Perth – They scratched and fumbled, were scrummed to pieces and ultimately intimidated by Argentina.
But the message was clear from coach Heyneke Meyer and one of the senior members of the side, Adriaan Strauss, upon their arrival here yesterday for this weekend’s Rugby Championship clash against Australia – no more messing around.
Meyer’s men know that another uninspiring display littered with errors and set-piece malfunctions will not suffice at Patersons Stadium on Saturday (12.05pm kick-off SA time).
Yes, the Boks managed to escape with two wins and actually top the Championship log at the moment, but Saturday will be another story.
Don’t think the Wallabies will be easy-beats just because they took a 51-20 hammering from the All Blacks last week. They should have won in Sydney seven days earlier, although the wet conditions at the Olympic Stadium helped them douse the red-hot New Zealand attack.
By the way, rain and strong winds have also been forecast for Saturday in Perth, and you would have to say the Wallabies are a better wet-weather team than the Boks are at the moment based on their previous games in slippery conditions in Sydney and Pretoria.
But that’s what the Boks need to overcome – whether it’s a dry or wet surface, they need to win back their respect against the Wallabies. The Boks must put down a marker if they want to be considered as serious challengers for the All Blacks next week in Wellington. The confidence and fluidity with which they played in dispatching the Wallabies in Brisbane last year needs to be rediscovered.
The players seem unsure of themselves, and were unable to respond when confronted by the aggressive Argentine side, in the backs and forwards. The Boks should be looking to set the pace against the Wallabies, and that is where Morné Steyn needs to take charge and show rookie Handré Pollard how to provide calm direction to the team at flyhalf.
As much as Willie le Roux is the major attacking weapon in the backline, Steyn is the man who sparks the flame. They should also be able to garner inspiration from Bryan Habana, who will play his 100th Test on Saturday.
The Boks have made a good start to their preparations, spending three days in Johannesburg last week training on their shortcomings, and will hit the practice pitch today determined to find solutions.
“We trained very hard and a few more tough sessions are waiting for us this week. Although we got the results against Argen-tina, our standards are higher than how we performed and we want to improve this weekend,” Meyer said yesterday. “It will require a lot of focus and hard work from everyone involved this week. Australia may have lost last weekend against New Zealand, but the week before they drew in Sydney. We respect them and can’t afford any slip-ups.”
One of those solutions could come at hooker, where Adriaan Strauss may replace Bismarck du Plessis, who looks to be some way from his best form at the moment. Strauss has come in for Du Plessis for a Wallaby Test before – at Newlands last year – and the Boks won 28-8. Perhaps that’s a good omen if Meyer does make the change.
Strauss made a strong case for a starting berth with a forceful performance in the second half in Salta, and his added scrummaging ability would come in handy too, even if the Wallaby pack aren’t as powerful as that of Los Pumas.
“The guys are still very positive. We’ll take a win any day, but we didn’t play according to our own standards, and we would want to better that,” Strauss said yesterday.
“But we’ll definitely take the win and focus on this weekend.”
And, while the scrums are set to be an even contest, the Bok coach will hope the return of Victor Matfield from a minor niggle will not only result in cleaner line-out ball to attack with, but also contesting the Wallaby throw-ins.
Australia coach Ewen McKenzie is down to his fourth hooker this week following serious injuries to Stephen Moore and Nathan Charles, while Tatafu Polota-Nau is making his way back from a knee injury and will only be ready to play against Argentina next week.
Reds front-rowers James Hanson and Saia Fainga’a are set to man the hooker position against the Boks, so Matfield and Co will fancy their chances of stealing a few Wallaby line-outs and deny the likes of Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau front-foot ball with which to attack. - The Star