Jacques van der Westhuyzen looks at the five key areas the Boks will be prioritising when they face the Pumas.
There’s no Fourie du Preez – a player Heyneke Meyer calls “the mastermind because he knows when to run, kick and pass and is probably the best tactical kicker in the game” – so it’s now the turn of Ruan Pienaar, to stand up and take charge. Kicking into the spaces behind the opposition’s backs is crucial to keep one’s team on the front foot and to play the game in the right areas. Pienaar and Handré Pollard have to be spot-on with their line kicks, but their up-and-under speed to hit the mark as well to ensure that their teammates can either win back the ball or push the opposition into defensive mode.
The Boks have managed to improve their try-scoring rate in recent times and this week Heyneke Meyer again said the intention was to go out and score as many tries as they can. Much will hinge on the quality and quickness of the breakdown ball the Boks get, but encouragingly the backs look like a unit hungry to test the defences. Pollard will be key but Meyer’s confident he has the attacking game to be extremely dangerous, while in Willie le Roux, the Boks have a player who’ll pop up everywhere seeking to do damage. It’s an exciting back division and should they click they could put 50 points past the Pumas.
The Boks were a dominant force last season, but didn’t reach the same highs during the June internationals and will want to step up in this department in the coming months. A powerful scrum not only produces clean ball to attack from, but gives the No9 and flyhalf more time, without the pressure, to clear their lines. Also, a technically sound scrum that pushes the opposition backwards will invariably win a good few penalties at the set-piece. The dodgy neck of Tendai Mtawarira, pictured left, will be under scrutiny, but the good news is the Boks finally have a specialist front row on the bench; the experimentation with Coenie Oost-huizen over ... for the time being.
Managing without Matfield:
The Boks were good in the line-outs and okay at restart time last year, but when veteran Victor Matfield returned in June, there was a marked improvement all-round. Now the Boks are again without the world’s best lock. Lood de Jager, pictured left, is a hugely promising second row forward. He’s a specialist No4 though, but will be tasked to run the line-outs at No5 tomorrow. Fortunately, Bakkies Botha will handle the “softening up” side of things and be a banker in the front of the line-out. But where Matfield might be missed the most is at the kick-offs where securing the ball is vital to avoid being on the back foot and under pressure in the red zone.
Dominating the breakdown:
Besides being powerful scrummagers, the Pumas have become major competitors at the breakdown, throwing bodies into the rucks as they seek to make turn-overs and spoil opposition ball.
The Boks know what’s in store for them, but with specialist coach Richie Gray almost perfecting the Boks’ skills at the breakdown, they’ve become a very formidable unit.
Matches are won and lost depending on who bosses the rucks and Gray and Heyneke Meyer have spoken at length about needing quality, quick ball to play an attacking game. Francois Louw, pictured left, has become indispensable as the “fetcher” and he’ll again be a key man at Loftus. - The Star