Complacency is Boks’ only obstacle
Coach Heyneke Meyer can probably thank his predecessor Peter de Villiers, his former Bulls captain Victor Matfield and the rest of the South African personnel involved in the last Springbok trip to Edinburgh for the role they have played in blunting Saturday’s most dangerous opponent at Murrayfield.
Forget about the Scotland players themselves, there aren’t individuals in the team that stand out as potential threats to the Bok chances. And that is probably more than half of the reason that complacency, as it always is when the Boks visit this city, is the biggest obstacle to the comprehensive win that is needed to boost confidence ahead of next week’s showdown with England at Twickenham.
The problem with the build-up to a test against Scotland in this era is that there so little that stands out and can be isolated for specific comment. There’s no Andy Irvine, David Sole or John Jeffrey, and they are a team that most of the time operates below the radar. Although Euan Murray, Ross Ford, Mike Blair ad Sean Lamont should be names known to us, it’s not like there are many South Africans who have made a regular habit of watching them play.
Of course these days videos of past performances are studied closely, and every play dissected, but the bottom line is that Scotland and the Scotland players are just not as familiar or inspire as much respect, fear or loathing as players from nations such as New Zealand, Australia or England. So maybe when the Boks kept getting asked by the Scottish media this week who it was they most feared, and they hid behind that time-worn old cliché “We worry about our own game”, for once it could be taken literally.
While they say it before every game, seldom is it more true than it is before a Murrayfield game. And on some previous visits it might just have worked against the South Africans. In 2008 for instance, there was a lot of debate about whether the Boks would go out to play a style that might net them a big win rather than any talk about Scotland.
One of the most memorable pre-match quotes that week came from skipper John Smit, who when told that assistant coach Dick Muir was talking about running the ball even if it was wet, said “Dickie would want to run even if we were playing in Iceland”.
The Boks never encountered Iceland that year, but they were guilty of not building their innings, and they had to scrap in the second half for a fortunate win that many critics reacted to as if it was actually a defeat.
Games against Scotland aren’t supposed to be close.
POINTS TO PROVE
But Matfield’s team would have been happy with just a one point win on the following visit in 2010, when they did encounter Icelandic conditions and ending up sinking into the Murrayfield mud as Scotland recorded a rare win over a big team. That result and two big efforts against Australia aside, Scotland rugby has been in a dire place in recent years, with three successive Six Nations campaigns and one World Cup ending in abject failure under the coaching of Andy Robinson.
That would be dangerous knowledge for the Boks to have were it not for the memory of what happened the last time the Boks were in town, and that is why Meyer should be pleased that the last South African visit here wasn’t a happy one. For it should work in his favour as he seeks ways to overcome the complacency that, no matter how often players may say otherwise, is always inevitable when you play a game you are expected to win.
Perhaps there was some complacency last week in that Ireland had seven frontline players out and without Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll, Stephen Ferris and Rory Best, the hosts weren’t given much chance. Maybe that first half against Ireland at Aviva Stadium was the wake-up call the Boks needed ahead of a match against Scotland -- the message being that none of the Home Unions should be underestimated on their home turf, regardless of the make-up of their team.
If that was the case, and the Boks have been woken up, then the Scots may not be being helped by the local media, who keep writing and talking about this game as if it is winnable, and refer to last week’s game in Dublin in disparaging terms, with there even being some insinuations that the Boks are a team of cheap-shot specialists.
Knowing how Meyer operates -- apparently he used South African media clippings to inspire his men last week -- he should use it for motivation.
And if the Boks pitch, then they should win comfortably against a team that ranks seven places lower on the IRB rankings than they do.
The Boks were flawed last week, for sure, but for goodness sake, in Scotland there were pats on the back last Sunday for a performance that was produced in a game where they conceded more than 50 points.
The Scots showed enough in patches to suggest that if the Boks aren’t sharp and motivated, they could find themselves again having to sweat, but with this young team and after last week, there really shouldn’t be any lack of drive from the visitors.
What was lacking the last two times in Edinburgh was passion from an experienced team that was expected to win. Most of the players wearing the green and gold on Saturday still have individual points to prove, they have the momentum of the strong finish last week, and provided there isn’t an unexpected monsoon, they should have more than enough physical and playing strength to erase the memory of the scenes that greeted the result here two years ago.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Sean Lamont, Nick de Luca, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Greig Laidlaw, Mike Blair, David Denton, Kelly Brown, Alasdair Strokosch, Jim Hamilton, Richie Gray, Euan Murray, Ross Ford, Ryan Grant.
Replacements: Dougie Hall, Kyle Traynor, Geoff Cross, Alastair Kellock, John Barclay, Henry Pyrgos, Ruaridh Jackson, Peter Murchie.
South Africa: Zane Kirchner, JP Pietersen, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (captain), Francois Hougaard, Pat Lambie, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: Schalk Brits, Heinke van der Merwe, CJ van der Linde, Flip van der Merwe, Marcell Coetzee, Morne Steyn, Jaco Taute, Lwazi Mvovo.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland).
Kick-off: 4:30pm (CAT, GMT+2. SA)
Prediction: South Africa by 15 to 22.