It didn’t take long for Mzwandile Stick to make his point at the media conference in Tokyo Bay on Monday.
The Bok assistant coach responded to the first question with a standard line about respecting the All Blacks. Suddenly, without prompting, he then called for referees and match officials to treat all teams equally over the course of the tournament.
The inference was, of course, that officials tend to favour the All Blacks in the big games and that some of their tactics often go unpunished. Stick knew what he was doing when he spoke about referees owing it to the game and to the fans to blow the match to the letter of the law.
Every Bok player and coach that fronted the media on Monday spoke with conviction. And yet, every now and then Stick or a senior player such as Faf de Klerk would say something aimed at putting the officials and the opposition under pressure.
‘In the last four games, there have been two points in it,’ De Klerk said of the recent fixtures between the two teams. ‘We’re confident that we can win, but I think this game is going to be 50/50.
‘I don’t think we’re the favourites, but I’m not going to say that we’re not the favourites either. We know it’s going to be a tight game.
‘It’s going to come down to a lucky moment or a ref call. We will have to take every opportunity we get.’
Jerome Garces will be the man in the middle when the two teams collide in Yokohama. The French referee has a reputation for making bold yet fair decisions, and perhaps the Boks’ latest comments will ensure that he remains on his present path.
A lot will be at stake this Saturday. The winner of this clash will go on to top Pool B and possibly avoid Ireland – the form side in 2018 – in the quarter-finals.
‘We want to get our structures in place,’ added De Klerk. ‘If you can pull this result through at this stage of the competition, you’re going to be in a good spot going forward.
‘We will have different tactics against different teams. We’re not looking too far ahead to October [and the playoffs], though.
‘If we get there, we will have to adapt once more. For now we need to focus on the coming game.’
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