Port Elizabeth - The Springboks may have lost several players to injuries and club commitments, but the effect of last week’s close-run win over Wales has resulted in them raising their expectations even higher for Saturday’s one-off Test against Scotland.
The Bok pride was hurt at the Mbombela Stadium in Mbombela, and one senses that it was almost embarrassing for Heyneke Meyer and his team to have been 17-0 down at one stage and in real danger of losing to the Welsh for the first time on South African soil.
A controversial late penalty try awarded by referee Steve Walsh eventually saved Bok blushes, and it is clear that they are determined to avoid getting themselves into trouble again at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday evening.
And the South Africans have somewhat of a score to settle with the Scots.
They found themselves in a similar situation to last week’s Welsh game against Scotland last June, ironically at the same ground in Mbombela.
The Boks were 17-6 down with 35 minutes left, and it was only a penalty try and a yellow card to Scotland lock Jim Hamilton that saw Meyer’s men get back on top.
They did thrash Scotland 28-0 at Murrayfield last November, but will again be under extra pressure due to all the new faces in the team, while the Scots come off a three-match unbeaten run on their current tour, where they beat Canada, US and Argentina, the latter last week.
“Last week, the Wales team came out and played pretty well. Whenever you go into a Test match, you need to be accurate.
“You can’t give away silly penalties and make mistakes, because then you will be under pressure,” Bok captain Victor Matfield said yesterday.
“We only gave away one penalty in the entire game in the first Wales Test, so they couldn’t get into the game and we got all the opportunities,” Matfield said.
“Unfortunately in the first half last week, we made too many mistakes, and they had all the ball and we had to defend. So if we can get that right, then we can get the ball in hand and attack.
“Hopefully it will be better by halftime this week.”
The only debutant in the Bok starting line-up is flyhalf Handrè Pollard, who enjoyed a tremendous run as captain of the SA under-20 side that reached the final of the IRB Junior World Championship last week.
Pollard was voted the best under-20 player in the world, but while Scotland may not be among the heavyweights of the game, the Bulls star has had a tough introduction to the senior side, having had to fly all the way from New Zealand last weekend.
Meyer heaped praise on the 20-year-old this week though, and Matfield said on Friday that the former Paarl Gym pupil had what it takes to survive on Saturday and direct the Bok attack in front of what is expected to be a 46 000-capacity crowd.
“Handrè is a very mature guy. There will probably be some nervousness on his part, but you can never see it with him – he is a guy who is very self-assured. And what’s good for him is that he is playing with Jan (Serfontein), whom he knows and has played with at the Bulls and the SA under-20s,” the skipper said.
“Then he has Fourie (du Preez) on his inside who is very experienced. So that will help him a lot.
“It’s a big day for him and I hope that he comes through with flying colours. He is a brilliant player who will still mean a lot for South Africa in the future,” Matfield said.
Like Pollard, loose forward Oupa Mohoje is also on debut, although off the bench, while Marcel van der Merwe, Stephan Lewies and Marnitz Boshoff could also make their Test bow on Saturday.
Their energy has been evident in training this week, and that could just be the key to the Bok performance on Saturday to blunt the Scottish onslaught, as they are all competing for positions in future squads.
“It’s great to get that enthusiasm. It’s fantastic to get the young players coming in and they just want to go – you almost have to slow them down at training and tell them, ‘Let’s make sure, let’s be accurate!’, as they just want to go.
“So it’s great for Oupa. He didn’t start all the games for the Cheetahs, but did start the last few and he made a big impact. Now it’s his chance on Saturday (on Saturday) to show what he can do at the next level.
“We’ve had a few lineout sessions and he backs himself in the lineout, and it’s nice to have a guy that’s confident who goes out up against me, and there’s a little banter between each other! And that’s fantastic, to see the confidence.
“He’s going to have a lot of experience around him with Schalk (Burger) and Duane (Vermeulen), and Marcell (Coetzee) as well.”