A visit to the home of English rugby no longer intimidates Springbok players as it did in the past, writes JON CARDINELLI in London.
The year was 2006 and Jake White’s Boks were a team under pressure. They had lost at home to France, and bombed in the Tri-Nations. Their heaviest-ever loss to Ireland at the old Lansdowne Road was quickly followed by a gutting defeat at Twickenham, their sixth successive failure at the English stronghold over a period of eight years.
How times have changed. Eight years on, and it's the Boks who have the right to boast about psychological dominance.
Since that last defeat on 18 November 2006, the Boks have played 11 Tests against England, won 10 and drawn one. It’s significant to note that this record includes four straight wins at Twickenham.
Prior to that 2006 tour to Ireland and England, nobody seemed to know how a win at Twickenham would be achieved. SA Rugby magazine ran a feature titled ‘Unlocking Twickenham’ in its preview edition of the November tour. It was aptly titled considering the Boks just couldn’t seem to crack the Twickenham code.
Former players who had failed and succeeded at the famous ground were interviewed. The consensus was that Twickenham was akin to Ellis Park or Eden Park. It was bloody hard for an away team to win there, and especially hard for the Boks. The visitors were always made to feel unwelcome.
Of course, a string of positive results can do much to change a mindset and eradicate an aura. The Bok class of 2014 will not be intimidated by the ground, its history, or its ardent fans. Indeed, there are only a handful of players in the current squad who will remember what a loss to England at Twickenham, and anywhere else in the world for that matter, feels like.
On Wednesday, Bryan Habana said that he was looking forward to revisiting the iconic stadium. The veteran winger has bittersweet memories of his first match at the ground in 2004, which was also his first in international rugby. He came off the bench, and scored a try with his first touch. Despite his efforts, though, Habana could not prevent a 32-16 loss.
But that was a different era. A new Bok team playing under a new coach in White went up against a grizzled England side that had won the World Cup just a year earlier. It would be two more years before South Africa, through the drop-kicking exploits of André Pretorius, ended the drought. Since then, it’s been a flood of Bok victories in South Africa and at the home of rugby.
There are some who feel that the Boks are due a loss against England, and especially at Twickenham. That may well be true, and may come to pass this Saturday.
However, if the attitude shown by the South Africans in the buildup to this Test is anything to go by, England will need to play out of their skins to secure the result. Any win will be hard-earned through England's own physical efforts.
They can’t expect any assistance from the aura of Twickenham, because that aura no longer exists. It will take years of positive results to recreate the oppressive energy that was experienced by visiting teams in the past.
Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images