Venter to play 'leading role' on Bok tour
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Francois Venter may be one of the 'rookies' on the Springboks' year-end tour, but his leadership skills may yet prove invaluable. Josh Isaacson reports from the Bok camp.
Bok backline coach Mzwandile Stick believes Venter, one of 12 uncapped players that departed for London on Friday, have the attributes that can help the Boks turn adversity into success.
South Africa play the Barbarians at London's Wembley Stadium next Saturday (November 5) in a non-capped international, followed by Tests against England London, November 12), Italy (Florence, November 19) and Wales (Cardiff, November 26).
With regular captain Adriaan Strauss set to retire from international rugby after the tour, Venter could steal a march on other possible successors when the Boks play the BaaBaas next week.
The 25-year-old Cheetahs skipper, Venter, was coy about his role on tour, but eager to "contribute on or off the field" in the drive to turn around a year that has seen the Boks win just four of their nine Tests - not to mention the list of unwanted records: a 15-57 loss to the All Blacks, the first-ever loss to Ireland on SA soil and the first-ever loss to Argentina in Argentina.
"I haven't actually thought about that, but I know it's a big responsibility," he said.
He said it is all about ensuring that the Boks can challenge the best teams in the world.
"You want to compete against the best," he said, adding: "We want to be the best in the world.
"We don't want to play second fiddle to New Zealand and that's our aim.
"We want to be better every time we go on the field and that's why every guy here has said we just want to contribute to the team and make the team better.
"Maybe it's going to take a bit longer, maybe it's going to be this tour, but I know we are moving in the right direction."
Venter was confident that the Boks could emerge victorious from the month-long trip to Europe.
"We've got great players in South Africa,"
"We just need to gel a bit and play a great brand of rugby," he said, adding: "For me personally it's just about contributing."
Stick believes that Venter will bring the composure and calmness required by the team on a testing trip in difficult conditions, having gained valuable leadership experience at the Cheetahs.
"With the leadership of Francois Venter, who has been leading the Cheetahs, even in tough times, it shows the character of the person - not only when things are going well for him," Stick said.
"When the Cheetahs were having tough times in Super Rugby, he started with his team and they made sure that they turn things around - that's actually where we [the Boks] are at the moment.
"We need to turn things around.
"I think we've got the right tools in place to turn the ship around now," the Bok assistant coach said.
Stick also felt Venter's presence on the playing field will provide a boost to the confidence of the Springbok team.
"I think his one of the guys, even when things get tough, you can rely on him and know that he can turn things around on the field with his experience," he said.
Venter played down the talk of possibly having starting and leadership roles in the tour opener against the Barbarians.
"For me, it's just about contributing," Venter said.
"I don't know [what] my involvement in the team [will be] yet, but if I can contribute on or off the field I will do that.'
Venter described his Bok selection as a "huge honour" and "every youngster's dream" to be part of the national team.
"I must say this year has worked out perfectly for me - finishing with a Currie Cup win and coming into the squad."
Venter said there was a good spirit in the Bok camp and the entire squad is doing their utmost, on and off the training field, in order to bring back the glory days to South African rugby.
"I think we decided to turn a new page and start from zero," he said.
"We can't fix anything that happened in the past, but we can look forward and that's our goal.
"We want to bring the pride back into Springbok rugby and we working very hard at it," explained Venter.
By Josh Isaacson, from the Springbok camp