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'Expansive' Boks to go to next level

Fri, 07 Jun 2013 15:03
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When did he have an opportunity to make a selection like this?
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Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said improving as a team will be their main aim of the Test against Italy in Durban on Saturday.

After managing just a 59 percent success rate in 2012, the veteran skipper is adamant the Boks can improve their record and produce a more entertaining game.

"It doesn't really matter who we're playing against, the next three games is about upping the level and improving," De Villiers said at his traditional captain's media conference on Friday.

"We believe we're much better than the seven [wins and two draws] out of 12 [Tests] we got last year," the skipper said.

"A lot of lessons have been learnt through the year and we're definitely much better prepared now than we were 12 months ago."

De Villiers also feels that coach Heyneke Meyer's bold team selection will give the Boks a chance to play the more expansive game the fans have been yearning for.

The choice of uncapped scrumhalf Jano Vermaak and fullback Willie le Roux was unexpected, but has been widely acclaimed by media - painting a picture of a coach suddenly releasing himself from the shackles of a stoically physical approach to the game.

"If you look at the teams we've played in the last year, when did he [Meyer] have an opportunity to make a selection like this?" De Villiers asked at the news conference.

"He was under pressure from the word 'go' but he has always said that deserving guys will get an opportunity."

Meyer starts his second year in charge of the Boks with tests against Italy, Scotland and possibly Samoa over the next three weekends as part of a four-nations tournament in Durban, Nelspruit and Pretoria.

They offer easier options to his first 12 matches last year - when he began with a three-Test series against England, the Rugby Championship against Argentina, Australia and New Zealand and an end-of-year tour against Ireland, Scotland and England.

Picking the Cheetahs fullback, Le Roux, who was not even in the training squad a month ago, and the Bulls scrumhalf, Vermaak, was described as "exciting" by De Villiers.

"Le Roux can spark a team," the Bok skipper said.

"He's been at the forefront of the Cheetahs' success in Super Rugby this year.

"Players like him have to be given a chance at international level to see how it goes.

"The coach has always selected players he believes are the best for the team.

"There is never an opportunity in a Bok shirt, it is always something that is deserved."

The Bok captain, who will earn his 85th cap, has dismissed the suggestion that the Boks are underestimating the Azzurri.

The Italians have lost all 10 previous meetings against South Africa, but are on their way up after finishing fourth in the Six Nations earlier this year, ahead of Ireland and France.

"We're not looking much at our track record against them," De Villiers said.

"This is a good Italy side, we won't underestimate them.

"At some stage Italy will beat South Africa. Whether that's in a year's time, 10 years' time or a 100 years' time, eventually it will happen.

"Our job is to make sure it doesn't happen on Saturday."

"We are looking to take a step up this season and while the main objective is to win, we will be aiming to improve our play at the breakdown, which the coaches have identified as an area that requires significant improvement. We have been working hard at that as obviously getting quick ball is important if you want to have a good attacking game.

"If you get quick ball that is when you can strike when your opponents' defence is disorganised and you can find holes. Hopefully the work we are doing on the breakdown will pay off and enable us to attack more this year. At the same time, in the three matches we played on the November tour last year we only conceded one try. So defence is also an area we would like to maintain a high standard in.

"Basically it's about taking our game up a level. Last year was difficult as the new coaches came in under pressure and we didn't have much time to prepare. The reason the coach did not do what he is doing now by trying out new guys was simply because last year there wasn't an opportunity to. The pressure was always on."

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