JOHANNESBURG // Despite a belief that the Springboks may have over-invested in beating the British and Irish Lions recently, South African captain John Smit insists that they will be giving it all when they attempt to topple Tri Nations champions New Zealand in Bloemfontein next weekend. The All Blacks have won the last four tournaments and there is pressure on South Africa and Australia to now crash the party.
The trouble for the Boks may be that the Lions series was such an enormous goal - they threw all their energy and emotion into avenging the 1997 series defeat - that motivation may be an issue in a tournament that has become routine. Not that Smit believes it. "We are the favourites, according to the experts, and we very much want to live up to that expectation," he said. "It is going to be one heck of a series.
"I think the Wallabies are going to be much better than people think and the All Blacks will get their act together; they always do, especially with Richie McCaw back from injury." A number of factors favour the Boks: their first three matches are at home; the Lions win would have boosted confidence levels; and a number of exciting new players have emerged, chiefly flanker Heinrich Brussow and fly-half Morne Steyn.
But it's not all sunshine and roses. The way the Boks capitulated in the final Test against the Lions, when they appeared uncoached and uneasy in the face of the Lions' physical onslaught and direct running, suggests a fault line that may extend to the coach's bizarre public relations style. At best, Peter de Villiers is eccentric; at worst he is an embarrassment to the world champions and the country he represents.
He appeared to accept that the Boks were not at their best in recent weeks. "We have much more to offer," he said this week. There are other worries to trouble de Villiers. The Bok pack is an inconsistent force, Ruan Pienaar's form is equally capricious and, for all the quality in the backs, there was little evidence of their creativity in recent weeks. Many reputations have taken a knock. The Boks must also do without the primal force that is Schalk Burger for much of the tournament.
He's sitting out an eight-week suspension for eye-gouging. Sadly, the mood is less expectant and more guarded. The Boks, you feel, were lucky to escape against the Lions with a series win. Lightning surely cannot strike twice. firstname.lastname@example.org