Old and young with something to prove

2013-11-16 00:00

THE Springboks’ potent mix of power and pace should prevail but there are still critical questions to be answered, both by the team and individuals, when they face the willing Scots at Murrayfield tomorrow evening.

The Springboks had an excellent win over the highly-fancied Welsh a week ago, but there were still problems — with their defence, discipline and scrum — and these areas will be under the spotlight tomorrow.

On the individual front, Heyneke Meyer has made it clear that veteran lock Bakkies Botha and young flyhalf Pat Lambie are the two with the most to prove as the Springbok coach looks ahead to the Rugby World Cup in 2015.

Botha is already 34, but Meyer says he has not seen him in better condition. The message to the Toulon lock is clear.

“I want to see if Bakkies is still good enough to play for South Africa. I want to see what he can do and then we will talk after the Test,” said Meyer.

Time is very much on Lambie’s side but there are two other flyhalves, Morné Steyn and Johan Goosen, in the current squad. And by not offering the 23-year-old Sharks flyhalf a national contract this week, Meyer is clearly still to be convinced that Lambie is a key player for the future.

The Bok coach said this week that the Scotland Test is a “big game for Pat” in nailing down the No 10 jersey in the future.

The lingering impression is that Lambie, at Springbok level, is bogged down by playing to a set pattern instead of being left to manage the game in his own way. When shifted to flyhalf against Wales, he had clearly been instructed to kick and kick, but he was also playing from too deep instead of taking the ball flat and hitting the gainline when he did choose to attack.

Lambie, in general play and in defence, clearly has far more to offer the Springboks than Steyn, but, unfortunately, he cannot match the goalkicking percentages of the former Blue Bull and that is how South African flyhalves are often judged.

A couple of other Springboks have points to prove today. The returning JP Pietersen and Jaque Fourie appeared sluggish against Wales, just as Ryan Kankowski did when he rejoined the Sharks from Japan in February this year.

Pietersen, playing in his 50th game for the Springboks tomorrow, admitted he struggled against Wales. “I wasn’t happy with my performance last week. I thought I was quite rusty,” he said.

Assistant coach John McFarland popped up this week to surprisingly praise the Springbok defence against Wales. While the big Bok backrow of Willem Alberts, Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen were superb, the backs were less impressive, often failing to maintain their defensive alignment and then having to scramble back and make tackles to deny the Welsh.

Defensively, they should be able to cope with the limited Scots tomorrow, but the more creative and skilful French backs will take some holding next Saturday.

Meyer is also concerned about the Boks’ discipline.

“In the Rugby Championship, we conceded the fewest penalties, but last week against Wales we were penalised too much [and conceded two yellow cards]. We are working very hard on our discipline.”

The Scots gave the Boks a nasty scare in Nelspruit in June when they dominated the tackle area. Meyer now has a breakdown expert, Scotsman Richie Gray, on his staff and says a Springbok weakness has become a strength.

“Scotland’s biggest weapon is that they play with a lot of heart and they never go away, but they are most dangerous at the breakdown. We’ve really worked hard in the last six or seven months at the breakdown, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that goes on Sunday.”

Meyer said that Gray faced an emotional Sunday and he will not risk sitting alongside him in the box.

“I’m crazy enough in the box and I don’t need a crazy Scotsman in there with me when we’re playing against Scotland. He’ll be in the stand.”

The Springboks battled to scrum on the slippery, cabbage-patch Cardiff surface last week and they are hoping to have better conditions tomorrow. But Murrayfield is also having problems with their grass and garlic, can you believe, is being used to save the pitch from destructive parasites.

It would be as good a way as any to prepare for a Test against France, gaining an emphatic win over the Scots and then making a short trip to Paris reeking of garlic.

TEAMS

Scotland: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 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 (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Patrick 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 Adriaans Strauss, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp

Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Tendai Mtawarira 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Morné Steyn/AN Other, 23 JJ Engelbrecht.

Referee: Jérôme Garces (France).

Kick-off: 5 pm tomorrow (SA time).

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