Springbok wing Bryan Habana insists that rustiness is not a concern for South Africa ahead of their clash with Australia in Durban on Saturday despite the bulk of the team having been out of action for over five weeks.
Habana last played competitive rugby for the Stormers in the Super Rugby semifinal, which was five weeks ago, and along with over 20 of his Springbok teammates, he was unable to go on the Australasian leg of the Tri-Nations due to 'injury'.
The move to err on the side of caution and leave the bulk of the key senior players at home to rehabilitate met mixed reviews with some arguing that the time off would refresh them after a long Super Rugby season, whilst others made the point that match fitness is more important in the run-in to the World Cup.
Coach Peter de Villiers' side suffered demoralising defeats in both games without their stars, losing 39-20 to the Wallabies in Sydney and then 40-7 to New Zealand in Wellington.
The coach has since recalled more than 15 of his first-choice players – all in a similar position having hardly played any rugby for five to seven weeks and their performance this weekend will be monitored with great interest.
"I don't think it should be a concern because we've been playing rugby for six months now," he told reporters in Umhlanga, "In terms of actual game fitness, I think it's something we have to push ourselves as players.
"A lot of us have played four or five weeks ago. But we are putting in the hard work and are over our niggles now," he added.
Habana conceded that the backline was not up to scratch in the last two games and confessed that the Springboks need to physically improve if they are to be a bigger threat as they build towards the World Cup.
"I think the main focus for now should be Australia," he said. "The World Cup may be in the back of all our minds, but I think if you start worrying about two or three weeks ahead, you're going to slip behind the actual goal that's there at the moment.
"For now that is Australia on Saturday. The core group has joined and we're all together again. A lot of us haven't played together since the end of year tour last year.
"I think our physicality needs to step up a bit from where it has been in the last couple of games.The backline, hopefully we can start executing a bit better than we've done.
"So lots of challenges, lots of goals that we have set out as a team, first of all for this Test and then looking forward to the World Cup," he added.
The world champions have won just one of their last five meetings against the Wallabies, that win coming in Pretoria last year, and Habana is expecting another hard game this weekend.
"We're expecting the same thing we always do against Australia. They're definitely a world class outfit. We haven't got a good record against them the last five or so games, so it's going to be tough," said Habana.
He noted that the visitors will be desperate to get back to winning ways after being themselves beaten by New Zealand 30-14 in Auckland last week.
"After the loss, I definitely think they are going to come out fighting. When you play the number two side in the world, you have to put your hand up and show that you deserve to be there.
"So we're expecting a backlash from them, but expect us to stand up and make our country proud," he declared.
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