Boks 'playing Wales, not the Lions'
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers has played down the presence of 11 successful British and Irish Lions in the Wales team.
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers has played down the presence of 11 successful British and Irish Lions in the Wales team ahead of their Test on Saturday.
Wales players, with the Principality's coach Warren Gatland also at the helm, formed the backbone of the Lions team that notched up a 2-1 series win over Australia earlier this year.
But De Villiers, who will be joined in midfield by the returning veteran Jaque Fourie, stressed: “We're not playing the Lions, we're playing Wales. It's a big difference.
“You can take a lot out of the Lions series but at the end of the day it's not the same team. There are players who played in that team, but there are also crucial players who played for the Lions side that are not in the Welsh side.
“In saying that, we believe the Welsh team is a quality side and that they'll be up for this game.”
Wales have racked up just one victory over South Africa – in 1999, in 26 internationals stretching back 107 years, but De Villiers said that counted for nothing.
“To get a successful tour, we need to start well and play well against Wales. Your first game is always your toughest game and after that your second game is your toughest game,” said the 32-year-old who made his Springbok debut in 2002.
“It's the next one that counts and for us now it's Wales. They're pretty confident. They're riding pretty high after the Lions series and it'll be a tough battle.”
But De Villiers insisted that his team were well prepared, arriving for their year-end tour after finishing a creditable second behind world champions New Zealand in the Rugby Championship.
“This team has come a long way in the last couple of months. I think we've improved drastically in certain areas, and hopefully we can take that into this game,” he said.
“Obviously, we didn't end the Championship on a high with a loss (against New Zealand), but there were a lot of positives to be taken out of that game.
“We need to deliver on the field for 80 minutes.
“It's definitely just job in hand for us, knowing what's lying ahead and knowing it'll be a fierce battle and knowing we'll be up against a quality side. But we do know what we're capable of and we're well prepared.”
The Bok skipper said that having the experience of Fourie, JP Pietersen and Bakkies Botha back in the fold is a major boost.
"It is good to have him [Fourie] back, not only on the field but off the field as well. He keeps the moods up and there is always a smile on his face and on the field it is the same, he is a great player and it is great to have quality like him back.
"Same with JP [Pietersen] and same with Bakkies [Botha], it is great to have them back and it is especially good to have Bakkies back because now I am not the oldest guy in the squad," he quipped.
De Villiers also hinted that the South Africans might alter their attacking gameplan under the closed roof of Cardiff's Millennium Stadium in the face of the home side's defensive strategy.
"I think at this stage it has got to be closed. It is much of a muchness for us. Preparing for the conditions and adapting is crucial for us but whether it is closed or open we don't really mind.
“It is a different challenge that we are facing tomorrow with the rush defence,” he acknowledged.
“They do do it quite effectively and they're good at it so we need to change our attack a little bit, but hopefully we can exploit that rush defence and use it to our favour.”
Although they conceded five tries in their last match against the All Blacks, De Villiers has faith in their defensive system and is confident that it will hold up well against Wales.
"I don't think it was massive problems with our defence, the structures are in place and we are happy with that. It was maybe just a couple of individual decisions out of the structure that cost us and hopefully that won't happen this weekend.
"We have touched on that and we have rectified that so hopefully it will be a better performance tomorrow," he said.