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There was a throwaway remark from Pierre Spies at Wednesday’s team announcement that neatly summed up the Springboks’ approach to the third match of a series they have already won.
“Heyneke is just not the type of coach that lets you take your eye off the ball… it just won’t happen,” he laughed as he walked off at the conclusion of an interview about the accomplishment of his 50th Test.
Indeed it won’t. Meyer has said that it would be a significant backwards step if his team undid the good work of the first fortnight of this series by losing this match, not only because his team seek to improve their performance each week, but because this Test is in fact an important stage in the build-up to the Rugby Championship, which is suddenly just around the Super Rugby corner.
A few more weeks of the provincial showpiece and then it is hello New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, and Meyer wants the Boks to hit that stiffer competition with the momentum of a three-match unbeaten sequence in which his team played better with each unfolding week.
“We have not been sitting around talking about the pleasure of ‘whitewashing’ England, but at the same time we have established a firm goal of being undefeated on South African soil this year,” Spies said. “We have set high standards for ourselves and if we can get closer to achieving them, then we will have an excellent chance of winning the series 3-0, because so far we have excelled only in one half of each Test we have played.”
Spies said that his personal journey with the Boks reveals how quickly things can change at the highest level if concentration wavers.
“My very first Test was especially unforgettable – we lost 49-0 to Australia (in Brisbane in 2006), and we had a horrible losing streak (that almost resulted in Jake White being fired), but towards the end of 2006 we beat England at Twickenham (to end a seven-match losing run) and have not lost to them since (nine in a row and counting),” Spies said.
“Winning is about momentum, and the sooner it becomes a habit the better, because losing becomes a habit, too, and that is why this final Test against England is as important as the first and the second,” he continued. “We must establish a winning culture going into the Rugby Championship.”
For the Boks, it is about taking the best out of their second half in Durban and combining it with the awesome power of their first half in Johannesburg last week.
It does not help England that they have made six changes, some of them most unfortunate in that they have lost their best player and their captain in flank Chris Robshaw and tricky scrumhalf Ben Youngs, to injury.
“We won’t fall into the trap of underestimating England because of their changes, because some of them they will feel are improvements as the coach gets to know his squad better over the course of a series,” Spies observed.
“And there were a few of us around in 2009 when we slipped into relaxation mode before the third Test against the Lions (and got a 28-9 hiding). There is no chance of us going down that road again.”
And not just because of Meyer’s rigid expectations.
“Jean (de Villiers) is really coming through as a captain and he refuses to let anybody give an inch this week,” Spies said. “We have really enjoyed him this last three weeks. He is a natural leader and is proving to be the right man for the job. Everybody respects him and the goals he and Heyneke have set for the team.”
Springboks: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jean de Villiers (capt), 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira. Bench: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Bjorn Basson.
England: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Ben Foden, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Danny Care, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 James Haskell, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Tom Palmer, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (capt), 1 Alex Corbisiero. Bench: 16 Lee Mears, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Mouritz Botha, 19 Phil Dowson, 20 Lee Dickson, 21 Owen Farrell, 22 Brad Barritt.
Kickoff: 5.05pm. Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia). TV: SS1/SS HD/M-Net.