Great Scots! The Boks have their work cut out
While the Springboks’ second-half comeback against Ireland last weekend was rightly lauded, no-one enjoys seeing them play as poorly as they did in the first half, and it is imperative that they hit their straps from the outset on Saturday against Scotland. By KEN BORLAND.
In the upcoming match, the team simply cannot afford to perform in a way that will void the feel-good factor of walloping Ireland.
While there is no question the team has enormous character and is growing mentally with every outing, there are still nagging doubts eating away at many analysts that the Springboks might not be on the right path.
While the fickle public throw their rotten tomatoes over the way the Springboks play, the lack of tries they’ve scored and who is selected, there are valid concerns about South Africa’s greatest rivals, New Zealand, disappearing over the horizon in terms of how far ahead they are in quality.
Many comparisons with the All Blacks have not been between apples and apples, simply because they have a far more experienced, injury-free side at the moment, but the way they dismantled a brave Scottish team last weekend with a second-string side gives the Springboks an idea of what they should be aiming for.
Heyneke Meyer’s team may have risen to number two in the world rankings, but there has not been much to choose between them, Australia, France, England and even Argentina this year.
Ruthless and efficient is what most fans would want to see from them this weekend in Edinburgh.
Scotland is currently ranked ninth and in danger of slipping further into the third tier of nations ahead of the 2015 World Cup draw on 3 December. Running through their team list, only a handful of players are recognisable internationals. The Springboks really should dominate them and, for a change, make sure the scoreboard reflects that as well.
Even when the admirable young Springbok pack has dominated its opposition this year – even doing it against the All Blacks in Dunedin – the team has turned that advantage into points just once, beating Australia 31-8 at Loftus Versfeld at the end of September.
There is a bright young thing at flyhalf now in Pat Lambie, but one feels he still needs to sell himself to coach Meyer and there was more than a hint of him playing within himself last weekend against Ireland.
Lambie’s strength is not the aerial route and, given that Zane Kirchner and Ruan Pienaar are still in the team and kicking for territory is still a vital part of Test rugby, he would perhaps be well-advised to leave those duties to them, while focusing on his more magical skills while the Springboks are on attack.
The Springboks have come to Murrayfield before with expectations running high that they would emulate the All Blacks, but lost their last outing there 21-17 in 2010 and struggled to a 14-10 victory in the previous match in 2008.
The major advantage South Africans have over northern hemisphere teams is the pace at which they play the game in Sanzar events, and the Scots will surely not be able to match the intensity if the Springboks up the pace, as they did in the first half of the Test against England at Ellis Park in June.
The pack obviously has a key role to play in laying the foundation and securing quick ball, but the Springboks should learn from the mistakes of the past and not only rely on forward dominance for victory.
After choosing centres that provided a steady diet of crash ball in midfield for the whole year, it is pleasing that Meyer has given Juan de Jongh a chance in the number 13 jersey. One of the heroes of the Currie Cup final has the footwork to splinter the best of defences and the possibility exists of actually seeing a few linebreaks and offloads on Saturday.
The defence, which was outstanding against Ireland, may lose a bit in physicality, but De Jongh is a tenacious tackler and the Western Province and Stormers teams he starred in had the best defensive records in their competitions.
The Springboks are overdue a complete performance that proves they are indeed the nearest challengers to the All Blacks. DM
Photo: South Africa 'Springboks' rugby union team head coach Heyneke Meyer looks upward while answering a question during a news conference ahead of their Autumn Test rugby match against Scotland, in Edinburgh, Scotland November 14, 2012. REUTERS/David Moir