Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has conceded that 20-odd injuries have not just robbed him of the core of his leadership, but also left the national team bereft of cohesion.
With just under a fortnight to their opening match of the Tri-Nations - in a World Cup year - the Boks will head to Australasia without 23 injured players.
Regular Bok captain John Smit will lead a decidedly second-string selection on the away leg of the Tri-Nations series - with players like Fourie du Preez (knee), Schalk Burger (thumb), Victor Matfield (calf and neck), Frans Steyn (ankle and back), Jaque Fourie (groin), Jean de Villiers (groin), BJ Botha (knee), Juan Smith (Achilles), Bismarck du Plessis (shoulder), Andries Bekker (shoulder, groin and ankle), Jannie du Plessis (knee), Gurthrö Steenkamp (forearm), Francois Hougaard (ankle), Butch James (knee), JP Pietersen (back), Tendai Mtawarira (hamstring), Bryan Habana (shoulder) and Bakkies Botha (knee) all ruled out through 'injuries'.
And De Villiers admitted the lack of cohesion could be his biggest challenge in Tests against the Wallabies (in Sydney, on July 23) and All Blacks (on Wellington a week later).
"I think the sooner the guys understand each other, the better," the Bok coach said, adding: "Our planning has been to focus on just one area at a time at training.
"Given the fact that the guys aren't used to each other, it is a new team and there are a few youngsters there we have to get them into a unit.
"There are a lot of enthusiasm and excitement amongst them, but still we have to stick to our game plan and they have to buy into it and they have to get used to it."
De Villiers said it is very important, going into any Test, that all the players are comfortable with who they are playing and understand what the guys next to them are going.
He felt that the motivation gained from fielding fringe players, who have a point to prove, could to some extend make up for the lack of cohesion.
"Your external motivation can take you just that far," he said, adding: "But when the going gets tough they will drift away from each other [the game plan] and start doing their own thing again, because they are not used to each other and that trust is not there yet.
"The reason for that is because they were not teammates in the past.
"That is why as was so despondent when such a large number of our senior players were ruled out.
"They are the guys who bring calmness to the team, and keep their composure and help the players believe in themselves.
"That is why in training we worked on aspects where we can get the players to trust each other rather than do their own things."
He also conceded that the absence of such a large number of leaders is an issue.
"Normally I have up to 10 players which I give instructions to, about responsibilities on the field.
"On this team there are probably about two leaders.
"Then again, we have put some plans in place to mature them and we have worked hard on that."
He said some of the players have come to the party and this coming week they will work on that again - define the roles they will play in the team.
"It is not just about the captain [John Smit], it is about all the leaders on the field."
De Villiers said a lot of attention will be placed on set pieces in the coming weeks, because at the initial training sessions last week it was "chaos".
"There is a lot of cohesion issues ... getting the timing right, working as a unit," De Villiers said, adding: "Four of the guys in the pack are new to each other.
"We want them to become a unit as quick as possible."
By Jan de Koning
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