Springbok coach Peter de Villiers had a defiant message to the South African public yesterday: "Judge us on Saturday".
Yesterday he announced the most experienced Springbok team in history (810 caps). "It is our own doing that people have lost a bit of faith in us," he said. "You can't expect otherwise if you keep on losing."
The previously most experienced team (750 caps) lost in the last seconds to the Wallabies in Bloemfontein last year but perhaps of more significance than the tally of caps is the confirmation of two stars of 2009 in the line-up, halfback general Fourie du Preez and cat burglar Heinrich Brussow.
Also returning to the team is first five-eighths Butch James. The last game he played in tandem with Fourie was the 53-8 annihilation of the Wallabies at Ellis Park in 2008 that came just seven days after they had beaten the Boks here in Durban, and de Villiers and stand-in captain Victor Matfield were booed off the Kings Park pitch.
And while tomorrow's team were not responsible for the horror hidings in Wellington and Sydney last month - the only survivors in the run-on team are John Smit and Danie Rossouw - there is an impression that the Boks are in a similarly no-nonsense mood after seven defeats in their last eight Tri-Nations matches (they lost five out of six last year).
"The guys are determined to become the respected team they were two years ago," de Villiers said. "That is motivation enough to win tomorrow. But at the same we can't live in the past if we are to start winning consistently again. Yes you learn from your mistakes, and what happened overseas was not good for the country, but you can't dwell too long on trying to rectify wrongs because then you lose focus on how to go forward."
Selecting a brand new team helps, of course.
"There is a really good feeling about this squad because it is the first time in ages that they are all back together again," the coach said. "Quite a few missed the November tour and Heinrich and Fourie have not played for two years, and they are world class players that have a big influence on the players around them. They bring an element to the team that has been missing [Brussow's ability to steal ball and Du Preez's vision and skill]. They understand the heavy pressure on them, but then we pay them to play under pressure!"
Du Preez, who will win his 56th cap, was not so sure about that and said that while he embraced the responsibility of being a key playmaker, it is unfair to expect him to wave a magic wand.
"The pressure to put things right is on the whole squad," he said. "A lot of work has been done to get us back on track and if we indeed perform better than 2010 it won't be because of two players but because everyone has bought into delivering what is required."
It was put to De Villiers that the experience in the team might not be matched by fire in the bellies now that the core of the team is coming to the end of their careers.
"It is a fair question because experience on its own wins you nothing. But I know these players very well and I can assure you they are still very hungry and for one reason only - they feed off each other's professionalism and idea of responsibility. They understand what they can do for their country, the impact they can have on people's lives.
"When you add their ability to their experience and understand the head space they are in, you will appreciate that we are at starting point for the next route for this team - one that will take them to the end of October."
The Wallabies have stiffened up their pack and their lineout with veteran lock Nathan Sharpe for Rob Simmons and No 8 Scott Higginbotham for Ben McCalman.
Springboks v Wallabies
Durban 2.50am tomorrow
Jean de Villiers
Fourie du Preez
Jannie du Plessis
John Smit (c)
Reserves: Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp, Gerhard Mostert, Jean Deysel, Francois Hougaard, Morne Steyn, Gio Aplon.
Rocky Elsom (c)
Reserves: Saia Faingaa, Salesi Ma'afu, Sitaleki Timani, Radike Samo, Ben McCalman, Luke Burgess, Anthony Faingaa.
- Independent (SA)By Mike Greenaway Email Mike