Johannesburg - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said on Monday in Cardiff that his team had made strides in nearly every aspect of the game this season except defence, and he and his coaching staff have intimated that recalled centre Jaque Fourie will be the new buckle on the Boks’ defensive belt.
They have won seven of their nine games this season and the two losses have been to an All Blacks team that exposed the Boks’ defensive frailties in the backline. By the end of this tour, the 30-year-old Fourie is expected to be back in the No 13 jersey and running the defence of the backline as he did with distinction for many of his 69 Tests to date.
Fourie has not played for the Boks since the 2011 World Cup quarter-final exit against Australia and, try as hard as he could over the past two years, Meyer has been unable to extricate Fourie from his Japanese club for international duty. Until now ...
It remains to be seen whether Fourie will immediately come back into the side at his familiar outside centre position for Saturday’s Test against Wales. Meyer has kept the media guessing on that score, but by the end of the tour Fourie will have taken over from JJ Engelbrecht and will again be bossing the defence.
Meyer will name his team for the tour opener on Wednesday and has said he will mostly go for continuity from the Rugby Championship before making changes for next week’s Test against Scotland. While winger JP Pietersen is also back from Japan, he was in the Boks’ system earlier this year and would have no problem slotting back in, but Fourie is a brand new inclusion in the Meyer era and after two years on the outside, he might have to play off the bench this week.
Backline coach Ricardo Loubscher said: “We saw the impact Fourie du Preez had earlier this year (when he also came back from Japan), and now we have Jaque and JP back as well and they are immediately showing their leadership and experience.”
With specific reference to Fourie, Loubscher said: “He has only been with the team a few days and straight away his leadership and experience have come to the fore. In the past he has been well known for the organisation he gives the backline both on attack and defence.”
Loubscher said the Boks would be keen to add to the 23 tries they have scored this season after embracing an attacking style that saw them score more tries than the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship.
“In terms of attack, we have had a massive improvement from last year, and we want to keep the attacking mindset going, but we have to balance the willingness to attack against the possible conditions we will experience,” he said.
“The positive mindset will remain, but if there is heavy rain we have to first get ourselves into the right areas and then not only adapt to the conditions, but also to the referee (Ireland’s Alain Rolland).”
Meyer will continue with Morné Steyn at flyhalf but Loubscher said that the recent form of Patrick Lambie has provided food for thought.
“It was good to see Pat getting game time in the Currie Cup. He made a big difference to the Sharks. We know what he offers as a flyhalf and at fullback,” Loubscher said.
“Pat made the difference in the Currie Cup final.”
Lambie could well get a chance at flyhalf ahead of Steyn for the Scotland match.
Wales team: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (capt), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Substitutes: Ken Owens, Paul James, Scott Andrews, Luke Charteris, Justin Tipuric, Lloyd Williams, James Hook, Liam Williams