Chance to breathe for relieved Meyer

2015-08-27 06:01

THE Springboks, with the nightmares of last week behind them and a relieved coach who has returned to a familiar game plan, reassemble in Durban tomorrow to prepare for the Rugby World Cup.

The Springboks returned from Buenos Aires on Monday morning following their excellent weekend win over the Pumas and were rewarded with a three-day break before joining the rest of the squad in Durban.

The weekend sortie to Buenos Aires proved a highly profitable one for coach Heyneke Meyer and his Springboks. Not only were they mentally and technically up for the challenge but Meyer had them back playing their traditional pressure rugby with Pat Lambie pulling the strings from flyhalf.

The success of the Springboks’ tactical approach has solved a host of problems for Meyer. Public and media pressure, he conceded, had persuaded him to revise his game plan and take the Springboks down a more entertaining and ambitious path.

But, Meyer says, it also led the players into uncharted territory and away from their traditional strengths and that was the biggest lesson he took from their shock defeat by the Pumas at King’s Park 10 days ago.

Selection and preparation will be easier for Meyer now that, tactically anyway, he feels at home. A big, ball-carrying backrow, a strong set-piece, a flyhalf who can run the show and control territory with the boot, and an organised, smothering defence are the key elements of his strategy.

The return of powerful Willem Alberts and then Pieter-Steph du Toit lifted the Bok pack, Victor Matfield ran the lineout, the scrummaging improved, flyhalf Pat Lambie’s game management was astute and the line speed of the Boks backs in defence kept the Pumas under constant pressure.

But, in contrast to Durban, the Springboks were fortunate to have a referee in Glen Jackson who protected their interests, as New Zealand commentator Tony Johnson later remarked.

“It was noticeable how much tougher Jackson was on the Pumas at scrum-time and at the breakdown, two areas where the Springboks had been dominated the previous week.

“Jackson didn’t allow the Pumas front row to hinge or pack in on the angle, and it would have been fascinating to see how he might have dealt with Marcos Ayerza [the Pumas loosehead], had the big man not pulled out injured.

“Ayerza is a tremendous prop, but he got away with a lot under the nose of [French referee] Romain Poite. It just highlights the differing expectations we have of the refs in the northern and southern hemisphere.”

Meyer, in spite of the good news of the past few days, will still not sleep easily. Not only will the political pressure continue to whirl around him as he considers selection, but he has to make a number of the most testing decisions on senior players.

His chief problem is the fitness of veteran captain and centre Jean de Villliers, back from major knee surgery but now nursing a broken jaw and being challenged by a pair of young midfielders in Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel.

There are other concerns. Duane Vermeulen, the most influential member of his pack, is recovering from a damaged neck, Frans Steyn, also injured, has been away on compassionate leave, JP Pietersen is battling a pulled hamstring and indifferent form, and Francois Louw is also in rehab.

All these players are short of rugby.

Also scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, who is coming back from injury, has not played for months but will, says Meyer, definitely be in the World Cup squad.

The SA World Cup squad of 31 will be named in Durban on 28 August

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