x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Boks are primed for assault

John Smit concurs with the view that the recent series against the British and Irish Lions has left South Africa in their best position yet heading into a Tri Nations competition.

John Smit concurs with the view that the recent series against the British and Irish Lions has left South Africa in their best position yet heading into a Tri Nations competition. The Springboks face New Zealand in Bloemfontein on Saturday on the back of a gruelling 2-1 triumph over Ian McGeechan's side, a success which has made them favourites not only to beat the All Blacks this week, but also to top the table in the tournament.

In any other year the world champions would have played an opposing Test nation in the build-up to the event, which also features Australia. But after the series win over the Lions, captain Smit, who will be leading the team for a record 59th time at Vodacom Park, is adamant they are now well-placed to win the title for the first time since 2004. He said: "I think the benefit lies in the fact that in the British and Irish Lions we faced the best of the teams combined that we normally face in the June Tests ahead of the Tri Nations.

"If one thinks of the teams that come here at this time of the year, we had good preparation as we beat a Lions team at full strength." The Springbok coach Peter de Villiers named an impressive starting 15 yesterday, with the only notable absentees being centre Adi Jacobs due to a groin injury and flanker Schalk Burger, currently serving a 12-week ban for eye-gouging. Jaque Fourie has come in for the Sharks midfielder, while Burger has been replaced by Heinrich Brussow, one of the stand-out players against the Lions, with JP Pietersen, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Ruan Pienaar, Pierre Spies and Bakkies Botha all returning after being rested in the last Test against the Lions.

The selection of fly-half Pienaar remains the most contentious one, considering he replaced Morne Steyn, the Bulls ace who secured the Lions series with his penalty in Pretoria. Asked about the decision and the headaches De Villiers faces when picking a Springbok team, Smit added: "Long may that problem last. It's simply a wonderful position to be in and I think we are blessed from a South African point of view with the kind of talent that we have at our disposal.

"So it's a good 22 and the guys have a lot of confidence in each other and certainly we will try and make sure that we can follow through with all of that on Saturday." As for their overall chances at the title, he added: "I believe we are good enough to compete in this competition. "We haven't won the Tri Nations trophy for a while. I think we have chosen a strong team that is good enough to compete properly."

Meanwhile, De Villiers is cherishing the return to Bloemfontein, the ground that hosted his first Test in charge last year that was won 43-17 against the Welsh. And the Springbok boss is keen for his troops to make a flying start to the competition by beating the defending champions, who themselves claimed an opening day 22-16 win over the Wallabies last Saturday. He added: "Getting off to a winning start in the first of three games at home will provide us with impetus and a great platform. We also need to prove to ourselves and our fans that we can play to our potential and get the very best out of this very talented group of players."

* PA Sport