had become aware of some of the comments coming out of the Lions camp, but he suggested there were bigger things to worry about.

“Oh, no no no, my only focus is to play and to do what the team requires of me. So it’s just been about preparing for what the Lions will bring, and to make sure I’m ready to play. All the other stuff is out of our control, and we can’t focus on that. It hasn’t got to us as a team, there are other people who can look after that kind of stuff.

“What I can control is what we produce on the field, how we talk to the ref and the teammates around me. I always believe whatever is supposed to happen on Saturday will happen, so other than that I don’t even get involved in those sorts of things because I have a far bigger job to do on the field.”

And on one other note, Stick responded to the question of whether Erasmus would be continuing to serve as a water carrier for the Boks.

“I’ll keep it short and sweet,” he said assuredly. “Rassie will be running the water, he’s been fulfilling that role for us in the team, so he will be there and we as Springbok rugby are happy with that.”

ALSO READ: Erasmus can continue as water carrier, but may be monitored

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Craig Lewis