Time to work on strike-rate
There is a statistic about the Springboks this year that worries coach Heyneke Meyer -- there have been times where his team has been the one that has spent the most time in the opposition 22, but the results and points scored don’t reflect that.
Before this tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland, the Boks had only won four times in nine starts, and apart from the Castle Rugby Championship match against Australia in Pretoria and stages of the first two tests against England, they’ve struggled to get it right in the strike-zone.
Meyer is rightly determined not to give Scotland any extra motivation for Saturday’s clash at Murrayfield. The local media are already talking about a backlash from the big defeat their team suffered at the hands of the All Blacks this past weekend, and they know how to beat the Boks as they managed it the last time the South Africans were in Edinburgh.
So they don’t need to hear now that the Boks will be out to polish their attacking and finishing skills against them. If they do, they’re sure to add more fire and brimstone to their already tenacious approach to games against the southern hemisphere teams.
But with the All Blacks posting more than 50 points against the Scots on a day everyone seems to agree the hosts actually did well, this should surely be a day where the Boks should be looking to further grow their game by being more on the money in converting pressure into points. Meyer, without being specific to this particular match, says the strike-rate is definitely something he would like to see improved.
“In Dublin we spent a lot of time in what we like to call the gold zone and we were let down by patience, and that has been the case a lot for us this year,” said Meyer.
“I think the difference between us and some of the other teams at the moment is that when the other top sides get there, to within striking distance of the line, they score points, whereas we don’t. I think it is down to patience, and there may be coaching aspects that we can work on and there is also the lack of experience aspect. We are still a relatively new team with a lot of players new to the highest level.
DEFENCE TO THE FORE
“In our first half against Ireland in Dublin we never really got ourselves into positions to score points. Our play in the first half was just inexcusable. We let Ireland dictate the game in that period. But in the initial stage of the second half we started to get it right, and we took a gamble that paid off when we set up a lineout from a penalty and eventually we took the ball through two phases and then we scored.
“Later in the game though we were again pressing and we spent quite a bit of time in their 22 but with better finishing and more patience we could have scored more points than we did and wrap up the game. It is something that will probably come with time, when the players become more used to playing with one another and there is greater synergy.”
What Meyer is particularly pleased about going into the last two games of the year though is the defence, something that was severely criticised in the early stages of the season and during parts of the Rugby Championship.
“It is not something that many people are talking about, but I have been very pleased with the development of our defensive game. We let in some soft tries against New Zealand but generally we haven’t given many tries away. I’ve always said that attack puts bums on seats but defence wins trophies, so it has been pleasing to see our defence coming to the fore.
“We never let the Irish score tries against us, and we even held them out in the first half when they were winning a lot of ball. We have been working hard on our defensive structures and it was one of the reasons why for this last test I wanted to keep the changes to a minimum, particularly in the backline.”
Meyer is wary enough about what threat Scotland do pose to stick to the same policy this week, and although he did suggest on Monday that he might be prepared to rest Jean de Villiers, the practice later in the day revealed that suggestion as a red herring -- the selection of Juan de Jongh at outside centre is the only likely change for Murrayfield.
The Bok team will be announced on Wednesday.