Cape Town — Springbok coach Jake White had kept a low profile since the Boks arrived here on Sunday but today he emerged from the rain at the Boks' training session to confront angry Kiwi reporters who accused him of devaluing Saturday's Tri-Nations match.
"You guys say I am fielding a B team but when you make seven changes to your side to play us nobody says a word," White said. "It has been said that I am not doing justice to the rivalry between the All Blacks and the Springboks but I think the point is being missed. This Test match should be seen in isolation.
"Yes it is a pity that the best players are not on show, but let me tell you, if the World Cup final in France is between New Zealand and South Africa, nobody is going to remember or care what happened in Christchurch. You will see the best players against the best players in France and that is what everybody is striving for."
White's argument diffused his questioners and, getting into his stride, the coach said:
"There is a price that has to be played to win the World Cup. Whether we like it or not, England are the current holders of the World Cup. They will go to the tournament as the champions until they hand the trophy over. For four years, they have marketed their team with "world champions 2003" under their logo and that has had massive commercial implications."
White pointed that the Kiwis themselves have put a massive premium on winning the World Cup. "Let's be frank, New Zealand is desperate to win the World Cup. The All Blacks have not won since 1987 and there is the added pressure on them in that they want to be defending champions when they host the 2011 World Cup.
"But we are no different. We won in 1995 which is now 12 years ago, and we recall how important it was for our country. We are just as hungry."
White argued that his "sin" of resting players is no different to that of Graham Henry, who simply chose a different time of the year to rest his top players. "We are talking about seven weeks early in the year (for 24 All Blacks) versus two weeks in the middle of the year (for the top Boks).
"Coaches get hired and fired on results so it is never an easy choice to rest players. But what has been very significant is that we are truly making this exercise count. There has been an unbelievable buy-in from our provinces back home. The guys not here on tour are in a training camp, not playing in the Currie Cup. This provincial support has never happened before... and that is why we are so confident about our chances of winning the World Cup."
White then confirmed his starting line-up. As expected, Johann Muller will captain a team that has Bismarck du Plessis in at hooker for Gary Botha. Albert van den Berg replaces Johan Ackermann, Jacques Cronjé takes over from Bob Skinstad and Jaco Pretorius is on the left wing for JP Pietersen who shifts to fullback for axed Bevin Fortuin.
White said Muller was the best choice as captain not only because he has a respected track record as captain of the Sharks (for stretches in both the Currie Cup and the Super 12/14) but because he wanted Wikus van Heerden to concentrate on the rigours of playing openside flank and because White wanted to give an opportunity this week to Du Plessis at hooker ahead of the other captaincy candidate, Gary Botha.
"Gary and Bismarck are competing to be John Smit's understudy at the World Cup and Bismarck needs a start. Wikus is also on the brink of the Cup squad and it would be unfair to give him further responsibility when he has so much to play for," White said.