Cape Town - Springbok coach Allister Coetzee returned from what he called the completion of the first phase of his team’s Rugby Championship in a cheery mood, but he is under no illusions about what lies ahead of his team.
A 37-15 win over the Pumas in Port Elizabeth was followed by a similarly emphatic 41-23 win in the return match in Salta at the weekend, and after a day off in Argentina on Sunday where the team got in what Coetzee referred to as another valuable team building opportunity, the squad returned to South Africa on Tuesday.
For Coetzee, skipper Eben Etzebeth and the rest of the Cape Town contingent it was a mammoth 28 hour journey, but they were in good spirits when they met journalists for an informal airport press conference.
“We are looking at the Rugby Championship as a challenge divided into three separate phases,” said Coetzee.
“Phase one has just been completed, now we are looking ahead to the second phase, which is the Australasian leg, then obviously later in the competition we will have the home leg where we host New Zealand and Australia,” said Coetzee.
“We were very happy with the way things went in the matches against Argentina. When it comes to how well we went in Salta, I think it started with the change in our operational plan. The decision to go across to Argentina on our off day, thus giving us two full days to work on our game in South Africa at the start of the week first, paid off.
“You could feel on Friday that our focus was there and that we were fresh and well rested. By Saturday we were ready to play and I must commend the medical team and the physio staff. There were a lot of people who contributed to a good result on Saturday.”
Etzebeth said that as the Wallaby clash with the All Blacks was played in the early hours of Saturday morning Argentina time, the team itself did not get to watch a match that was decided in the final minutes and served as a warning that the Australians are going to be a force this year. However the management team did get to watch the game and it has left Coetzee fully aware of the magnitude of the task that awaits his men in Perth on 9 September.
“We are up against a different beast in our next game, we know that. It is always tough away against Australia because of the way they play, with high ball in play time. We have never looked at what has happened in Super Rugby as a measure of how the Wallabies will go. Apart from the high ball in play when we go there, they have a clever set-piece, a good lineout, it will be a whole different challenge to what we have faced so far.
“They showed against the All Blacks how much they are improving as a team. They made a lot of mistakes in their first game against the All Blacks (in Sydney) and they were punished for that. But they learned from those mistakes and looked really good in this last game. We know we have a lot of work to do in preparation for this next game.”
However, Coetzee gives the impression he may prefer to face an Australian team that is built up and rated by the critics, which is now happening after Dunedin, than one that everyone expects to beat easily. Mental toughness was a big talking point ahead of Salta, where the team struggled last year and also in 2014, and the Boks are eager to put their growth in the mental area of the game to the test in Australia, where historically the Wallabies have been the successful team in the Tri-Nations and Rugby Championship era.
“We view it as a window of opportunity for us,” said the coach.
“We wanted the away result and we got that in Salta, now there is another challenge and another box to tick. We will stick to the processes we are busy with. One by one we have ticked off the little boxes in terms of what we needed to work on. Our scrumming has been good, our mauling has improved and our defence was again excellent in Salta. We feel comfortable with the progress we have made.”
The Boks will regather on Friday and leave for Australia in two separate batches on Friday and Saturday.
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