Cape Town – Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer believes that “whatever we have to chase, we can do that” in the race for the Rugby Championship title.
South Africa probably have to win with a bonus point to have a serious chance of overhauling the All Blacks on the log, as they are four points behind the world champions going into this weekend’s games. New Zealand are likely to beat Argentina in La Plata on Saturday, and could do so with a bonus point.
The fact that the Boks play before the All Blacks makes things a bit more difficult for Meyer and his team, as they won’t know what they require ahead of a possible decider against New Zealand at Ellis Park next Saturday.
“This is a must-win game. We gave ourselves the opportunity to still win the Championship, but we are going to have to play two great games,” Meyer said at a press conference in the city on Monday. “We don’t want to go for a bonus point as that should take care of itself, but we just need to focus on the basics and play the same type of game that we played in the previous game.
“My point to the players is that I truly believe that whatever we have to chase, we can do that. That’s why this is the most important game – if we don’t win this game, there’s no use in chasing. Our players always play well at home, they just lift themselves and have had a good break now, so they need to be fresh and sharp and execute well.”
And a wet field may have suited the Boks in the past, but Meyer made it clear yesterday that he would prefer a dry Newlands on Saturday as he wants his team to “throw the ball around and score tries”.
While such a strong statement could be viewed as a smokescreen in some quarters as it is the Wallabies who have looked to run with the ball this year, the Boks have improved their attacking play substantially too. They have already scored 32 tries in seven Tests this year compared to just 23 in 12 Tests in 2012 – although they have played a few weaker teams such as Samoa, Italy and Scotland on home soil this season.
But they have played some attractive rugby, with the introduction of Cheetahs star Willie le Roux making a big difference on attack. Flyhalf Morné Steyn has also been in much better form in 2013. “Believe it or not, probably for the first time in a lot of years, we would probably prefer a dry field because we want to play positively and attack and score tries. I’m very happy with our attacking play, as we have scored a lot of tries,” said Meyer.
“We would love to have a dry field as we want to throw the ball around and score tries. The great thing about our team is that we can now adapt to a wet game as well, but hopefully – I’ve heard it’s a sell-out and it’s a great compliment to the team – we want to make the supporters proud. For their sake, I hope it’s a dry field.
“Where we get it right now is that our set-phases have been great, so if it’s a wet field, we can also dominate in the set-pieces. That’s where you want to be – as the 2015 World Cup will probably be wet. But the great thing for me as a coach is that we can play wet-weather rugby or move the ball in a dry game as well.”
Meyer said there is likely to be only one or two changes to the side and there were “one or two rotation policies” he discussed with the players before the tournament began. But at yesterday afternoon’s practice at Western Province’s training facility in Bellville, the Boks fielded virtually the same side that faced the All Blacks, with just lock Flip van der Merwe running on his own as he is struggling with a buttock muscle strain.
Hooker Bismarck du Plessis ran in the shadow team for most of the session, with Adriaan Strauss in the reserve side, while Ruan Pienaar was Morné Steyn’s halfback partner ahead of Fourie du Preez.
Meyer admitted that he is “worried” about Van der Merwe’s injury, so if the Bulls lock can’t play, then Juandré Kruger is set to wear the No 5 jersey, which could see youngster Pieter-Steph du Toit on the bench for a possible debut.
“Fourie has always been a part of the plans and it’s great to have a player of that calibre. I also thought Ruan is playing better rugby, he actually played well, so it’s going to be a tight call there,” said Meyer. “But it’s great to have experience and specifically a guy like Fourie who has been in these situations before. He is a guy who thrives on pressure and he can give direction to the team. He will be considered for this game, definitely.”
JJ Engelbrecht (bump on the leg) and Gurthrö Steenkamp (shoulder) have minor niggles, but should be fit to play.