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Former captain John Smit on why this week is 'easier' for Springboks

By Ben Smith
Eben Etzebeth of South Africa enjoys victory at the end of the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Quarter Final match between France and South Africa at Stade de France on October 15, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Two former Springbok legends have offered their views on the semi-final matchup with England after overcoming France 29-28 in Paris last weekend.

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Despite England’s lacklustre form heading into the tournament, former captain John Smit and legendary lock Victor Matfield were both wary of the England team, but for different reasons.

Smit, who captained the Springboks to a 15-6 win over England in the 2007 final after having demolished the same side in pool play, said there would be no shortage of motivation for South Africa this week.

He said playing England is the ‘easiest week’ to get the players up for, but he highlighted the biggest risk as emotional burnout for the Springboks, using England’s 2019 campaign as an example.

“It’s probably as a captain the easiest week to motivate your players in,” Smit told the Official Rugby World Cup podcast.

“I suppose there are many reasons for that but motivation there will be no shortage of that.

“I think our issue 16 years ago was complacency and I think that might be something to watch.

“If you think about 2019 and England sort of playing their final against New Zealand. If you can’t reset emotionally in the week and come down and realise we are back to square one again you can get a surprise.”

Smit believed that South Africa would win the majority of the games played between the two sides however that belief doesn’t wash with the actual results.

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Since the 2019 final the two sides have played twice sharing one win apiece.

From the last five fixtures between the two sides South Africa have only won two.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
2
Draws
0
Wins
3
Average Points scored
16
22
First try wins
60%
Home team wins
40%

“If we took these two teams [South Africa and England] and they played each other 10 times in the last two years there’s probably a large amount of those game would be won by South Africa. But everything is on the line,” he said.

“There is also a desperation from this England team that got absolutely ridiculed, they have resurrected their campaign.

“How desperate can our guys get again to give themselves an opportunity to go back-to-back? There’s lots to play for.”

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Matfield was straightforward about his view that South Africa shouldn’t be taking England lightly and believed a shock result was entirely possible.

Their simple and low risk game plan would make them competitive he believed.

“England can beat us. I think they are the one team that plays a very conservative type of game,” he said.

“They play in the right areas, they play territory, they don’t take any chances.

“They take the three points, getting a little bit ahead, waiting for the opposition to make mistakes. That is a difficult game to play against, especially for us who like going off turnovers.”

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