Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has teed up some hefty forwards to dominate the collisions in South Africa's Test against Scotland in Edinburgh on Sunday. By KEN BORLAND.
Scotland, as they showed in pushing the Springboks all the way in Nelspruit in June, rely on enormous passion, bravery and disrupting the breakdown to remain competitive when playing teams that have much greater skill and playing strength than them.
Which is why Meyer is focusing on winning the collisions and has chosen big, bruising forwards like Bakkies Botha, Gurthro Steenkamp, Adriaan Strauss (who plays a bit tighter than Bismarck du Plessis), Flip van der Merwe, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen to keep Scotland on the back foot and clear up the breakdown area.
The importance of Alberts, outstanding in last weekend’s victory over Wales, has been shown by Meyer’s decision to name him in the starting line-up, even though they are waiting on his fitness after suffering a shoulder injury.
And the Springboks can call on some more heavy hitters in the final quarter with Eben Etzebeth, Du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira and Marcell Coetzee all lurking on the bench. Meyer’s decision to continue with Van der Merwe as the wearer of the number five jersey is something of a surprise, because the Scotland game seemed the obvious one to provide the first starting cap for Pieter-Steph du Toit, who is obviously a star of the future.
The presence of the vastly-experienced Botha alongside him would also have eased the settling-in process for the 21-year-old.
But the physicality of Van der Merwe at close quarters, which he showed to good effect against Wales, is obviously well-suited to the strategy of Meyer for the Scotland game.
The dodgy back of Morne Steyn has allowed Pat Lambie to start at flyhalf, which means Willie le Roux continues in the last line of defence. Siya Kolisi is the player earmarked to come in for Alberts if the blindside flank doesn’t pass a fitness test, but the exciting Stormers prospect will not be on the bench, with Coetzee confirmed as the substitute loose forward.
The Scotland game will also mark the 50th Test for wing JP Pietersen and the Japan-based flyer has admitted that he needs to shake off the rust that was apparent in the game against Wales.
“I wasn’t happy with my performance last week. I thought I was quite rusty. Perhaps it was a bit hard for us to get into the combinations in Cardiff because it had been a while since some of us had played together. But after the game we got together and spoke as a team, and we decided that we could be much better all round. We felt we had a strong opening to the first half and then let ourselves down after that,” Pietersen said.
“We went off the boil a bit in the latter part of the half, and we started to give away stupid penalties. It felt like every time we were on the front foot we would spoil it by giving away a penalty.
“That impacted on my own attempts to get into the game and it was hard to play when mistakes were being made. We were all quite hard on each other in the wash-up afterwards.”
The Springboks, although always looking in control, struggled to maintain momentum against the Welsh – the over-zealous refereeing of Alain Rolland having a lot to do with that – and the Scots are the sort of bulldog side that will seize on any scrap of encouragement.
The new combinations on tour, such as the return of Pietersen, will be better for the opening match of the tour, although the wintry conditions in Edinburgh may make it difficult for the backline to show the same clinical efficiency they produced under the roof in Cardiff.
In any case, it’s the forwards that are going to have to lay the platform for the expected triumph against the Scots.
To add to the home side’s problems, the Scots are without flank Kelly Brown, the regular captain, as well as fellow injured players in centre Matt Scott, and locks Alastair Kellock and Tim Swinson, and experienced tighthead prop Euan Murray, who does not play on Sundays owing to his Christian beliefs.
Scott Johnson, the Australian now coaching Scotland, has also identified the collisions as the key area on Saturday.
“Injuries have affected our plans this week, but the game is attritional so you just have to get on with it. As I said last weekend, and as you’ll hear me say without fear or favour at every game, the contact area will be vital this weekend and we have to improve there against a very clinical South African side.”
The legendary Bakkies Botha is playing for the Springboks for the first time since the 2011 World Cup and the Toulon giant is sure to be leading from the front when it comes to smashing into the opposition. If he can play like the Bakkies of old, then the 2015 World Cup may yet still be on the cards for the 34-year-old. DM
Scotland: 15-Sean Maitland; 14-Tommy Seymour, 13-Nick De Luca, 12-Duncan Taylor, 11-Sean Lamont; 10-Ruaridh Jackson, 9-Greig Laidlaw; 8-David Denton, 7-John Barclay, 6-Alasdair Strokosch; 5-Jim Hamilton, 4-Richie Gray; 3-Moray Low, 2-Ross Ford, 1-Alasdair Dickinson. Replacements – 16-Scott Lawson, 17-Ryan Grant, 18-Geoff Cross, 19-Jonny Gray, 20-John Beattie, 21-Chris Cusiter, 22-Duncan Weir, 23-Max Evans.
South Africa: 15-Willie le Roux, 14-JP Pietersen, 13-Jaque Fourie, 12-Jean de Villiers, 11-Bryan Habana, 10-Pat Lambie, 9-Fourie du Preez, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Willem Alberts/Siya Kolisi, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Flip van der Merwe, 4-Bakkies Botha, 3-Frans Malherbe, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Gurthro Steenkamp. Replacements – 16-Bismarck du Plessis, 17-Tendai Mtawarira, 18-Coenie Oosthuizen, 19-Eben Etzebeth, 20-Marcell Coetzee, 21-Ruan Pienaar, 22-Morne Steyn, 23-JJ Engelbrecht.
Photo: Willem Alberts (R) breaks through the Welsh defence during the international rugby union match at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, November 9, 2013. (REUTERS/Rebecca Naden)
"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." ~ Salvador Dalí