NEWCASTLE (England) • Fourie du Preez faces a tough task hauling the Springboks into the Rugby World Cup knockout rounds after they suffered the biggest shock in the tournament's history and lost their captain.
The 33-year-old, widely considered one of the best scrum halves in the world, says only that he will "lead from the front". And that is just what a lot of South Africans want right now.
The country still cannot get over seeing their idols beaten 32-34 by Japan in their opening match.
The thumping 46-6 Pool B win over Samoa may have reassured them. But the decision of captain Jean de Villiers to quit after suffering a second broken jaw in six weeks came as a new blow.
South Africa go into their third game against Scotland today still not certain of qualification and du Preez has a big job on his hands.
Without de Villiers and injured vice-captain Victor Matfield, du Preez has lost 200 caps and must galvanise a youthful side.
"I'm not one for many words so I'll lead from the front on Saturday," he said of his captaincy style.
"Luckily, we have guys such as Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen to back me up, as well as a lot of experience across the team."
Highly regarded as a tactician, du Preez, the "rugby brain", is one of the last remaining members of a golden era of Springboks who won the World Cup in 2007 in France, beat the British and Irish Lions in 2009, and scored a 3-0 series win against the All Blacks in 2010.
According to Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer, du Preez "understands what I want, he knows how I think".
Meyer has preached a game plan true to South African strengths: a strong set-piece, a dominant forward pack with a half-back running the show. Du Preez - the stickler for detail - is precisely the man to run that show for him.
Scotland lead Pool B on 10 points, with South Africa three behind.
Samoa and Japan each have four points. Defeat for either today would deal a big blow to their chances of reaching the quarter-finals. Both sides are feeling the pressure.
"We're treating it like a World Cup final in our eyes. Japan are not to be taken likely," said Samoa centre George Pisi.
His brother Tusu Pisi needs 17 points to overtake Earl Va'a (174) as Samoa's highest-scoring Test player.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Samoa v Japan: Singtel TV Ch115 & StarHub Ch209, 9.15pm
South Africa v Scotland: 11.30pm