Bok team won’t change for Joburg Test as England nurse injury worries

2012-06-11 00:00

A CHANGE of attitude and personnel provided new coach Heyneke Meyer with the start he was looking for when the Springboks’ second-half blitz took them to a 22-17 win over England in the first of three Tests at a damp King’s Park on Saturday evening.

Meyer, desperately needing a positive start to his international coaching career and under fire down south for choosing too many of his old mates from the north, turned the game on its head in the second half, first by lighting a fire under his forwards and then by rejigging his backline.

The Springbok forwards’ greater urgency in finally matching England at the breakdown and bashing their way down the middle was complemented by the slickness that replacements scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar and fullback Pat Lambie brought to the backline and the Boks dominated the second half for long periods.

Meyer said later he was not considering changes for the second Test as he wanted his new team to settle after just a couple of training sessions and one outing. That would be a pity.

Pienaar was certainly more comfortable and technically sound than first-choice scrumhalf Francois Hougaard, who frustratingly fiddled and faffed behind his forwards while, let’s face it, Lambie offers more than Zane Kirchner at fullback.

Pienaar, of course, was operating behind a vastly improved pack in the second half but he certainly sparked the Bok backs with his quicker service. Lambie, introduced for Kirchner at half-time, was obviously not as involved as Pienaar but he brought a creative spark to the backline and he was certainly more secure in making his tackles.

Meyer said harsh words were spoken at the break and “after an unacceptable first half”.

He said he had made the changes to increase the tempo of the Springboks’ game and it worked a treat as they grew progressively stronger.

The Bok forwards, slow to the breakdown in the first half, constantly lost momentum and valuable possession while the backs, operating off a static platform, were pedestrian.

The exception was wing Bryan Habana, who troubled England all evening in running the ball back at them and in chasing high kicks.

“There were a few nerves in the beginning with a new captain and few new caps,” Meyer said.

“But we did really well in the second half in what was an exceptionally tough Test match.

“The plan was always to open up the game in the second half,” Meyer said.

The Bok coach praised the four new caps in the squad and the “brilliant” wrecking ball Willem Alberts.

He and Bismarck du Plessis frequently crashed over the advantage line while the heavily involved young Marcell Coetzee, in making tackle after tackle, also made a strong impact.

There was an impressive showing, both in defence and with ball in hand, by Frans Steyn at inside centre but Morné Steyn, though he contributed 17 points (a try and four penalties), is no more than an adequate link on attack. Meyer said England were a quality side and they certainly had the better of the Boks at the breakdown in the first half.

“But both teams will be better in the second Test [at Ellis Park] next weekend,” he added.

England coach Stuart Lancaster, clearly lifted by England’s consolation try after the final hooter, said his team had drawn many positives from the Test and could still win the series.

“Well done to the Springboks on the win. It was a tough Test for both sides and I thought both sides competed really well. I was really pleased with the first-half performance.

“The critical area for us to work on is that third quarter where the Springboks controlled the game well and scored their two tries.

“But I’m delighted with the comeback at the end and the mindset we showed to keep playing.”

The show now moves to Ellis Park and the Boks — and Morné Steyn — will enjoy playing at altitude where they have an excellent opportunity of wrapping up the series with their ninth successive win over England.

News from the England camp is that their South African-born centre Brad Barritt, who left the field in the second half after a collision, has been ruled out of the second Test after an operation to repair a lacerated eyeball.

Barritt is expected to be back in contention for the third Test on June 23. England’s other injury worry is fullback Mike Brown (thumb). England play the Southern Barbarians in Kimberley on Wednesday.

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