Bryan Habana backs baby Boks to come of age against England

Winger expects young squad to come out firing despite lack of time to prepare for Test series

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The Independent Online

The South Africa wing Bryan Habana claims England's extra preparation will have little bearing once their Test series gets under way.

The majority of England's squad will have been together for almost two weeks – and a significant proportion for even longer – by the time the action starts with Saturday's first Test in Durban.

By contrast, a Springboks squad reshaped due to retirements and injuries have only met up with their new coach, Heyneke Meyer, this week following the latest round of Super 15 games. But Habana, the most experienced member with 74 caps, said: "I don't think it gives them the upper hand. The experience they have had as a team together during the Six Nations and in their preparations over the last two weeks is definitely going to benefit them, but I don't think it is going to make a difference.

"On the other side of the coin we have got an unbelievably talented group of youngsters who want to go out there and show how good they are and how much they want to wear that Springbok jersey with pride. We understand the brutality of Super rugby – we have been toiling at it for the last 14 weeks, guys putting their bodies on the line. That might benefit us."

Meyer's 32-man squad contains nine uncapped players and six others with fewer than 10 appearances. But Habana claims that neither the number of new faces, nor the limited training time together are issues.

"It has changed quite drastically but it is an exciting new era," he said. "Seeing the vibe, the energy and the willingness of the guys at training was pretty enjoyable. Sometimes you forget what a privilege it is to represent your country but when you see the youngsters, and how much they want to feed and take it in, it takes you back to when you got your first cap. There is a great energy, a great vibe, but that all comes to nothing if you don't go out and perform on Saturday."

The England head coach, Stuart Lancaster, expects the roles of the two new captains to be crucial in the series. Chris Robshaw, who has made just six Test appearances, leads England overseas for the first time after impressing in this year's Six Nations.

The Springboks also have a new captain after the retirement of John Smit but have chosen a player at the opposite end of the experience scale in 72 times-capped centre Jean de Villiers.

Lancaster said: "Jean de Villiers strikes me as a key player for South Africa. The primary thing for a captain is to earn your place in the side and there is no doubt he has done that, and he has done it well.

"He is clearly experienced, respected and has leadership qualities. It is a good appointment. I'm sure he will be very motivated to get things right. We have got a good captain in Chris Robshaw and I know the importance of good leadership in the team."

The series begins at Durban's Kings Park on Saturday before further Tests in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. England have won just three Tests in South Africa, most recently in 2000, and have lost their past seven clashes against the Springboks.

But Lancaster knows the importance of hitting the ground running: "In a three-game series there is going to be a huge amount on the first Test."

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