Bok pack: Time to get even

2013-11-05 14:30
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo)
Cape Town – If Heyneke Meyer seeks to inject any special extra motivation into his Springbok team for Saturday’s European tour opener against Wales, he could do worse than show the video of the last encounter between the teams.

The most remarkable aspect of the World Cup Pool D opener in Wellington, New Zealand, on September 11 2011 was that South Africa somehow won 17-16.

They were lauded for their traditional, dogged ability to prevail in such circumstances ... but otherwise they had to overwhelmingly fly into the face of one-way traffic on the day to eke out the triumph.

In the end Welsh mistakes proved pivotal to the outcome, as well as replacement Bok left wing Francois Hougaard’s timely in-field burst in the last quarter for a desperately welcome seven-pointer beneath the posts.

For the little it was worth in the final analysis, moral victory belonged to Wales.

As neutral critic Mick Cleary, of London’s Daily Telegraph, wrote at the time: “They matched the mighty Boks blow for blow; in fact they eclipsed them on several occasions.

“The day you can trump a Springbok back row is a day to treasure, (while) the Wales scrum got stronger and stronger and the lineout didn’t miss a beat.”

So it is in the engine room, especially, that the Boks could be described as having a score to settle at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday (19:30 SA time) against the defending Six Nations champions who are probably steelier in mental terms now than they were at RWC 2011.

Perhaps it is a comfort that the SA pack will look different to a surprisingly large degree this time: although the team is only to be announced by coach Meyer on Wednesday, Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira is the probable lone starting survivor from that World Cup meeting.

Otherwise it will definitely be “all change”, as John Smit, Jannie du Plessis, Heinrich Brussow, Danie Rossouw, Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger and Pierre Spies are out of the current picture for various reasons (Smit and Matfield have retired).

Under Meyer’s tenure, the Boks have slowly rebuilt their reputation for fielding forceful forward units, both in general exchanges and at the set-pieces – even the supreme All Blacks will testify to that, given the humungous scraps up front over the course of the two Castle Rugby Championship battles this year.

The Welsh will have precious little first-hand knowledge of the rookie expected to be fielded at tighthead prop by South Africa – whether it be Frans Malherbe or Lourens Adriaanse – and will be no less in the dark about the second-row firm which is tipped to comprise fiery young grappler Eben Etzebeth and the more experienced Flip van der Merwe.

These two sport a total of 51 Test caps between them, but any exposure to combat with Wales is limited to a mere 20 minutes off the bench by Van der Merwe (in place of Bakkies Botha on the hour mark) in the November 2010 Cardiff clash when the Boks won 29-25.

Similarly, Wales have yet to get to grips with the increasingly settled Bok loose forward combination of Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen, who seem ideally suited to heavy UK winter conditions.

By all accounts, Bath-based Louw was right on top of his game at the weekend when his club beat Worcester 21-6 in soggy conditions: according to Bath’s website, the industrious flanker earned their regular, internal man-of-the-match award sponsored by a wine company.

If there is also a growing feeling that Vermeulen may be next best No 8 in the world to New Zealand’s virtually undisputed market-leader Kieran Read, the Welsh will again only be getting a first opportunity to test that theory for themselves.

The Stormers man only made his debut in international rugby against Australia in Perth just over a year ago and has earned 12 subsequent starts.

If smoke signals about the Bok XV’s intended composition for Saturday are to be believed, Wales will feel wiser about the visitors’ backline.

The only odd-man-out from that 2011 World Cup encounter may well prove to be Frans Steyn, who started at fullback that day and a little debatably didn’t made the squad cut for this tour after a brilliant Currie Cup final at Newlands recently – he had only just returned from reasonably long-term injury.

But if the rest of the Bok backline is made up of JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn and Fourie du Preez, all of those personnel ran out at the start of the desperately tight, fortuitously-nicked Wellington meeting ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  heyneke meyer  |  rugby

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