Reigning champs want no rain

2008-11-14 00:00

The Springboks’ first look at Murrayfield at yesterday’s captain’s practice left them feeling confident that they could add more attacking variations to their game today compared to Wales last Saturday.

The expectation this week was that the Boks will be tackling Scotland on a muddy, slippery surface. Although rain is predicted for today, with an expected temperature of 12oC, there will be squall conditions blowing in periodically rather than a continuous downpour.

“It rained during our training session and rain is predicted for the game, but I think it will blow in and then pass through, nothing really hectic,” said skipper John Smit yesterday.

“The good thing is that the ground is very firm, it is not problematic at all from that viewpoint.

The grass is thick, the surface is in great condition … ”

Smit was reminded that assistant coach and former Sharks coach Dick Muir said on Thursday that the Boks would be looking to move the ball around more, but he gave a strong indication that this would not mean the team would be returning to the loose style that proved disastrous in the Tri-Nations.

“I was interviewed on radio yesterday and asked that question and I responded that Dickie would probably look to run it if we were playing in Iceland,” laughed Smit. “No, but seriously, I don’t think we should misunderstand what Dick is saying. He is not preaching all-out running rugby where every ball is run from everywhere, just that when we are in position to attack, we must use that opportunity. If space is created, we must capitalize. He is not saying that the ball must be flung wide at every opportunity.”

That is good news for Bok fans, for such a policy has proved folly for the Boks this season. The Boks will be looking today to continue what they started in the last Tri-Nations Test in Johannesburg by implementing a direct style where field position will be important.

But the Boks were maybe too conservative in Cardiff last week, and whereas it was good to see them return to the strategy the players are comfortable with and the one that tends to be successful in world rugby currently, they also do need to play more ball in hand than they did at Millennium Stadium.

In this regard, flyhalf Ruan Pienaar has an important role to play with his decision making. He showed last week that he can play to instructions and his heavy reliance on the boot was only him following the recipe he thought had been asked for. Today, when it is on to do so, he can bring some of those attacking variations that saw him selected as a pivot in the first place.

But the absence through injury of scrumhalf Fourie du Preez is going to make it a much bigger challenge than the one he faced last week, even more so if it does rain. If the conditions are particularly inclement, you can expect the Boks to move Frans Steyn into flyhalf quite soon in the game, with Pienaar moving to scrumhalf.

“It’s not ideal to lose a player regarded as the best scrumhalf in the world so soon before a match like this one and we were hoping to keep the same 22 for consecutive games so that we could draw strength from consistency,” said Smit.

“ … some things will have to change about the game we were intending to play now that Fourie is not there. At the same time, Ricky is a great player who is very strong with his sniping breaks around the fringes.”

What replacement scrumhalf Ricky Januarie does not bring, however, is the tactical kicking prowess of Fourie du Preez, and that is why a really sodden field might see Pienaar moving back into the position he still claims as his preference.

Whatever happens, it should not have too dramatic an impact on the Bok chances of picking up the good win they need before they go to London next week. Indeed, the possibility of complacency should be the only thing standing in South Africa’s way, but Smit denied this was a possibility.

“It is like any other Saturday [when you play less rated opposition]. The need to avoid complacency is something we talk about during the week. We are keen to see if we can take our game to the next level and this match presents us with that opportunity.”

Scotland

Chris Paterson, Thom Evans, Ben Cairns, Nick De Luca, Rory Lamont, Phil Godman, Mike Blair, Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Nathan Hines, Jim Hamilton, Jason White, Allister Hogg, John Barclay. Replacements: Dougie Hall, Alasdair Dickinson, Matt Mustchin, Scott Gray, Rory Lawson, Dan Parks, Hugo Southwell.

South Africa

Conrad Jantjes, JP Pietersen, Adrian Jacobs, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Ruan Pienaar, Ricky Januarie, Pierre Spies, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, John Smit (captain), Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawirara. Bench: Brian Mujati, Gurthro Steenkamp, Andries Bekker, Danie Rossouw, Ryan Kankowski, Frans Steyn, Jaque Fourie.

Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland).

Kick-off: 4.30pm

TV: MNet and SuperSport 1 — from 4 pm

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