De Villiers feels the heat ahead of Twickenham
It is four years since the South Africa coach Jake White brought his Springboks to Twickenham for the second of two internationals with England in the knowledge that defeat would cost him his livelihood. The Boks won that day – a result that kept White in a job and left Andy Robinson, his opposite number, seeking gainful employment. It is a rough old world out there, and it never changes. This weekend, White's successor finds himself similarly exposed to the slings and arrows of rugby fortune.
Alarmingly for the Bokke hierarchy, it is not just the head coach Peter de Villiers who is feeling the heat as World Cup year looms large on the calendar. As one of his assistants, the former Test centre Dick Muir, acknowledged yesterday, a loss on Saturday could put the entire back-room staff out of work. "It's ruthless," Muir said. "The public back home expect you to come over here and get the win. If you don't get the result, heads tend to roll.
"In South Africa, things are probably a bit more volatile than they are here. In such an environment, you have to believe in your management team and your bosses, develop a shared vision and hang in there in the rough times. From a coaching perspective, you know most people end up getting fired. It's about trusting what you're about. To be as good as we'll need to be at the World Cup, we're slightly off our pace. We need to do some clear thinking."
Badly stung by last weekend's defeat in Scotland, an unexpected result that cost the Boks a shot at a first clean sweep of the British Isles in half a century, Muir described this final outing as a "massive challenge", crediting England with sharp improvements in both personnel and playing style.
"Martin Johnson has introduced some exciting young players," he said. "Their balance is good, so we have to face facts and have our wits about us. But this is a chance for us to redeem ourselves. We are a proud nation, and we are not proud of what happened in Edinburgh."
Johnson, the England manager, is expected to revert to the side that gave Australia such a thorough beating in the second of the autumn internationals, with Lewis Moody returning to lead the side from the open-side flank, Tom Croft joining him in the back row, Dan Cole replacing David Wilson at prop and Mike Tindall resuming in midfield.
Meanwhile, the All Blacks were on the offensive ahead of their Grand Slam meeting with Wales in Cardiff, defending their captain Richie McCaw from another outbreak of whining about his work at the tackle area. The world's finest forward has been accused of cheating twice a week, every week, since he won his first cap nine years ago, and has protested his innocence more times than Dan Carter, the New Zealand outside-half on the verge of smashing international rugby's scoring record, has kicked goals.
Yesterday, McCaw had someone doing the protesting for him in the substantial shape of Steve Hansen, the tourists' assistant coach. "It's becoming quite boring now, and it's quite disrespectful," said Hansen, reacting to the latest accusations about the great Canterbury flanker, made by the Irish forward Stephen Ferris after last weekend's Test in Dublin.
"But all it does is make Richie play better, so I can put up with the boredom if it keeps motivating him. He probably knows the rules better than the referees and he isn't doing anything illegal."
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