Heyneke Meyer made no excuses for the Springboks’ stuttering performance in scraping past Wales on Saturday, but he did concede his players are feeling the effects of a heavy workload which requires them to play high intensity rugby from one week to the next.
The Boks sealed the two-match series in the Mbombela Stadium thanks to a last-gasp penalty try, which was converted from in front of the posts after Wales fullback Liam Williams was penalised for a shoulder charge on Cornal Hendricks in his attempt to score in the corner. It was the second penalty try awarded to the Boks on the night by referee Steve Walsh as the Boks triumphed 31-30.
“I’m really worried about the state of the players,” said Meyer afterwards. “I don’t want to make excuses, but I’ve never seen the players so tired at this time of the year.”
After a convincing performance in the first Test in Durban, the Boks will be thanking their lucky stars for escaping from what for much of the contest looked like a certain defeat. Wales were much-improved from the first Test and led 17-0 after half an hour and again enjoyed a commanding position at 30-17 with 15 minutes remaining.
The Boks’ two late first half tries also came when Wales were down to 13 men following the sin-binning of Luke Charteris and Dan Biggar. The first penalty try came after a Bok driving maul was illegally stopped, while Hendricks scored a stunner after excellent work from JP Pietersen and Willie le Roux, the latter getting the Boks’ third try with eight minutes remaining to give the hosts a sniff at victory.
Bok prop Jannie du Plessis also admitted playing week-in and week-out against the best teams in the world was challenging. “I can only talk about my experience with the Sharks, but we played eight games in a row coming into the Tests in June, four of those away from home. And the intensity increases from one week to the next, it never gets easier,” he said.
“To play 12 games against very good teams who want to win as badly as you is tough. But we’ve been through this before. The fact of the matter is that in Durban we created opportunities and we converted them; this week we didn’t do that. The challenge for us is to keep on doing this ... because it’s not going to be less intense this coming week or the next.”
Meyer said the manner in which the victory was achieved was crucial for him. In fact, he went so far as to say it was one of the best wins of his career as Bok coach.
“This was a special win, it’s why we coach,” said Meyer. “To come through games like these shows me what type of players I’m working with. I can see how mentally tough we are. I’d rather take a win in this fashion than a runaway win. It’s important that we were under pressure and came out on the right side ... we live for matches like these.”
He further praised his team for their composure in a match that was on a knife-edge for most of the 80 minutes. “To come back from 17-0 down and 30-17 down shows we have players with great character. We were put under immense pressure, but we never panicked. We needed a game where we were asked to grind out a victory ... because we’ll be in similar situations down the line and especially at the World Cup next year.” - The Star