Port Elizabeth is a special place for the Springboks and the team is excited about facing the Wallabies on Saturday at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in the Friendly City, according to Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick.
Stick, who hails from Port Elizabeth, and Springbok scrumhalf Faf de Klerk spoke to the media on Monday afternoon at the team hotel.
Saturday’s Castle Lager Rugby Championship Test is the penultimate match of this year’s competition and the Springboks will complete their fixtures next week when they face the All Blacks at a sold-out Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.
The Boks are unbeaten in Test matches at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and Stick said the Boks are looking forward to once more playing in front of the passionate Eastern Cape crowd. The Springbok have won four of their five Tests at the stadium, while the remaining game ended in a draw for a 80 % win record at the 46 000-seater venue.
“The people of the Eastern Cape really love their rugby and they’ve given us unbelievable support whenever the team has played here. There’s a real buzz in the place already,” said Stick, who is a former coaching staff member of the PE-based Southern Kings.
Meanwhile the Springbok squad was bolstered on Sunday by the arrival of a number of players who played in the weekend’s Currie Cup and other provincial matches.
Uncapped Ruhan Nel, the former Blitzboks star who is nowadays playing in the colours of DHL Western Province, was amongst the second group of players to arrive in the eastern coastal city.
When asked about the addition of Nel to the squad, Stick, himself a former Springbok Sevens captain, couldn’t hide his excitement.
“We’ve seen what Ruhan offered in the (DHL) Western Province team, and we have identified real potential. So we want to afford him an opportunity, especially as we continue to build towards the Rugby World Cup next year. There is fresh energy in our squad, and I think Ruhan will add to that,” said Stick.
The hard running Nel was included in the Springbok squad following injuries to centres Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am, and he has been in impressive form in the local Currie Cup.
“We have to give credit to the Sevens system, where they have won two (HSBC Sevens World) series titles in the past three years. There is something that they are doing well, and their players are being recognised. It’s also great that Rassie is willing to look at the Sevens player for fifteens,” added Stick.
De Klerk stressed that it was important for the Springboks to capitalise on their opportunities.
“We saw in Brisbane that we created many chances, but we failed to convert enough of those into points. That’s maybe due to inexperience and perhaps a lapse of focus. It’s something we are working on,” emphasised De Klerk.
“Our conversion rate must improve because Australia is a quality side, they have dangerous strike runners and will hurt you if you don’t take your opportunities.”
The Springboks kicked off preparations on Monday afternoon when they treated Port Elizabeth supporters to a lively open training session at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, venue for Saturday’s big clash.
Rassie Erasmus, the SA Rugby Director of Rugby, will announce his match-23 on Thursday.