Johannesburg - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said something this week that should be regarded as a chilling warning to Scotland ahead of Saturday’s Castle Lager Incoming Tours Series clash at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.
According to the supersport.com website, “The Springboks don’t have a good record against Scotland.” That’s what he said, and while it might not sound significant or like much of a warning, it does tell us one thing – the past few performances by the Springboks at Murrayfield, and the way the Scots pushed the South Africans on their home ground, have not been forgotten.
Indeed, starting with the defeat in Edinburgh in 2002, the Scots have been able to get away with being quite uppity against the Boks, and even when they toured this country in 2003 and 2006 they weren’t dispatched with quite the ease that many thought they would be. The last mentioned series will be recalled for the injury suffered by Schalk Burger that ruled him out of rugby for the rest of that year.
But the dry heat of Nelspruit - it has been hot during the day here this week - is a far cry from the cold and damp of Edinburgh, factors that certainly conspired in the Scottish favour when they beat Peter de Villiers’ Boks in 2010. And Meyer’s about turn on his stated intention to spread the net in the first two games by sticking largely with the team that was mostly impressive against Italy last week will not help Scotland.
The Boks will start with more continuity than they enjoyed last week in Durban, and if they hit the match running, they could win by a big score that will serve as a resounding payback for the humiliations suffered on the other side of the equator down the years.
The Scots have some players who might hurt the Boks if they got dragged down to their level at Murrayfield, but not in South African conditions, and a repeat of the woeful defence we saw in their match against Samoa at Kings Park last Saturday would only mean one thing for the Scots – and the word that comes to mind is annihilation.
The Scots suffered their first ever defeat to the island team in 10 starts in that match, but what should disturb them most is that they lost the game by 10 points while dominating both possession and territory for most of the way. What will become of them in a game where they are shaded in the battle for possession, which is likely in this match.
With the exception of the absence of Francois Louw, who is getting married, the pack is the same one that was good in the first and last quarters against Italy, with much of the focus on Marcell Coetzee, who replaces Louw and will be on trial to prove that he can fulfill the role of specialist fetcher and thus earmark himself as Louw’s back-up at No 6 moving forward.
With Duane Vermeulen out with a long term injury there does need to be more focus on the breakdown skills of the South African loose-forwards as Louw and Vermeulen played towards the ball as a pair last year. If nothing else, the game against the Scots will show us how the Boks will go without both of the former Stormers teammates playing.
At the back there was a lot of confidence and pace on display last week, and maybe Meyer was surprised at what the mix produced. It could explain why he changed his mind about the changes he intended making for this fixture and which he was quite clear about 10 days ago.
Only time will tell whether Meyer will be prepared to play all the players turning out against Scotland when the real deal of the Castle Rugby Championship arrives. He may well decide that Willie le Roux remains too risky - something he was sure about six weeks ago - for a Test against New Zealand.
But another strong performance from Le Roux and the impressive and pacy JJ Engelbrecht will do them no harm and further boost confidence, while Bryan Habana’s impressive form should continue against a Scotland team that should find the Bok pace out wide way too much of a handful.
The Scots have made seven changes from the side that lost last week, and a few of those have been because of injuries. The Scots were already depleted when they flew out to South Africa, so the loss of frontrankers Geoff Cross and Pat MacArthur, plus now last week’s skipper Kelly Brown, will hurt them. The Boks should hurt them too and anything less than a comprehensive victory will be beneath the home expectations.
15. Willie le Roux, 14. Bryan Habana, 13. JJ Engelbrecht, 12. Jean de Villiers (captain), 11. Bjorn Basson, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Ruan Pienaar, 8. Pierre Spies, 7. Arno Botha, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Juandré Kruger, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Adriaan Strauss, 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16. Bismarck du Plessis, 17. Trevor Nyakane, 18. Coenie Oosthuizen, 19. Flip van der Merwe, 20. Siya Kolisi, 21. Piet van Zyl, 22. Pat Lambie, 23. Jan Serfontein
Peter Murchie, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Sean
Lamont, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Johnnie
Beattie, 7 Ryan Wilson, 6 Alasdair Strokosch, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Tim
Swinson, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Alasdair Dickinson
16 Stevie Lawrie, 17 Jon Welsh, 18 Moray Low, 19 Alastair Kellock, 20
David Denton, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Duncan Taylor
Referee: Roman Poite (France).
Prediction: Boks by 30.