An improvement at scrum-time and a better kicking performance are the two elements of the Springbok game in coach Heyneke Meyer is demanding an improvement at this year’s Rugby Championship.
And, the coach wants his team to pick up bonus points in every match, because he believes this year’s competition will be tighter than ever before and will be decided on who finishes with the most additional points in the bag.
Meyer spoke at length this week about his demands ahead of the Rugby Championship, which kicks off for the Boks next weekend at Loftus Versfeld when Argentina are the visitors.
In the corresponding fixture last year the Boks amassed 73 points in a run-away win at FNB Stadium, but a week later they again battled to get the better of Los Pumas on home soil. They didn’t pick up a bonus point and ultimately it came back to bite them as they chased the four tries in a must-win game against the All Blacks if they were to have a chance of winning the competition.
Having reflected on the events of last season, Meyer now knows what’s required.
“It’s going to come down to bonus points so we have to be on our game each week. We need to start strongly and build from there,” he said.
But Meyer hasn’t only challenged his team to score tries – something they’ve done regularly under his watch – he also knows his team will have to do the basics well if they’re to achieve their objectives.
“We were the best scrumming team in the world last year, but I wasn’t happy with the way we scrummed in the June series. We can still improve in that department,” he said.
“Our tactical kicking wasn’t really tested in June, but when you look at how well the Aussie and New Zealand teams kicked in the latter stages of Super Rugby, we certainly need to keep improving there too.”
While Meyer and Co work on perfecting those areas, Scottish import Richie Gray is focusing on the Boks mastering the breakdown, so all areas are pretty much covered. It’s really a case of the Boks doing the business on the field. “Condition-wise we’re up there, but a coach is never completely happy. The thing is the ball is in play for longer periods nowadays, the game is played at a high tempo so there’s no place for fatigue.
“Also, teams don’t just out-muscle opponents like before; all the teams have big, strong forwards so we’ve got to out-think them, be more skilful and then out-play them.”
The Boks are well focused on what they need to do in the coming months, in the build up to the World Cup next year, and it wouldn’t be out of place to suggest this year’s Rugby Championship will be called: “The time to beat the All Blacks”.
Captain Jean de Villiers spoke about it being one of the boxes the team wanted to tick and it’s almost a guarantee that without beating the world champions there’s no way the Boks will get to lift the Rugby Championship trophy. It will be one of the priorities for the team this season, and rightly so.
Last season, Meyer’s team won all their matches against Argentina and Australia but they didn’t pick up bonus points in beating Los Pumas away and they also failed to score the four tries in winning against the Wallabies in South Africa. But what also set them back was failing to bag a losing bonus point against New Zealand in Auckland, but we all remember what happened in that game – the Boks were reduced to 14 men after referee Romain Poite incorrectly red-carded Bismarck du Plessis.
This year’s championship is building towards being a real cracker with Australia seemingly playing with confidence again, maybe more so now that the Waratahs have won a first Super Rugby title, South Africa being upbeat after losing just twice (to the All Blacks) in the last 12 months and New Zealand still the number one team in the world. Argentina will be competitive at home, but shouldn’t pose a threat on the road.
South Africa go into the competition on the back of wins against Wales and Scotland in June and with a settled squad. They have a bunch of exciting youngsters like Lood de Jager, Handré Pollard, Damian de Allende and Willie le Roux, but also grizzled campaigners such as Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Bakkies Botha, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana and Juan Smith.
Meyer will be hoping Victor Matfield’s injury isn’t too serious because he will be sorely needed against the Wallabies and All Blacks, while much attention will be on scrumhalf where Ruan Pienaar, Francois Hougaard and Cobus Reinach have to fill in for Fourie du Preez.
New Zealand will be minus Tony Woodcock and Dan Carter for the foreseeable future, a big blow to them, yet they’ll be cock-a-hoop after getting past a gutsy England in June.
The waiting is over, it’s now time to see if all the work behind the scenes pays off for the chasing pack and whether someone can stop the all-conquering All Blacks.
Saturday: Australia v New Zealand (12.05pm); South Africa v Argentina (5pm)
August 23: New Zealand v Australia (9.35am); Argentina v South Africa (9.40pm)
September 6: New Zealand v Argentina 9.35am; Australia v South Africa 12.05pm
September 13: New Zealand v South Africa 9.35am; Australia v Argentina 12.05pm
September 27: South Africa v Australia 5pm; Argentina v New Zealand 9.10pm
October 4: South Africa v New Zealand 5pm; Argentina v Australia 9.10pm
Probable Bok team for Argentina Test: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers (capt), Bryan Habana, Handré Pollard, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Frans Malherbe, Trevor Nyakane, Bakkies Botha, Marcell Coetzee, Francois Hougaard, Morné Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo - Sunday Independent