Johannesburg - The Springboks got exactly what they were looking for from their first
outing of the season, with the backs enthusing coach Heyneke Meyer with
the pace they had to burn, but don’t expect the same combination to take
the field in Saturday’s second Castle Incoming Tours Series clash with
Scotland in Nelspruit.
According to the supersport.com website, the Boks won 44-10 against Italy at Growthpoint Kings Park to get their
season off to the comfortable start that will build confidence and ease
some of the pressure that appeared so debilitating for much of last
season. It will be hoped that the momentum built up will continue to
release the shackles in the coming weeks as the South Africans continue
to work on improving their attacking game.
But while the team earned deserved praise from coach Heyneke Meyer
afterwards, he did pledge at the start to use the first two games as a
means to develop depth so that the confidence picked up in Durban can be
extended to the wider group. For a start, you can put your money on
Ruan Pienaar and Pat Lambie starting as the halfback combination against
Meyer said last week that Pienaar was just being rested because he had
worked so hard for Ulster during the northern hemisphere season. He did
play a bit part in the Durban win after coming on as a replacement for
the last quarter hour of the game, and remains the Bok first choice
And that will be even more the case now that Jano Vermaak has been ruled
out of the rest of the series with the serious hamstring injury
sustained on the hour mark in Durban. Vermaak has been replaced in the
squad by Cheetahs No 9 Piet van Zyl, but Francois Hougaard is likely to
be Pienaar’s back-up in Nelspruit.
Morne Steyn was excellent against Italy with the way he managed the
game. He played territory when he needed to, and it was his control of
the territory battle that forced Italy to make some of the poor kicks
from which the Boks punished them in the first half. But it is
understood that Meyer did promise Lambie a start in the second test and
he is not exaggerating when he says he has two flyhalves he trusts and
feels he can depend upon.
“I want to try a few guys so there will be a few changes for next week
but I will try and keep the core of the team together,” said Meyer.
It needs to be emphasized that the Boks aren’t thinking this season on
the hoof. While last year was very much about survival as they started a
series against England just a few days after coming together and the
assistant coaches were working for the Bulls in Super Rugby before then,
this season every bit of minute detail has been taken into
consideration in planning for the season.
So the good win over Italy is unlikely to have too much impact on what
Meyer had planned for his selections for this week, and the following
week in Pretoria will give us a better idea of what his combinations are
likely to look like for the first game of the Castle Rugby
What other changes might come for the Mbombela Stadium fixture are open
to conjecture. Trevor Nyakane and Arno Botha were blooded in Durban,
with the latter coming through with flying colours. A lot of the media
focus after the win was on the backline players such as Bryan Habana and
Willie le Roux, but Botha played a big part in helping the Boks forge
across the gainline and establish the platform that allowed the backs to
Nyakane was part of a pack that struggled in the scrums in the second
half, an aspect of the game that Meyer agreed was a blemish on the
performance. Coenie Oosthuizen continues to be a work in progress as a
“We know that we have a lot of work to do on our scrumming but we were
good in the first half (when the Boks fielded a full-strength frontrow)
and even in the second half we still had some good scrums on our ball,”
“I was pleased that Trevor, Chiliboy (Ralepelle) and Coenie (Oosthuizen)
got a chance to play together as a unit and got some international
experience against a very good international quality front-row.”
The Italians significantly improved their scrumming once Martin
Castrogiovanni, who had been benched from the start because of a minor
niggle, came onto the field. The importance of that aspect of the game
was underlined in the middle stages of the game when the Italians came
back strongly into the match with their scrum very much in the forefront
of that recovery.
The Italians started poorly and looked at times as if they just hadn’t
pitched, something confirmed by their captain Sergio Parisse afterwards.
“We showed what we could do later on when we put the Springboks under
pressure, but in the first half we put pressure on ourselves by kicking
poorly and that enabled the South Africans to attack us,” said Parisse.
Indeed, the Boks did attack, and while everyone is raving about a
supposed new shift to the Bok game, a proper perspective needs to be put
on it – while the back three were clearly given more freedom to play
from their own half if they saw the opportunity, the central tenets of
the Meyer game-plan were still in evidence. The Italians were squeezed
out of the game by being forced to play most of the first quarter in
their own half, which was when the Boks effectively won it by racking up
a 20-0 lead.
Meyer has always said that his strategy is not unattractive to the eye
when perfected, which last year happened only twice – in the first half
of the second Test against England in Johannesburg and against Australia
in Pretoria during the Castle Rugby Championships.
The opening game of the Incoming Tour Series, between Samoa and
Scotland, confirmed that the Boks should not be pushed in this phase of
the new season. Scotland dominated possession but suffered a first ever
defeat to Samoa because of poor defence against the strong running
Samoan backs. The Boks will cope better with the physicality of the
islanders if, as looks likely, the two teams end up playing each other
in the final at Loftus.
Scotland shouldn’t pose much of a threat in Nelspruit and whatever new
or different players come into the side for that fixture should
experience the same confidence boost that the men who did duty against