Heyneke Meyer (AP)
Cape Town – South Africa were served a dual warning on Wednesday of landmines that still lie ahead for them in World Cup Pool B.
First the embattled Springboks would have noted the slow-brewing, but ultimately sprightly 45-10 Scotland victory over their unexpected nemesis a few days ago, Japan, at Kingsholm Stadium in Gloucester.
Once they have tackled Samoa in Birmingham on Saturday (17:45 SA time), the Boks shift north-east to oppose the very Scots a week later in Newcastle, not far from the Six Nations team’s border, so Bok coach Heyneke Meyer and his senior brains trust would have been deeply interested in the clash even as they continue preparation for the Pacific Islanders.
Scotland encountered stern early resistance from Eddie Jones’s popular giant-killers, clearly still fired-up by some of the adrenalin that powered them to that jaw-dropping 34-32 outcome against the Boks in Brighton.
But as SA-based SuperSport pundit and former All Blacks coach John Mitchell later enthused: “(The Scottish) goal-line defence was outstanding.”
That was important, because the Brave Blossoms more than held their own for the first 40 minutes, launching some enterprising raids and showing strong mauling relish all over again, and would have known deep down that they really needed a lead at the break to have a chance of another memorable victory – instead they trailed 12-7 and you felt the writing was on the wall.
Japanese legs (they fielded nine players who also started against the Boks) were bound to tire after the mere four-day turnaround from Brighton, and Scotland cashed in assertively, scoring as many as five tries in the final half-hour or so of the contest to emerge slightly flattering but still convincing winners.
Their pack was extremely workmanlike and what the Boks will have learnt in no uncertain terms is that Scotland sport serious flair in the handy No 10 and 15 berths through a pair of respective 23-year-olds, Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell.
The game also featured a Scottish debut off the bench for Josh Strauss, the iconic former Lions captain and loose forward; he had a promisingly busy 22 minutes or so, although did once spill the ball forward in contact.
What was confirmed, to the detriment of the Japanese cause, is that it is a really big ask to play a midweek international at maximum tempo after you have also played a full-blooded weekend game.
Their hearts were certainly in it, but bodies and minds simply could not emulate that level as they made vital, often elementary handling or other errors during the period when they held generous territorial sway in the opening half.
And in the second half the Japanese quite simply ran out of puff.
The Boks get to sample a speedy-turnaround game of their own right at the end of the pool phase, when they tackle the United States in London four days after the Newcastle assignment against the Scots.
Ahead of the tournament, it was believed that Meyer would field a largely second-string line-up against the Americans – but that was on the premature assumption that the Boks would be riding high on the table, and probably unbeaten, ahead of it.
Planning will almost certainly have to change a bit on that front, given the nastily back-foot start to the tournament against Japan, so a delicate balancing act may have to be struck in team composition for that fixture.
At the 2011 World Cup, South Africa’s tightest turnaround (five days) came for game three in their pool, when they were under considerably less pressure as they had already accounted for both Wales and Fiji – they duly smashed Namibia 87-0.
It is likely that the 2015 Boks will not have the luxury of their final pool match being a mere afterthought, and happy little frolic for their squad “dirt-trackers” ...
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