Bok wing Bryan Habana believes that their clash with Samoa will present a tougher challenge than their clash at the World Cup.
Springbok wing Bryan Habana believes that Saturday's clash with Samoa will present an even tougher challenge than their hard-fought clash at the 2011 World Cup.
Habana, who scored the only try for South Africa in their 13-5 victory in a bruising encounter in North Harbour, believes the Islanders have made significant strides forward in the last two years.
Many neutrals fans felt that Samoa were unlucky to lose that day and judging by their wins over Italy and Scotland this month, the Springboks will have to be on top of their game to come out on top.
“Looking back at 2011, it was probably one of our most physical games at the Rugby World Cup. The team of 2011 and the team of 2013 are two totally different teams,” Habana said on Tuesday.
“They've improved massively over the last two years and they've showed in this series just how much they have improved in getting that first victory ever over Scotland in that first Test, and last week demoralising the Italians that were pretty hard spirited.
“The Samoans of 2011 were a tough team but this weekend the team we will face will be a lot tougher. Their players are a lot more skilful and they have a lot more players playing in both the Super Rugby and European leagues. They've learnt a lot and grown a lot since 2011. We're not going to look back at what happened in 2011. We're going to rather look at who we face this weekend in 2013, which is a pretty tough team to face.”
“Everyone wrote Scotland off last week after what happened in that Test against Samoa and everyone had us believe it was going to be a walk in the park. Unfortunately Test match rugby isn't like that, Test match rugby you have to be prepared every time you face your opposition and Scotland came to the party.
Habana added that he believes captain Jean de Villiers does not receive enough credit for the way he leads the national side as they face the prospect of playing Samoa in Pretoria on Saturday without the injured skipper.
De Villiers was in doubt for the crucial final Test of the four-nation series due to an injury he picked up against Scotland in Nelspruit at the weekend, and his absence would see senior members like Habana take on more of the leadership responsibilities.
“He was unbelievable this weekend, getting an injury in that first 10 minutes and fighting through,” said Habana.
“He made some bold calls throughout that game and he led the team impeccably well.
“The great thing from last week was although we found ourselves 17-6 behind there, there was still calm in that team, there was still belief we would get there. A year ago, we would have probably at best drawn it and at worst probably lost it,” he explained.
“It was frustrating for us, but you have to adapt to the conditions laid out on the field and you're not always going to expect the same from the ref, so you have to go out and make the difference. We're expecting a tough physical challenge from Samoa, and the off-the-ball stuff may happen or may not happen. We have to be calm within our own game plan and in our structures.”
Habana said De Villiers' leadership would be sorely missed if he was not cleared to play this week, but he was confident that the senior members of the team would make the step up to fill the void.
“Coming into the squad last year, when Heyneke Meyer started out, there was a pretty young group of players around and myself, Jean, Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn were the only ones that had more than 50 caps,” he said.
“The leadership responsibility definitely increased and it will be really sad to lose Jean because I don't think he always gets the amount of credit he deserves.”
Habana also gave credit to coach Heyneke Meyer for the way he put faith in the senior members of the team, which he believed had helped grow the leadership corps.
“There will be a lot more opportunity for the rest of the senior group and the leadership group has been together for a long time now, if you look at guys like Bismarck du Plessis coming back, Ruan, Pierre Spies, myself and Adriaan Strauss,” said Habana.
“We are guys that have been lending and sharing ideas with the way the team is thinking and the coach has allowed us that opportunity to grow.
“You relish that opportunity and when you've played 85 Tests your leadership ability really has to come to the fore.”