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Former Bok coach hails series win

08th July 2009 07:31

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'Winning the Lions series was a massive feat for the Springboks'

Former coach Carel du Plessis has hailed South Africa's series victory over the British and Irish Lions in which he claims the Springboks did not hit top gear.

The world champions wrapped up the win two weeks ago when they took an unassailable 2-0 lead, following up the 26-21 triumph in Durban with the dramatic 28-25 victory in Pretoria.

With changes aplenty for the final Test in Johannesburg - coach Peter de Villiers made no fewer than ten - the hosts slumped to a 28-9 loss, but Du Plessis believes it was an impressive showing from John Smit's team.

"Winning the Lions series was a massive feat for the Springboks," he told the Business Day.

"It was a fantastic win and it was good for our rugby.

"That said, it is debatable whether the Springboks played their best rugby. I think people would have loved to see them register a whitewash, but it was still a great series.

"It was very intense and physical and it tested our defensive systems and support play."

The 49-year-old , who was at the helm in 1997 when South Africa were beaten 2-1, also felt the Lions could have been much better if they had played more games together.

"They did well, they played quality rugby. In the last Test, particularly, they converted their opportunities into points at crucial times," he continued.

"I think if the tour was longer they would have performed even better because they would have had sufficient time to develop star combinations.

"In the first two Tests the breakdowns were a mixed bag. But their defensive system was effective, which put pressure on us at times."

Du Plessis, though, insists that the upcoming Tri-Nations against familiar foes Australia and New Zealand could be a much tougher proposition for the Springboks, who would need to work on some areas of their game in order to have a chance of a first win in five years.

"We have a good chance to win the competition. Obviously the result last weekend was not ideal going into the series. But the Tri-Nations will be an even bigger challenge," he added.

"At times (during the Lions tour) we had good quality first phases. But our rucking could have been more effective. Our attacking play was good, but our execution let us down. Looking forward, we need to improve those areas.

"We also need to exercise caution when changing settled combinations. It is vital to manage the way players are substituted and the way we change the starting line-up.

"Australia and New Zealand have established player combinations and they are organised outfits, so they will be tough to beat.

"The Lions, meanwhile, have limited time to form player combinations and to get the squad to gel as a unit because it includes players from four countries, which is difficult."

Meanwhile Morne du Plessis, the man who captained the Springboks to their 1980 series win over the Lions and was manager when they won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, has also been left proud.

"Having experienced what John and his side have achieved makes me admire their tenacity and team spirit even more," he said.

"I don't think we as a sporting public always appreciate how fortunate we are to be living in an era where we have such a strong and proud Springbok team to support.

"The mistake we as fans always make is to look back in years to come, and only then realise what we had."

Smit and his team have been given ten days leave to rest, before assembling in Bloemfontein next week ahead of the Tri-Nations.