x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

John Smit demands Springboks step up a gear

John Smit insists South Africa are still "a long way off" the team they want to be as they prepare for their final home Test of the season against Australia in Bloemfontein.

John Smit insists South Africa are still "a long way off" the team they want to be as they prepare for their final home Test of the season against Australia in Bloemfontein today. After the highs of 2009, when a series victory over the British & Irish Lions was followed by the Tri Nations crown, the world champions failed to match those standards in 2010.

They started well enough with victories against Wales in Cardiff and then beat France and Italy twice, but after a run of four defeats - three to New Zealand and one to the Wallabies - the knives were out for Smit and his team. The sequence ended last week with a 44-31 triumph over the Australians in Pretoria and Smit, the Springboks captain, is determined to use that as a stepping stone. "We will certainly use that to build on," he said. "It's a long way off from where we need to be but at least there's a win under our belts. If we think we have turned the corner we [now] need to be able to open up on the straight and that will only be evident if we can follow through on that tomorrow. Since our return from overseas we have been concentrating on what we can control, which is our game - our set pieces, what we do in general play, how we kick and whether we kick to give it away or to get it back.

"When you have a bad run of results you have to go back and touch on your basics and get them back to where they belong." The starting XV for the clash at Vodacom Park sees just one change made by Peter de Villiers, the Springboks coach, with Danie Rossouw, the lock, swapping places with the rookie Flip van der Merwe, who drops to the bench. Also among the replacements, Butch James, the Bath fly-half, has a shoulder injury and misses out to Gio Aplon. The inclusion of Rossouw means the starting line-up represents a total of 750 caps, making it the most experienced Springboks side of all time.

New Zealand wrapped up the title two weeks ago, meaning both sides are playing for second place as well as the Nelson Mandela Shield. Despite this, De Villiers resisted calls to rest his senior players for the game and Smit sympathises. "It's always tricky deciding when to rest players and it's very difficult to rest a whole group of players. It's something you need to do on an individual basis," he said.

There are also reports that some of the older heads may be rested for the year-end Grand Slam tour to Europe, but Smit said: "The fact that it is a Grand Slam tour does complicate matters. You're not going to give that up easily. But we'll do some planning in the next couple of weeks." * Press Association