WELLINGTON // A slight lift in intensity should help the Springboks get back into the Tri Nations title hunt when they face a resurgent All Blacks in Wellington tomorrow, according to Victor Matfield, the South African lock. The world champions were outmuscled, placed under constant pressure and struggled to match the All Blacks' high-octane game plan during their 32-12 thrashing in the opening match last week in Auckland.
John Smit, the captain, and Peter de Villiers, the coach, both said after the match at Eden Park that they would not panic. They felt the team could not play much worse and their mistakes could be corrected, assessments echoed by their players this week. "They did a lot of things right but I must say, we also weren't there 100 per cent," Matfield said yesterday. "We were probably about 97 [per cent] and we know in these games if you're one or two per cent off your game, you will get smashed. And that's what happened."
Matfield said the Springboks would not alter their tactics in the wake of the Auckland loss and would look to play in the All Blacks territory and accumulate points through pressure. "We all know how we play, we won't go away from that," he added. "We're a team that likes to put pressure on the other team, to really strangle them. "Because we weren't there and we weren't quick enough off our line, we couldn't do that. We gave them space and time and they penalised us for that."
De Villiers said South Africa had "a bad day" at Eden Park and the same players were capable of making amends. "I trust the bunch of people that are with me, they just weren't on song last weekend," he said. Wayne Smith, the All Blacks assistant coach, said there was no reason for the side to veer away from their expansive style, adding that the real test was whether they could produce the same result.
South Africa, who will be without lock Bakkies Botha after he was banned for nine weeks following his headbutt on Jimmy Cowan, made just one other change, with CJ van der Linde replacing the injured Jannie du Plessis at tighthead prop. Botha has been replaced by Danie Rossouw, though Rossouw is questionable after suffering a calf strain at training. The All Blacks also made two changes, with Rene Ranger earning his first start for injured winger Joe Rokocoko, while scrum-half Piri Weepu has replaced Cowan, who had an abdominal strain.The team, however, said they had planned the swap anyway.
"Our best combination over the years has been to have Jimmy start and Piri finish, but from time to time they need to swap those roles and the injury (to Cowan) probably made us think a bit more deeply about that," Graham Henry, the All Blacks coach, said. "Jimmy can't do a lot over this week. He's going to be fine for Saturday, but if we pushed him too hard today and tomorrow he may fall over, so it's logical to do that [swap] as well."