Clash of the Titans: Springboks vs. All Blacks at Soccer City
The team that whipped the Wallabies will be facing New Zealand in the next Rugby Championship match on Saturday, and it’s a strong cluster of talent. But, says KEN BORLAND, both coach and players realise it’s going to be the fight of their lives to keep the world champions down.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer on Wednesday gave the team that beat the Wallabies a vote of confidence by keeping them intact for Saturday's Rugby Championship match against New Zealand at Soccer City in Soweto, but he is under no illusions regarding the kind of performance needed to beat the world champions.
"The All Blacks are a quality side, they're on a winning streak, they've been together for a long time and they know how to win, even when they're not playing well. They know how to play away from home and they've got the mind-set that they can win away because they've done it so many times before. And they've got that World Cup monkey off their backs now as well," Meyer said.
"I know we're not going to outscore them with tries, and if we're going to beat them, we have to kick at an 80%-plus success rate, we have to convert our pressure into points, defend unbelievably and take every chance. The players have to pitch up, be mentally strong and physically tough.
"Especially with Dan Carter back for them. I think he's a superb player, he brings more composure to the team and he's a huge threat if they get quick ball," Meyer said.
While Meyer firmly believes that his young team is going places, the All Blacks have probably already arrived.
New flyhalf Johan Goosen is still being touted as the Springboks' salvation but, as Meyer pointed out, Saturday's Test is going to be a major challenge and step up for the 20-year-old, who started in the South Africa number 10 jersey for the first time against Australia.
"The New Zealand back three are superb, especially the way they read the game, and they're very good under the high ball. So it's not going to be easy for Johan to kick tactically against them; it's going to be a tough learning curve for him.
"He will improve, though, as he gains experience, as he plays more, and he'll get better at seeing space," Meyer said.
But New Zealand, with the arch-poacher always lurking in Richie McCaw, with Israel Dagg, Cory Jane and Julian Savea at the back and one of the world's great centre pairings in Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu, will ruthlessly exploit any wrong move by the Springboks.
They will be out to produce a far more convincing display than they did in Dunedin in the previous meeting between the two old rivals. The All Blacks might have won that game 21-11, but their own media reckoned the Springboks were the better team on the day, losing only because they missed 20 points worth of kicks at goal.
"I am sure the All Blacks will come out blazing because maybe they underestimated us a bit in Dunedin after we had struggled in the first half of the year. They won't do that again," Meyer warned.
The injury curse that has been hammering the Springboks finally seems to have relented enough for Meyer to name the same starting XV for two matches in a row for the first time this year.
It's on the bench where the only change in personnel has been made, with versatile prop Coenie Oosthuizen returning for Pat Cilliers.
The Free State Cheetahs powerhouse received the all-clear the previous day from a neurosurgeon in Durban, the Springbok medical team wanting a second opinion on the neck injury that seemed to still be troubling him so as not to put the 23-year-old's future career at risk.
Meyer knows how important the forward battle will be on Saturday, saying the pack "have to pitch up, be mentally strong and physically tough".
Having edged the All Blacks forwards in Dunedin, the Springbok pack certainly won't be chicken when it comes to taking on the opposition front-on in Soweto.
"This is going to be one of the best packs around – it's a good combination of youth and experience. But we need to pitch up with physicality against the All Blacks; we need to bring something extra. We're telling the youngsters to just go out and hurt people," lock Andries Bekker said of his fellow forwards.
Bekker also had no sympathy for himself when he described his disastrous game in the shock draw in Argentina.
"There's no problem with my back anymore but mentally, after Mendoza, I needed a lift. There were some harsh words directed at me, but I knew I had not been up to scratch. I knew I had to step up because for me, personally, my performance was shocking," Bekker confessed.
There will be no room for anything less than 100% from the Springboks on Saturday, with the All Blacks desperate to ensure there are no interruptions to their 15-match winning streak that sees them just three off the world record held by Lithuania since April 2010.
15-Zane Kirchner, 14-Bryan Habana, 13-Jaco Taute, 12-Jean de Villiers, 11-Francois Hougaard, 10-Johan Goosen, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Andries Bekker, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16-Tiaan Liebenberg, 17-Coenie Oosthuizen, 18-Flip van der Merwe, 19-Marcell Coetzee, 20-Elton Jantjies, 21-Juan de Jongh, 22-Pat Lambie. DM
Photo: South Africa Springboks' Andries Bekker sits atop a maul during their Rugby Championship test match against New Zealand All Blacks in Dunedin September 15, 2012. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps