9 September 2013
The Springboks take on the All Blacks in Auckland on Saturday with a clean bill of health and a one-point lead in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship after a stunning 38-12 victory over Australia at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
The Queensland city had been a bogey venue for the Boks, but they broke their seven-match winless streak in style, outscoring the Wallabies by four tries to nil to edge ahead of the All Blacks, who beat Argentina 28-13 Hamilton, in the standings.
Coach Heyneke Meyer said the victory was built on the team’s belief in itself. “We really, as a team, believe we can win,” he said at the post-match press conference. “Our whole message this week was that we need to believe we can win.
‘Nothing is impossible’
“The game is going to be won in the mind and I’m a proud South African and we wanted to show the country that if we work together, nothing is impossible.”
Focusing on the big picture, he added: “I’m very, very proud of the guys, but it’s just a win and next week against the All Blacks is a bigger challenge.”
Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett, working as an analyst for SuperSport, was positively giddy in his assessment of the men in green and gold, terming their performance “complete”.
One thing the match clearly showed is that the new engagement rules at scrum time reward the stronger pack. No longer is it a contest to see which team can get the hit on the other. It now comes down to scrumming and it was in this tight phase that the platform was laid for South Africa’s victory.
South Africa’s props are looking very good, with the Sharks’ pair of Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis starting and then being backed up by the experienced Gurthro Steenkamp and the exciting, young Coenie Oosthuizen.
Between them, coach Meyer is spoilt with arguably the two best hookers in the world, Bismarck du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss.
“You need to lay the platform and the foundation with the forwards and certainly our forwards did that,” Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said.
‘Our scrummaging is immense’
“Our scrummaging is immense at the moment and not only the starting three, but the three coming on as well. I think out scrum is really strong as the moment, and the new laws definitely suit us.”
In Hamilton, the All Blacks struggled in the scrums at times against the Pumas and this will, no doubt, serve as motivation for the Springboks that they can dictate matters up front against the world’s number one ranked team.
De Villiers also paid tribute to the loose trio of Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen. “From a defensive point of view, a lot has been said about our loose forwards. They might lack pace,” he jibed at critics, “but what they bring to the party is just fantastic. I love having them in my team.”
The Springboks were also sharp on the counter-attack, with De Villiers rounding off a fantastic sweeping move with a try, Ruan Pienaar and Willie le Roux setting up Zane Kirchner for a fine five-pointer down the right flank, and Le Roux going over after Duane Vermeulen had picked Quade Cooper’s pocket and set the winger free.
De Villiers suggested the Springboks have matured since their first season under Meyer in 2012. “For a team to go forward and for a team to evolve, you need to learn from your mistakes and certainly we showed that we have learnt,” he said.
“First of all in Mendoza, with the way we reacted when we were in a similar situation to the 16-16 draw in 2012, and the same tonight. Last year, in Perth, we were up by 10 points at one stage in the second half and then the Wallabies came back and beat us by seven.
“We were in the same situation today and we were able to capitalise on our opportunities. The composure was there. The guys did what was needed.”
One of South Africa’s greatest strengths at present is the depth of the entire squad.
Even in 2007, during the Springboks’ run to the World Cup title, there was a significant difference between the first-choice starting 15 and the bench players. That was most noticeable when coach Jake White needed to call his his front-line players from the bench to help deliver a 30-25 win over lightly-regarded Tonga in a Group A clash.
This season, though, Meyer has been able to use his bench as an attacking weapon. He acknowledged the huge role they had played in the win over the Wallabies. “I thought those guys coming on were awesome. That’s where the game changed. We’ve got a really strong squad and that makes a difference and we rotate them,” he said.
Looking ahead, South Africa take on New Zealand in Auckland three years since they last won in the Land of the Long White Cloud. To win, it will take contributions from the entire Springbok squad.
Encouragingly, they have shown that they are functioning as far more than 15 players this season.