Heyneke adopting realistic approach
The Springboks have topped the half-century mark in the previous two games but coach Heyneke Meyer is taking a realistic approach into what he views as his team’s first big acid test this Saturday.
Having drawn the match against the Pumas at the same venue in Mendoza last year, the Boks have yet to break their duck in away matches in the newly constituted Castle Lager Rugby Championship, which was expanded last year into a three-team competition to accommodate Argentina in addition to the two Tri-Nations teams, the All Blacks and Wallabies.
And that is why Meyer is ensuring that his players keep their feet firmly rooted to the ground as they prepare for their first away game of what so far has been a successful 2013.
“We know that everything worked well for us last Saturday, but we haven’t won lots of away games, and we know Argentina is a proud nation,” said Meyer as he announced an unchanged starting team for the Mendoza game.
“It was difficult for the Pumas last week as it was a really big occasion for us as we were motivated to do really well for Madiba. Now the Pumas are at home, and they will have a passionate crowd behind them, and after what happened last week I am sure they will be playing with a lot of emotion.”
The Boks were fortunate to salvage a draw against the Pumas in the corresponding match of 2012, and Meyer is viewing the side that will face his men on Saturday in the light of what happened in 2012 rather than what happened at the FNB Stadium five days ago.
“Last year the games were fairly close, and Argentina should also have beaten Australia, against whom they had two close games. So we are under no illusions. It’s up to the Puma coach to answer questions about what happened to them last week, but we know it was tough in the first half last week. They were very much in the game, and I thought that penalty try we were awarded was a 50/50 call.”
The strength of Puma rugby down the years has been their physicality and their strength in the set-phases, and that was where the Boks laid the foundation last week.
While the backs ran riot in the second half, none of that would have happened were it not for the slow poison of the Bok scrum, the competition on the Argentina throw at the lineout that ensured they had very little quality ball to work with, and an accurate performance at the kick-offs, where again the Pumas were given nothing.
However, it’s the more clinical way that the Boks are now exploiting opportunities that has most encouraged Meyer over the first part of the international season.
“We want to concentrate on our own game, and while we won by a big score last week, we are still trying to play better. There are several areas that need to be improved,” he said.
“But I must say what I have been happy with is the way we have rounded off our opportunities this year. Without wanting to be arrogant, our try-scoring was one thing we wanted to improve in 2013, and so far we have done well. I think 24 tries in four games would have surprised a lot of people. And I think the continuity in selection has a lot to do with that.
“You can only score that many tries if you have continuity (and the players know each other well). Last year we were superb in the forwards too, particularly in our match against the All Blacks in Dunedin, but we lacked finishing power. Now we have improved in that area, and last Saturday I was pleased with the way we finished off our opportunities.
“We haven’t had much time to prepare in the past, and the one thing that is difficult about being Springbok coach is the lack of preparation time in general. So to get around that it helps if you have the same team playing together.
"Willie le Roux and guys like that played their first match in the opening game of the Incoming Tour Series, now they are playing in their fifth test. That breeds confidence, particularly when you’ve had the same guys around you for that time.
“But while the experience that is being built up makes a huge difference, and the backs have been good up to now, we know the away games are usually the biggest challenge. On Saturday we will be in a completely different environment to last week. It will be a different field and we will have a crowd that will be supporting the opposition. The way we see it, we’re starting from scratch.”