Boks brace for Auckland 'hell'
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)
Brisbane - Heyneke Meyer's South African side arrived in New Zealand on Sunday bristling with confidence and already focussed on what could be the defining clash of this year's Super Rugby Championship competition.
As it happened: Australia v SA
The Springboks beat Australia 38-12 in Brisbane on Saturday, scoring four tries to snatch their second bonus point of the competition and take a one-point lead in the standings over the All Blacks, who are also unbeaten on 13 points.
Steve Hansen's world champions beat Argentina 28-13 in Hamilton but will face the Springboks at Eden Park without the calming influence of captain Richie McCaw, who suffered a knee injury and is expected to be out for up to five weeks.
The winner of the clash on Saturday should seize the initiative for the southern hemisphere championship title with the All Blacks having to travel to Argentina and South Africa for their final two games.
The Springboks, however, return home for clashes against the Wallabies in Cape Town and then New Zealand in Johannesburg and with a victory in Auckland, which would be the first loss by the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2009, would put them in the driving seat for the title.
Meyer's side had been expected to have been tipped over by the Wallabies, having had several players travel from Europe to join the team in the week of the test following club commitments.
"We just need to keep humble because (this) week will be a hell of a challenge," Meyer told reporters after their victory at Suncorp Stadium.
"I've learned that you just get the game out of the way because the next game is going to be a tough encounter.
"There are still three tough games to come down the line. The world champions are waiting and we just have to be focussed, keep our feet on the ground and focus on this one."
The victory on Saturday was built on a superb forward display and enveloping defence, which shut down the Wallabies options and forced them into errors, even when on attack.
"It's always difficult to play catchup away from home," Meyer added of their mindset ahead of their road trip.
"Our defence was awesome and we spoke about having to win the game without the ball."
The Springboks' massive loose forward trio of Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts and Francois Louw monstered the Wallabies at the breakdown and should they be selected against the All Blacks, will provide a massive test of the locals' resolve.
No 8 Kieran Read is expected to step into McCaw's shoes as captain while Sam Cane will fill the No 7 jersey with selection debate over whether impressive rookie Steven Luatua is thrown into the pressure cooker environment or Liam Messam returns after recovering from his hamstring injury.
"Our loose forwards, people have said they may lack pace but what they bring to the party, I love having them in my team," Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said of his trio.
"You need to lay the platform with your forwards and our forwards did that."
De Villiers, who finished off a brilliant blindside try in Brisbane on Saturday, added he felt his side was becoming mentally tougher as they advanced through the competition.
"For a team to go forward and to evolve we need to learn from our mistakes. We have learned," the 32-year-old added.
"The composure was there (on Saturday) and the guys did what was needed. It was still not a perfect game by a long shot but I thought we used our opportunities better."