CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 15: (Coach) Heyneke Meyer during the Springbok training session at Westerford High School Sports Fields on April 15, 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Ziyaad Douglas/Gallo Images)

Ashfak Mohamed

WATCH out for the Springboks in 2013. They will be a much better prepared team compared to last year, and coach Heyneke Meyer says he himself “is the best prepared that I’ve ever been for a team”.

Following a disappointing Rugby World Cup campaign in 2011, where the Boks went down to the Wallabies in the quarter-finals under Peter de Villiers, the South African Rugby Union tried to get the Boks back on track last year, starting with the appointment of Meyer.

But due to various factors, many of those beyond Saru’s control, Meyer’s era began in a state of chaos, as he was only appointed on January 28, and still had to finalise his management team. What made life difficult for him is that many of the coaches he had identified to join him were already into full Super Rugby mode and decided not to join the national cause.

Meyer eventually secured the services of the Bulls trio of Johann van Graan, Ricardo Loubscher and John McFarland, as well as team manager Ian Schwartz, but they still had to fulfil their Super Rugby commitments in Pretoria before becoming Meyer’s right-hand men. To make matters worse, the Boks had only five days to prepare for a three-Test series against England in June.

But it is like a whole new world for Meyer in 2013, and he feels that the Boks will be battle-ready for the first Test of the year against Italy in Durban on June 8 following the completion of the first national training camp in Cape Town yesterday. “Even though this was only a first opportunity to get together this year and start our work ahead of the international season, with no selection guarantees, the players’ excitement was palpable,” Meyer said.

“We’ve looked and analysed a lot of rugby matches during the last few months and have identified a number of areas where we aim to improve this year, with the breakdown top of our list. Just on a personal note, I think that this is the best that I’ve ever been prepared for a team. We’ve had coaching camps, we’ve been studying teams all over the world and I have been all over the world, and so too the coaching staff.

“Now it’s a matter of getting it out to the players, which will save us time. The players are also much more open, and we had one-on-ones with all the players.”

The Boks are expected to beat Italy, Scotland and possibly Samoa fairly comfortably in preparation for the gruelling Rugby Championship against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina starting in August, but the Bok coach feels that their June opponents won’t be pushovers. That is why he is likely to stick with the experienced players initially instead of giving in-form newcomers a Test debut.

“We can only have one more camp like this (at the end of May in Durban). I don’t agree with the assertion that our Tests will be easy. Italy and Scotland finished higher in the Six Nations than Ireland and France, and will arrive here very confident. Samoa gave the Springboks a real scare at the last Rugby World Cup, and have improved a lot over the last number of years,” Meyer said.

“A guy like Pieter-Steph (du Toit) came through, (Robert) Ebersohn is getting an opportunity, but I think you need to start with your core group, and then change slightly from then on. I can also say that I have always rated Louis Schreuder. I think he is a great player, and Cobus Reinach really impressed me on Saturday. Both (Francois) Hougaard and Jano (Vermaak) couldn’t train, and he also had a great game for the Bulls. So, the scrumhalf position is wide open.

“I still believe a guy like Bakkies (Botha) can play for the Boks, but Eben was a 20-year-old and I took the 50-50 chance with him last year, and suddenly he is probably the best four lock in the world. But you can’t play with 22 youngsters, and you need a mix of experienced guys and younger guys.”

There were 11 players who sat out of the field sessions at Westerford High School, and while Meyer admitted that he is worried about the lengthy list of injured players, he is positive that most of them will be fit for the June Tests.

Among the forwards, Marcell Coetzee, Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen and Siya Kolisi didn’t train, while the backs who rested were Francois Hougaard, Jano Vermaak, Elton Jantjies, Lwazi Mvovo, Bjorn Basson, JP Pietersen and Zane Kirchner.

The Bok squad for the incoming series is set to be named on Saturday June 1, after the weekend’s Super Rugby matches.