Heyneke Meyer believes the danger men for the Springboks in Saturday’s England showdown will be two Leicester players he got to know well during his time at the club.
Meyer yesterday singled out flyhalf Toby Flood and centre Manu Tuilagi as key men for England – whom the Boks are hoping to beat to make this month’s tour to Europe a success. The Boks go into the game on the back of victories against Ireland and Scotland, while England will be looking to make up for their defeat to Australia on Saturday.
Meyer said Flood, with 52 Test caps, was a great thinker at 10, while Tuilagi had the strength to make life very difficult for the Boks. Meyer knows both men from the time he spent at Leicester a few seasons ago.
“Toby’s really improved his tactical game and his tactical awareness. He’s always been a great attacking No 10 so if you give him the space and he’s on the front foot he’ll always get his backs going,” he said.
“He’s got the ability to run you to pieces. We’re going to have to be astute (in defending against him) and try to close that channel where he operates. He’s just a good all-rounder.”
Meyer was also full of praise for Tuilagi, the Samoa-born midfield powerhouse.
“He was only 17 years old when I was at Leicester and I knew then he would play for England. He was one of the strongest players at that age-group level and broke all the records for strength. He’s a hard runner and he’s difficult to tackle because he’s so compact. He’s a real danger man. He’s a great player and gives his team good momentum.”
But it’s definitely not only at the back where the Boks will be tested on Saturday. Up front and in the scrums the Boks did well against Ireland in their first tour game, winning all their set-pieces, but they were heavily penalised against Scotland at the weekend and can expect a huge challenge at Twickenham.
“The scrum is a real battle in Europe … every one is a test and a challenge,” said Meyer.
“It’s certainly not viewed as just a starting point. England have one of the best scrums around, real quality, and unlike in June we don’t have Bismarck du Plessis or Beast Mtawarira this time, so it’ll be a big test for the youngsters. England’s set pieces are all very solid, it’s one of their big strengths, but their defence is also outstanding.”
Meyer said the Boks would have to improve their defence significantly if they were to fully challenge the English. “We gave away 17 penalties against Scotland. That’s too much at this level. When you do that you can’t get on to the front foot and you can’t build an innings. It’s the one area we have to sort out before the weekend. Also, we’re going to need two good halves of rugby if we’re to stand a chance of making it three out of three.”
The Boks are nursing a few injury concerns, with JP Pietersen in a race against time to prove his fitness after picking up a groin strain at the weekend, while CJ van der Linde and Gurthro Steenkamp also picked up niggles at training yesterday afternoon.
Duane Vermeulen, Jannie du Plessis and Willem Alberts also sat out the session, having been given an extra day off after Saturday’s bruising Murrayfield clash.