World XV coach Nick Mallett has warned his charges that a failure to take Saturday's game at Newlands seriously may result in a humiliating defeat. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Springboks are overwhelming favourites to beat the composite side. The Boks may not have played together since tackling France in Paris on 23 November, but they do boast a number of experienced individuals and combinations, and are ranked No 2 in the world for a good reason.
Mallett has selected some fine individual players in his 23-man squad, but the fact of the matter is that the team that plays on Saturday will not be as prepared and settled as that of the Boks.
The World XV players and coaching staff only got together on Tuesday, and will train as a group for the first time on Wednesday. They are still waiting on five players to arrive from French club Toulon, and Mallett has confirmed that Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Steffon Armitage, Craig Burden, and Carl Hayman won't train until Thursday.
The squad has also been dealt a late blow with news that Lions prop Julian Redelinghuys has withdrawn due to a calf injury. He will be replaced in the squad by Stormers tighthead Pat Cilliers.
It couldn't be tougher for Mallett and company. The former Bok coach admitted as much, but said his team would strive to provide a good test for the Boks at Newlands on Saturday.
'It's about getting the mind right,' he said. 'These guys aren't playing for a club or their country, but they don't want to let themselves down as professionals. I have also told them that they are not coming here to drink and party. They will be embarrassed [by the Boks] if they don't get their minds right.'
If anybody can overcome such a challenge and orchestrate a shock win over a big rugby nation, it is Nick Mallett. He was at the helm of the Barbarians when they beat the All Blacks in 2009, and again when the famous club downed the Boks in 2010. He knows how to turn a bunch of talented individuals into a competitive unit in a short space of time.
However, as Mallett himself conceded, this sort of challenge will be very different. Those two victories were achieved against teams at the end of their respective seasons. Mallett knows that the Boks will be tougher to beat in the first international match of the year, and has impressed this on his charges.
While Mallett said the match should be an entertaining one for the fans, he will look to implement some structure. He has not only recruited Alan Solomons, who was also involved with the Barbarians in 2009, but former Stormers, Italy, and Southern Kings defence coach Omar Mouneimne.
'You can't just have a crack from anywhere, especially not against a team like the Boks,' Mallett said. 'The last team to do that against the Boks was Australia [in Brisbane in 2013], and that backfired terribly. They lost 38-12.
'We have to ensure we are competitive at the breakdown, as Francois Louw, Duane Vermeulen, and Bismarck du Plessis are all very good on the ground. We have Steffon Armitage who is an out-and-out openside. It would have been great to have Heinrich Brüssow available too, but he was involved in an earlier Bok camp and has learned all the calls and systems. It would have been unfair [to the Boks] to include Heinrich now.'
Earlier on Tuesday, Heyneke Meyer announced that Victor Matfield would lead the Boks in the injury-enforced absence of Jean de Villiers. Mallett lauded the decision, describing it as an 'excellent choice', and added that Matfield's inclusion would also boost the Bok lineout.
'We will need to get our set pieces right before we face the Boks. Victor has made a big difference to the Bulls this season, and you could see what happened last week [in the match against the Lions] when he wasn't involved.
'I don't think he will take long to settle at the Boks. I remember when he played for the Barbarians against the All Blacks in 2009. He didn't need much practice time to find his groove.'
Mallett will name his team to face the Boks on Thursday.
Photo: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images