Johannesburg – It’s been a while since a Springbok coach talked more about the attacking potential of his side rather than their defence. But Heyneke Meyer has learnt very quickly that if his side are to get to No1 in the world and start beating the likes of the All Blacks on a regular basis his team have to score tries.
This doesn’t, of course, mean the Boks don’t spend time working on their defence or have moved it down their list of priorities, but rather that Meyer wants his side to turn the Boks’ pressure play and dominance into points by scoring tries. And, while the Boks got a good working out in the June series where they beat Italy, Scotland and Samoa, the real challenges lie ahead – the ones that will be used to measure the Boks and their progress under Meyer.
First up are Argentina, who the Boks face at the FNB Stadium on Saturday in the Rugby Championship opener, and, while many believe it to be a far easier start than what Australia and New Zealand have – they face each other in Brisbane on Saturday morning – it is anything but. The men from South America are no longer the whipping boys of world rugby, or the southern hemisphere, as they proved last year when they held the Boks to a draw in Mendoza.
The tourists are ranked 10th in the world, but they’re a far stronger side than that and getting better all the time. The majority of their players feature week-in and week-out for the best clubs in Europe and they go into the Bok Test on the back of a 53-12 beating of a touring New South Wales Barbarians side.
They’re a confident outfit, who’ve been in camp for weeks now, so, unlike last season when they went into the Rugby Championship a little out-of-sorts, this season they’re tight-knit, know what to expect and are in buoyant mood.
Many South African rugby fans won’t know too many of the Argentinians’ names, but those who follow rugby in Europe will know the Boks are up against some classy players. It’s just the start Meyer would have wanted to the Rugby Championship ... it’s not the All Blacks or Australia, but it’s a team that will test the Boks in every department.
Meyer has stuck largely to the side that did the business for him in June and rightly so, but he’ll now want this group to kick on and show they’re an outfit that is also getting better with every performance. More than anything, the Bok coaching team will want Jean de Villiers’ side to play powerful, no-nonsense rugby and convert their opportunities into points. Meyer and the players spoke all week about the try-scoring feats of the side in June; now they have to continue in that vein against arguably better defences, starting with Argentina.
“In my 15 matches in charge, we’ve conceded on average one try per game. I’ve got a lot of confidence the guys can defend ... what I want to see is the guys go out there with an attacking mindset. It might be a cliche, but I’ve always believed attack is the best form of defence,” said Meyer this week.
Indeed, with a strong-running back division and Willie le Roux at fullback being given license to play his natural attacking game, the Boks should certainly be able to score four tries and bag a crucial bonus point first-up. That will be the idea anyway.
But to achieve this the Boks will first have to lay a strong foundation up front. With the new scrum engagement law, no one knows what’s going to happen there, but the hosts will have to win their line-outs and dominate the breakdowns.
Fortunately for Meyer and the Boks, the dynamic and versatile trio of Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts and Francois Louw are back together. And then, Ruan Pienaar and Morné Steyn will be tasked with getting the hosts into the right areas of the field.
An added bonus for the Boks is their powerful bench which could swing the game their way if it turns out to be a far closer affair than expected. Just imagine what kind of impact Bismarck du Plessis, Coenie Oosthuizen, Siya Kolisi, Fourie du Preez and Jan Serfontein could have on the game in the final 20 minutes.
The Boks need to send out a message to their rivals ... and this could just be the occasion for them to do it
Springboks: Willie le Roux, Bryan Habana, JJ Engelbrecht, Jean de Villiers (capt), Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandré Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Gürthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Siya Kolisi, Fourie du Preez, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein
Pumas: Juan Martin Hernandez, Gonzalo Camacho, Marcelo Bosch, Felipe Contepomi (capt), Juan Imhoff, Nicolas Sanchez, Martin Landajo; Leonardo Senatore, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Pablo Matera, Patricio Albacete, Manuel Carizza, Matias Diaz, Eusebio Guinazu, Juan Figallo. Replacements: Agustin Creevy, Nahuel Lobo, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Mariano Galarza, Julio Farias Cabello, Tomas Cubelli, Santiago Fernandez, Horacio Agulla