Heyneke Meyer (Gallo)
London – The Springboks are likely on Wednesday to adopt the formula of a heavyweight boxer desiring a “quick KO” finish rather than having to slug it out laboriously for a full 12 rounds.
Coach Heyneke Meyer surprised to a degree on Monday evening by naming a little-changed starting lineup for the task of beating the effectively second-tier United States at the Olympic Stadium here to ensure top-placed finish in World Cup Pool B.
He had said after the weekend’s triumph over Scotland in Newcastle that he would “mix up” his team for the tricky business of preparing for battle only four days after the previous match ... but then announced only two tweaks to the XV as Jannie du Plessis and JP Pietersen (only the latter deemed not suitably fit for consideration for this one) make way for Frans Malherbe and Lwazi Mvovo respectively.
“You have to respect every opponent,” said Meyer predictably but understandably, as his reluctance to introduce too many peripheral players was no doubt influenced by lingering nervousness following earth-shattering events against Japan in Brighton at the outset of the tournament.
He could also not be faulted too much for pointing out that several of his key charges haven’t exactly been overplayed in recent months – names like Fourie du Preez, Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw spring to mind – and that the plus side of such a speedy turnaround to the USA encounter is a 10-day gap to the quarter-final if the Boks clinch that ticket as fully expected.
Yet it still surprised this critic, perhaps among others, that he stuck rigidly to body-on-the-line first-teamers like Eben Etzebeth, Schalk Burger and Tendai Mtawarira for whom “freshening” replacements could probably have been filtered in fairly seamlessly against the minnows.
It has largely been a trend at RWC 2015 for sides having four-day turnarounds between obligations to make significant changes in the engine-room, especially, but Malherbe is the only alteration to the pack; a golden opportunity for him to nose ahead of the slightly labouring Du Plessis in the tighthead pecking order for the Boks.
Deep down, Meyer is sure to hope that some of his slightly battered personnel will put in a very focused, polished first half on Wednesday, enabling him to make swift changes early in the second period if the game already looks a done deal by then.
He has gone about things rather in reverse to the initial possibility that he would begin with a much-changed XV, and then have a juggernaut “cavalry” to call on in the event of stout resistance from the bottom-placed team in the pool.
Again, he stuck to a diplomatic approach when Sport24 inquired whether he would urge a “tidal wave” start, leading to major inroads on the scoreboard, and then plunder his reserve stocks in earnest to give prize troops a deserved breather.
“Look, you do have respect for the USA. We’ve certainly learnt there are no easy games here. It will be a strain on the bodies of the guys (selected so quickly again) but it’s the same for all of the teams.
“Hopefully they won’t tire, because the previous two games – Samoa and Scotland – were very, very tough. I just thought we have to set a standard, but also play to our strengths and build the innings.
“You can’t just jump away (from a sound template) and under-estimate your opponents.”
Meyer said that by backing the nucleus of his premier arsenal for Wednesday, he would also try to give them as much recovery time as possible for the knockout phase if the Boks seal their presence for it.
“We will see how this game unfolds ... I know it will be very physical and (could be) a close game.
“We are still working on areas that aren’t 100 percent right, so this group have one more opportunity to prove themselves – we also have great guys coming off the bench, both experience and youngsters.
“Our aim will always be to bring on some fresh legs near the end.”
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the Bok pool phase of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.