Heyneke Meyer admits that the Springboks will need to be more disciplined when they tackle France in an emotionally-charged clash, reports JON CARDINELLI in Paris.
Following France's 3-0 win over Ukraine in a football World Cup qualifier on Tuesday, residents of the City of Light celebrated long into the night. Suddenly the locals are talking about the national rugby team emulating their football counterparts, and hoping that the Stade de France will witness two emphatic victories in the space of five days.
Paris is buzzing and that energy will be harnessed when France take the field on Saturday night. As their recent record against the Boks confirms, Les Bleus never want for passion or physicality when playing on home soil. This weekend, they will push the Boks to the limit.
ADDRESSING A PROBLEM
It presents a difficult test for Meyer's charges. The Boks have won nine of their 11 Tests in 2013, but their discipline hasn't been good. They've conceded 10 yellow cards in that period, and are fortunate that this has only cost them one result (the defeat to the All Blacks in Auckland).
On Tuesday I wrote that the Boks need to address this problem immediately, and that while aggression was a must for this particular fixture, the Boks would have to complement that intensity with composure.
On Wednesday, Meyer admitted that the discipline, and a need for controlled aggression, is something the team has spoken about.
'We've been criticised, and fairly so,' the Bok coach said. 'I will always take responsibility for that. I'm happy that we haven't had any off-the-field incidents, but I'm not happy with [what's happened] on the field.
'We haven't been [sanctioned] for foul play, it's been more for professional fouls, which is still not good enough. Saturday is going to be huge in that regard. France are going to be motivated and emotional. For us, we need to take the emotion out of the equation and stay disciplined.'
Assistant coach Johann van Graan recently mentioned that the Boks are conceding a lot of penalties at the breakdowns, and that this is down to the nature of the contest in the northern hemisphere.
Meyer, however, is mindful of the consequences of a serial offence. Marcell Coetzee received a yellow card last Sunday, and again the Boks were fortunate that a weak Scotland side couldn't punish the 14-man Boks during that period.
The Bok coach did temper this statement by stating that every referee is different, and that ultimately his team would need to adapt to the official's style so as to avoid excessive penalties and even yellow cards.
TOO MANY PENALTIES
'I want the penalty count [against the Boks] to come down,' said Meyer. 'I'm not happy with the penalties at the moment, I'm not happy with the yellow cards. But to be fair to the players, in the professional game today it's possible to concede three or four yellow cards in a game. It's just what the referee decides on the day. You can't complain, though, you have to take responsibility and adapt.'
This game will be the Boks' toughest assignment since they battled the All Blacks on 5 October for the Rugby Championship title. Meyer is confident that the Boks will rise to the occasion, that they will walk the line between aggression and transgression.
As he says, it will help that the team has built up some experience over the past season, and that there are now a number of leaders in the team. That collective composure will certainly be needed in the cauldron of the Stade de France this Saturday.
'I said at the end of last year that I was glad that the guys had established that team culture,' said Meyer. 'A lot of leaders have come through over the course of the year, and a lot of youngsters have put up their hands. I could name 10 leaders in the side. That is a great position to be in. We know we need to improve in certain areas, but I'm happy that we have been getting a lot right.'
Photo: Andrew Yates/AFP Photo
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