Johannesburg – Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer believes South Africa will face their toughest Rugby Championship yet since taking the reins in 2012.
“It will be the toughest one yet. Australia had a lot of injuries last year and now they've suddenly hit form and they've changed their game plan,” Meyer said on Monday at a five-day Springbok camp ahead of next weekend's opening Rugby Championship Test against Argentina in Pretoria.
“We are probably the team with the most injuries and New Zealand are always tough while Argentina has caught up.”
Australia and New Zealand would be quite bullish after each of their franchises featured in the Super Rugby final in Sydney over the weekend where the Waratahs beat the Crusaders for their maiden title.
Meyer said the competition would be of such a close nature that bonus points could ultimately separate the champions from the losers.
Last year the Springboks came painstakingly close to winning the Rugby Championship for the first time since 2009 when they faced the All Blacks in the final deciding match at Ellis Park.
A bonus point victory ultimately escaped the home side, but Meyer believed missed opportunities in earlier matches in the series cost them dearly.
“What we did well last year was to win two away from home but the fact that we didn't get the bonus point away against Argentina
was tough,” Meyer said.
“The big disappointment was that we fought back to score four tries against Australia there which is unheard of.
“But the fact that we didn't get the bonus point in New Zealand and in Australia at home put us under pressure to score four tries against New Zealand.”
He said the team needed to take the bonus point when they were on offer in order not to create a pressure situation at home.
“We will have to win away from home again and we will have to get a bonus point in each match if you don't win,” he said.
While the Springboks would be buoyed by the return of six players from injury including captain Jean de Villiers, Meyer was left to rue to loss of scrumhalf and master tactician Fourie du Preez.
Du Preez suffered an ankle injury in the final Incoming Tour match against Scotland in Port Elizabeth and was ruled out for the rest of the year.
“Fourie's injury is a major setback. You don't replace a world-class player like that overnight. The next scrumhalf will have to put up his hand,” Meyer said.
“We have great individual scrumhalves in the country that can break from anywhere but in top flight rugby the defence is much better and you need a nine that clears the ball well.
“That is what Fourie picked up in Japan, which allowed us to score the most tries ... We will need quick ball on the front foot.”
Ruan Pienaar has been Du Preez' regular understudy but his slowish service has come under scrutiny, while Francois Hougaard is yet to produce on the promise he holds.
Sharks scrumhalf Cobus Reinach has been called into camp and will hope along with Pienaar and Hougaard to impress Meyer during the Rugby Championship. – Sapa