'We don't care what they think': Springboks hit back at chorus of criticism

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 25 Sep 2021, 1:53PM
Faf de Klerk (left) and Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick during training for the Rugby Championship. Photo / Getty Images
Faf de Klerk (left) and Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick during training for the Rugby Championship. Photo / Getty Images

'We don't care what they think': Springboks hit back at chorus of criticism

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 25 Sep 2021, 1:53PM

The Springboks have defended their style of play and form ahead of tonight's historic test against the All Blacks, saying they are not bothered by criticism from former international players and coaches.

South Africa will face New Zealand for the 100th time in international rugby on Saturday night on the back of two successive defeats to Australia in the Rugby Championship and a dour 2-1 series win over the British and Irish Lions earlier in the season.

Those losses and the nature of the victories over the Lions have led to a chorus of criticism from around the world levelled at a side that were the darling of rugby fans after their 2019 Rugby World Cup triumph.

Former All Blacks coach Laurie Mains was one of those to point out just how far and fast the team has fallen from grace.

"This is not the same team that won the World Cup. Let's be very clear on that. They've lost a number of their players who have headed off overseas playing or retired. They're nowhere near the team they were when they played in the World Cup two years ago. And two years ago, they were playing a lot more open and expansive rugby than this team is showing us this year," Mains told the Herald this week.

"For donkeys' years they've given us great contests but this team for me is pretty much at rock bottom for South African rugby."

Meanwhile, the nature of the current Springboks side's tactics has even come under fire from English shore, a country where open, attacking rugby has not traditionally been valued.

Former England international Austin Healey says a win for the All Blacks on Saturday night will be a win for rugby.

"With the All Blacks and the Springboks, you have two different approaches. New Zealand's attack is good so they can apply pressure to defences. Whereas South Africa's defence is good, so they can apply pressure to teams that way," Healey wrote in a column for the Telegraph on Saturday.

"For the interests of the game, I would love to see an attacking-based side win, and win well."

While former England coach Sir Clive Woodward claimed this week that rugby will die in five years if the sport continues to be played the way South Africa play it.

"I looked on in horror last weekend at the sheer poverty and boredom from the South Africa team against Australia," Woodward wrote in a column for the Daily Mail. "Rugby was not — and is not — meant to be played like that and I'm just pleased Australia won.

"The Boks' series against the Lions was little better and it should worry everyone involved in the sport that rugby is going down that route. It will be dead in five years if it does."

Now, Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick has responded on behalf of his team, saying the side are only focused on what they can control within their squad and any mud thrown their way won't stick.

"We actually don't care what they think," he replied during a media conference on Friday. "It actually doesn't bother us. We are focused on what we can do better, on improving the way we play. So what other people out there say about how we play the game, it really doesn't bother us. People are entitled to have opinions on all that stuff but we don't focus on negative stuff. That is the main thing for us, we focus on what we want to do as a team. That's all.

"The most important thing is that we need to be in control of our system, we need to be in control of how we want to play the game. A big week like this, playing against the All Blacks, it's massive for the players. Even us as coaches, this is the game you want to be part of so it is very important that emotions need to be in the right place. We don't need any motivation when we play against the All Blacks."

Stick also hinted that the side intend to return to a more defensive style of play, after trying and failing with the opposite last weekend against Australia.

"It's a big game. We all know what is coming. They will play according to their strengths and we also play according to our strengths, so we don't have to change anything. We just need to get better at what we do. Maybe against Australia in the second game, we stepped away from our strengths but that is the main focus for this week, just to make sure that we get better at how we want to play the game.

"And regarding the occasion, to me just to play against the All Blacks is massive. The guys are excited and we have done everything in our power to make sure we get better from where we were against Australia and hopefully things will go according to the plan tomorrow."