Not quite a veteran, but certainly one of the more experienced men in the Springbok team, lock Andries Bekker has predicted the Bok pack will, in time, become one of the best in world rugby.
Bekker was talking before the Rugby Championship match against New Zealand at Soweto's Soccer City on Sunday morning (NZ time), saying the future looked bright for Bok rugby.
The team picked by coach Heyneke Meyer is unchanged from the side that beat Australia 31-8 last weekend - the first time a Bok starting XV is intact since the 2009 season.
"This is going to be one of the best packs in world rugby," said the giant, 2.08m Bekker yesterday. "There's experience in the pack, guys like Jannie du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss and then you've got a guy like Eben [Etzebeth] who's just 20 and a massive player.
"There's just a good combination between youth and experience."
Indeed, six of the 22-man squad are 21 years old and younger, several stars such as JP Pietersen, Bismarck du Plessis and Schalk Burger aren't even currently involved, while a big crop of young stars are already playing in the team or knocking on the Bok door.
Meyer, too, has been full of praise for his young team, calling them a "special" bunch. That's exactly what he's going to need if the Boks are to beat the All Blacks. He said belief would be the watchword for his team.
"After getting so close in Dunedin, we knew we could win ... a lot of rugby is mental, just as it is physical. There was a lot of freedom in our play against Australia and the guys have been at ease this week.
"The players have been a lot more relaxed," said Meyer. "You've got to believe you can beat anybody ... if you don't then there's no use going out there.
"The key against New Zealand is that you can't beat them at their game and you also can't have a defensive mentality against them.
"Everyone's going to have to pitch up and be mentally and physically strong."
Bekker said the 16-all draw against Argentina a month ago had been a big wake-up call.
"I, for one, needed to make a switch after Mendoza. People spoke very harsh words [about me] and I knew I was shocking. I had to stand up and thankfully it worked last weekend," said Bekker, who gave a powerhouse performance at Loftus Versfeld.
"It'll be nice going into the Soccer City test with confidence up. Against the All Blacks you have to be physical and make an extra step up ... if you don't they'll punish you."
The only change to the 22-man squad from last week is among the replacements where Coenie Oosthuizen comes in for Pat Cilliers.
"He hasn't played a lot of rugby, but he's been with us all year and knows the calls," said Meyer.
"He can be one of the greats of all time, he's a superb athlete and it's great he's been cleared to play."
Meyer said the All Blacks, fresh off a convincing away win against Argentina, would be far tougher than when the teams last met, in Dunedin, three weeks ago.
On that occasion, the Boks did all the playing and should have won, but poor goal-kicking cost Meyer's men dearly.
"The margins in test rugby are so small ... if you get into a position to win, you must win. There was a chance in Dunedin, but we didn't do it. In the end it's only the scoreboard that matters.
"Maybe New Zealand underestimated us, but they won't do so now. They hit good form against Argentina and are on something of a winning streak. Maybe we were an unknown factor in Dunedin, but not any more."
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