Springboks captain John Smit is optimistic his depleted side can bounce back from a lacklustre display against Australia to challenge the All Blacks in their Tri-Nations Test on Saturday.
The veteran hooker is set to lead out an inexperienced South African side in his 104th international in Wellington still smarting after being well beaten 39-20 by a rampant Wallabies side in Sydney last weekend.
With 21 players left at home to rest injuries, the 33-year-old Smit is the elder statesman in a side short on caps but with a desire to impress Springboks coach Pieter de Villiers in World Cup year.
He has been impressed with the will to succeed shown by the young players in the squad.
“It’s an opportunity,” Smit said.
“A lot of these boys have played in their first Test match. There’s still some boys here without a Test blazer.
“It’s nice to be able to travel with a bunch of guys who are hungry and going for every second.”
While the side was shorn of plenty of experience, Smit, who will play his last Test for the Springboks at the World Cup before joining English premiership champions Saracens, is not prepared to use that as an excuse.
“It’s still a Bok team, still the same jersey.”
The manner of the defeat against Australia was tough to take for South African fans, with only two late tries giving the scoreboard a semblance of respectability something Smit was hoping to put right on Saturday.
“I wanted us to be a little bit more competitive last week. I had high expectations but we got some simple things wrong.
“Hopefully we’ve fixed those things … and we can pose a bigger threat this weekend,” he said.
The Springboks arrived in the New Zealand capital on Thursday after spending a couple of days training in Sydney trying to iron out some of the problems that were evident against Australia.
Smit said the side had been working on eliminating mistakes, retaining possession and, like the All Blacks, concentrating on tidying up their work at the breakdown.
Meanwhile, de Villiers had to fend off accusations that the players left in South Africa were not injured and were instead at a training camp under the guidance of technical director Rassie Erasmus when he got off the plane on Thursday.
He said as far as he was concerned the players were injured and were not training, but he would not know if they would be available for the home Tri-Nations matches next month until he arrived back in the Republic.
The controversial coach said the expanded Super Rugby competition had put added load on players in the World Cup year which was behind the plague of injuries they had suffered and he was not surprised the All Blacks had chosen to rest forwards Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Kieran Read and Keven Mealamu for a second weekend.
“The Super 15 is a tough competition and Graham Henry is a sensible coach, and person, and he’ll know how to manage the players,” he said.