Perth - Rain and strong winds have been predicted, but Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is still hopeful that conditions will remain dry so that his side can “move the ball around” in Saturday’s Rugby Championship showdown with the Wallabies.
The Boks have been making substantial progress with their attacking game in the last 15 months, adding greater width to their play and having a mindset of wanting to hold on to the ball, and allowing the decision-makers to make the calls on whether to run the ball or utilise a tactical kick based on what the situation is in front of them.
It was raining Bok tries during the four-match June international window against the World XV, Wales and Scotland, where they notched up 23 touchdowns, but then wet weather intervened in the Argentina game in Pretoria three weeks ago.
Meyer on Wednesday pinpointed that Loftus Versfeld match as the root cause of the problems that were experienced in the return Argentina game in Salta seven days later, and he feels that it may affect the Boks’ ability to carry out their positive attacking strategy against the Wallabies on Saturday.
But he is still keen to see the likes of Bryan Habana, who will be playing in his 100th Test, Cornal Hendricks and Willie le Roux to strike.
“We were definitely upset about our attacking game against Argentina and want to improve on it on Saturday. But firstly I want to say that we always struggle away to Argentina, and I don’t think that they get the credit. They are really tough to play against as they contest every single scrum, lineout and ruck,” Meyer said.
“In the Incoming Tour we played well and scored a lot of tries - about five per game on average, which is a lot, even for Super Rugby - which is great and something I will take any day as Wales are a quality side.
“Unfortunately the one game that I thought we needed to get continuity going again was at Loftus, and then it rained. So I always knew that the away game will be tough, and now all three away are going to be tough. The pressure is always more on the home side to play great rugby and throw it around, so the way you win away games - which we’ve shown against England and Wales - you have to grind wins out if you are the visiting side.
“So for me, we want to grow the game and score tries, and even if we played badly, we did score three tries in Argentina. But sometimes you have to grind out a win, and I always take an ugly win any time. But the little frustrating thing is that I thought we played some great rugby in June, and a lot of those players are not available now and a lot of the Sharks players are injured.
“But I am still happy with the way we are playing, and just a few tweaks here and there - and Fourie du Preez’s injury was also a big setback - to find continuity in the backs has been a problem. But it’s no excuse - this backline is still exciting and scores a lot of tries, and hopefully we can do that.”
Meyer brought back Morné Steyn at flyhalf on Wednesday in place of rookie Handré Pollard, while Jan Serfontein comes in for Damian de Allende at outside centre. Serfontein is essentially an inside centre, but Meyer said that he would “interchange” with captain Jean de Villiers during the game “to hopefully keep the opposition guessing”.
Steyn provided the spark to reignite the Bok attack in the second half in Salta, and Meyer is banking on the rain to stay away in Perth to allow his team to play to their full potential.
“Hopefully it won’t be wet - I can’t believe that I am a South African coach and I am saying that! But the way we’ve hopefully grown our game, we also want dry fields and (to) move the ball, and I think Australia (would want that) as well,” the Bok coach said.
“If it’s a dry field, I think it will be great rugby - we want to move the ball around, they are moving the ball, and I think there is a lot of respect between the two teams. We are struggling to find continuity as we have a lot of injuries, but that’s not an excuse. I think it’s going to be exciting and open, running rugby.”
But Meyer will hope that Tendai Mtawarira and Adriaan Strauss, who have replaced Gurthrö Steenkamp and Bismarck du Plessis at loosehead and hooker respectively, will be able to stabilise a Bok scrum that was hurtling back at times against Argentina.
Victor Matfield’s return from a hamstring niggle should aid that cause too, just in terms of planning and calming down the pack if they are under pressure, while Marcell Coetzee will hope to repay the faith his coach has placed in him to play in the unfamiliar blindside flank position with a typically energetic performance.
Steenkamp has dropped out of the match-23 to make way for Trevor Nyakane on the bench, and he is joined by Warren Whiteley, who could make his Test debut. It was a surprise to see Whiteley get the nod ahead of Oupa Mohoje as the loose-forward cover as the Lions captain was a late replacement for Willem Alberts and Juan Smith, but Meyer explained that he wanted a “specialist” No 8 on the bench as Alberts would normally have covered that role.