Brisbane – The Springboks arrived here on Sunday having put aside the shortcomings of a messy Rugby Championship win in Mendoza to focus on the unique challenge of fronting up against Australia this week.
After kicking off their campaign with a 73-13 romp against Argentina in Soweto, the Boks were held to a 22-17 win at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas in round two. Much was made of the drop-off in the performance, while struggles at the breakdown and scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar’s service were singled out for special concern.
Prior to the team’s departure from Johannesburg on Saturday, coach Heyneke Meyer admitted that it was always going to be difficult to live up to the expectations created by a 60-point victory over the Pumas, and that the value of a Test win on the road should not be underestimated or taken for granted.
“It doesn’t matter if it was ugly, you take a lot of confidence from winning away from home,” reiterated a travel-weary Siya Kolisi shortly after arriving at the team hotel in downtown Brisbane on Sunday. “It’s always very hard to win away from home, so we took that positive out of the Mendoza game.”
What makes this clash against the Wallabies unique is the late arrival of five Bok players who were allowed to represent their French clubs in the Top 14 at the weekend. Morné Steyn, Bryan Habana, Juandré Kruger, Jano Vermaak and Gurthrö Steenkamp were all scheduled to join up with the team during the course of today.
Meyer admitted that the lessons of allowing Europe-based players to punctuate two Tests with a club game had come on a steep learning curve and that this arrangement was a “one-off” that would not be repeated.
The Boks haven’t beaten Australia in Brisbane for 42 years and next week they will have to pick themselves up to battle a 76-year-old drought against the All Blacks in Auckland.
Word from the camp is that all five players managed to avoid injury, an answer to Meyer’s prayers, and Steyn reportedly performed well in his club debut – a 20-minute spell off the bench for Stade Francais in a 38-3 win against Biarritz.
However, as is perennially underlined in the Super Rugby competition, travel has an inherent fatigue factor. Kolisi had the luxury of kicking back at Ellis Park to watch Western Province and the Lions play to a draw at the weekend, and yet he admitted to being “very tired” and “looking forward” to having a rest day on Monday.
In getting from Mendoza to Brisbane, via Paris, Steyn and the Euro-based Boks not only squashed in a round of Top 14 duty, they also travelled 20 000 more kilometres. And, where Kolisi arrived on Sunday and was looking forward to starting the week on a break, Monday was a travel day for the likes of Steyn.
It remains to be seen just how big an impact the unique travel arrangements leading up to this week will have on Meyer’s team. Last year the entire Bok squad, apart from England-based Francois Louw, arrived in Perth a fortnight after a 16-16 stalemate in Mendoza, and they blew a 13-6 halftime lead to go down 26-19 against the Wallabies.
The team has shown a spike in second-half resolve this season, though the late arrival of key players may disrupt some of the momentum gained from eight successive victories (four of them away from home) since South Africa’s 16-12 win against Ireland in Dublin last year.
The Bok team is scheduled to be named on Wednesday.
Forwards: (16): Lourens Adriaanse, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Juandré Kruger, Francois Louw, Tendai Mtawarira, Coenie Oosthuizen, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Adriaan Strauss, Flip van der Merwe, Duane Vermeulen.
Backs (12): Bjorn Basson, Jean de Villiers (captain), JJ Engelbrecht, Bryan Habana, Zane Kirchner, Patrick Lambie, Willie le Roux, Ruan Pienaar, Jan Serfontein, Morné Steyn, Piet van Zyl, Jano Vermaak.
upcoming championship fixtures
Hamilton: New Zealand v Argentina (9.35am).
Brisbane: Australia v South Africa (12.05pm).
Saturday, September 14
Auckland: New Zealand v South Africa (9.35am).
Perth: Australia v Argentina (12.05pm). – Cape Times