‘England Test demands mental shift’

Jean de Villiers says the Springboks will need to be mentally strong to outlast a much-improved England at Twickenham, reports JON CARDINELLI in London.

The pressure on both sides could not be greater. England are desperate to make a statement against South Africa, not only because of their poor record against the Boks, but also because of the recent defeat to the All Blacks.

The Boks have been talking up the Twickenham battle for some time. The contest will show how far they’ve come under Heyneke Meyer, and what they can achieve in hampering northern hemisphere conditions. They too have a point to prove after a shocking performance against Ireland, where they showed very little attitude or composure.

On Friday, Jean de Villiers lamented the performance in Dublin. However, he also believes the team has moved on and made a mental shift ahead of the clash in London.

These matches, like the contests against South Africa’s greatest rivals, New Zealand, always demand more of the Boks.

‘Why are these games so big for us? Well, rugby was born here,’ said De Villiers. ‘You grow up in South Africa dreaming of playing against the All Blacks. But the dream to play England is not far behind that. They are one of the most difficult teams to beat at home. It’s a fantastic stadium, a fantastic crowd, and it’s always a fantastic outing.

‘We were half a second off the pace last week. We dominated territory and possession, and our set pieces were good, but we just couldn’t finish. It’s not a tangible thing, it comes from within. We will have to make the mental change this week. I have no doubt that if our set piece functions as it did last week, we will make it count.’

In the past 11 Tests against England, the Boks have won 10 and drawn one. And yet, as De Villiers conceded on Friday, there is not much separating Meyer’s Boks and Stuart Lancaster’s England when one looks at the more recent meetings in closer detail. The Boks can’t afford to take this England side lightly.

‘A lot of the players in our team hadn’t beaten the All Blacks before that game at Ellis Park. So records are there to be broken. Obviously we don’t want them to break that record against us. And we have our own goals,’ said De Villiers.

‘England have evolved and changed the most out of all the teams we’ve played against over the past few years. And if you look closely at those four games we played against them in 2012, there wasn’t a lot in those contests.

‘We won the first two by narrow margins, drew the third, and then took the fourth by a single point. Now they are a new beast. The mix of players they have is pretty good, and they appear to have a strong culture. There are a lot of similarities between them and us.’

De Villiers reiterated that an improved performance is paramount, and that the Boks have much to atone for following the disappointment in Dublin. 

‘We’ve put a lot of preparation into this game and it’s about taking a step forward in our own development. Whether that has relevance for what happens next year, I’m not sure about that.

‘The journey to the World Cup must also be important, it can’t be all about what happens at that World Cup. So we have to focus on the now.’

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Photo: Tom Shaw/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli