Johannesburg – Attitude and aggression – the two things Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will drum into his players ahead of next week’s Rugby Championship Test against Australia in Brisbane.
In fact, the pep-talk would have started on Thursday night when the Boks got together ahead of Friday’s training session and Saturday’s departure to Australia.
The Boks may be sitting at the top of the Rugby Championship table, after two wins against Argentina, but many will say the competition really only starts now, with Australia and New Zealand to come.
But last weekend’s dire 22-17 win against Los Pumas in Mendoza would already have shaken up Meyer’s men, with confidence all of a sudden probably not where it should be heading to the Antipodes.
How quickly things can change in a week. The Boks would have been high on adrenaline and fully pumped up after kicking off their Rugby Championship challenge with a 73-13 win against Argentina at FNB Stadium just to undo all their good work with a poor showing one week later. But at least, the tricky trip to Mendoza is out of the way, with the Boks surviving – unlike last season when they only managed a draw – and they can now focus fully on the Wallabies and All Blacks.
Meyer and captain Jean de Villiers have spoken about how the Boks let themselves down in Argentina and know a much-improved effort will be needed if they’re to register rare victories in Brisbane and Auckland – two venues that have not been at all kind to South Africa in the past.
But Meyer will also know that if his side can find the form they showed in their first match of the competition, they may just push their two biggest rivals all the way. The Bok boss will stress the importance of not under-estimating the Wallabies especially, who have lost twice to the All Blacks now and looked well below par in the final Test against the British and Irish Lions. They’ve also got a new coach in Ewen McKenzie so they are, to some extent, still finding their feet.
While many critics have suggested the Boks need a change at fullback – and it appears that may be on the cards with Zane Kirchner’s inclusion in the squad – what they really need more than anything else is to find their grunt up front. The pack was bullied by the Pumas in Mendoza, leaving the Boks stymied and with no answer as to how to get on top and dominate like they did at FNB Stadium.
And it is this part of their game that will receive Meyer’s attention on Friday and the whole of next week. So, while the Boks’ set-pieces have been excellent so far in the competition, their powder-puff display at the breakdowns and their big number of handling errors in Mendoza are what will be worked on in the comings days. Because, as we’ve seen, if the Boks don’t get quick, quality front foot ball in the tackle and control the flow of the game, they’re not nearly as potent as they should and could be.
Unfortunately for Meyer, he’ll have to do without key players Morné Steyn, Bryan Habana, Juandré Kruger, Gurthrö Steenkamp and Chiliboy Ralepelle at Friday’s training session as all are involved with their French clubs this weekend and only join their teammates on Sunday. Ralepelle may even miss the entire trip if he fails a fitness test today.
It’s not an ideal situation to be in, especially with Meyer desperate to iron out all the errors that crept into the Boks’ game last weekend. He will demand a change in attitude in the coming days, a mindset that will be focused on bullying the Wallabies, just like the Boks were bullied last week, and he’ll further want to see aggression in the training sessions, to get the Boks fired up and switched on before their biggest test since last year’s Rugby Championship.