Adriaan Strauss believes a relatively young and inexperienced Springbok side will overcome the pressure in the series decider against Ireland on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports from Port Elizabeth.
So much is at stake this weekend. The winner of the Test at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium this Saturday will clinch the series 2-1. Ireland could become the first home-nation side to win a series in South Africa. Allister Coetzee and Strauss’s Boks could become the first South African team to lose a Test series at home in 19 years.
Forget the cliches of every Test being as important as the last. The third and decisive match of this particular series is a final. The pressure to perform will be huge.
For many of the players in the Bok match-day squad, it will be an entirely new experience. Indeed, as many as 10 of the 23 players have not played in a Super Rugby playoff, let alone won a high-stakes game. Another three have featured in Super Rugby playoffs, but have never finished on the winning side.
Strauss and his lieutenants face a challenge in managing the younger and less experienced players in this high-pressure environment. Francois Louw, Beast Mtawarira, JP Pietersen and Eben Etzebeth each boast more than 45 Test caps. Each of these senior players will have crucial leadership roles to play in the series decider against Ireland.
‘I’m very proud of that leadership group,’ Strauss said on Friday. ‘Those players have helped me a great deal these past few weeks.
'They will have another opportunity to stand up on the field this Saturday. When you have a young or new team you really need guys like that to help you.
‘Personally, I enjoy the weak and challenging moments,’ the Bok captain continued. ‘I enjoy the pressure. We need to remain calm in those situations. I just try to keep the other guys in the moment. I get them to take it play by play, but also try to keep them believing that we will win the game in the end.’
Strauss admitted that the team has not been at its best in this series. The Bok captain believes the side will grow stronger as the season progresses.
‘Our tactical game is something that needs a bit of work. We will keep working on it in the coming months. It’s no excuse, but we have only been together as a group for four weeks. It wouldn’t be accurate to say we are a well-moulded side after such a short time together.
‘There will be pressure in this next match, but it’s something we need to embrace. To be honest, there’s a bit more excitement than nerves ahead of this must-win game.’
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images