The Springboks made a set-piece statement against the All Blacks and are well placed to dominate the Wallabies at Newlands. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Marcel van der Merwe will never forget his first Test against the All Blacks on 13 September. Only two minutes remained in that clash, when Van der Merwe was deployed to replace Jannie du Plessis at tighthead.
The All Blacks won a scrum under their own posts. If New Zealand could win that set piece, the chances were they would clear their lines and win the game. But Van der Merwe’s introduction to the front row would have a profound impact.
The Bok scrum marched the hosts back, and against every expectation, won the turnover. It was massive moment in the game, and provided the Boks with one final chance to beat the All Blacks.
While the Boks are still hurting after that 14-10 loss, they have taken some heart from the forward performance. On Monday, in the buildup to the next match against Australia, Bok scrum coach Pieter de Villiers said he was thrilled with the improvement.
‘That was a big moment for the team [in Wellington],’ said De Villiers. ‘It created an opportunity to win the game, and it was especially pleasing to see the players coming off the bench and making an impact. We couldn’t get the result, but we will take some confidence from that showing going forward.’
In 2013, the Boks were the best scrummaging side on the planet. They outmuscled every side, including the All Blacks, and this success at the set piece would allow them to lay a great platform for their backs.
The 2014 season has witnessed a less dominant, and indeed a less consistent, showing. The Boks were unconvincing in the four internationals played in June. They were out-scrummed in the subsequent Tests against Argentina.
In Perth and Wellington, however, the Boks sent the world a powerful reminder of what they can do when they get it right up front.
‘This team has been scrumming well for the past two years, so you can’t just say that we have a bad scrum because of a couple of bad games [against Argentina],’ said De Villiers. ‘We just needed to address some technical issues.
‘We’ve gone back to basics in terms of our set-up. We’ve also looked at making the referee’s job a lot easier. If you can come through the middle and achieve dominance, you should get the rewards.
'Every now and then, you will come up against a team that will go in on the angle, but you need to adapt to that.’
While De Villiers was pleased with the performance against the All Blacks, he believes the Boks will need to scrum with the same accuracy and intensity against the Wallabies this weekend.
‘Australia are very good at the engagement, and have improved over the course of the tournament. They did well against Argentina. But if we can maintain the level that was witnessed in Perth and Wellington, we should set a good base [for attack].
‘It’s also important to go into the game with the right mindset. If we don’t pitch up mentally, we will be punished.’
De Villiers added that he was pleased with South Africa’s depth in the front row. The Boks have two world-class hookers in Adriaan Strauss and Bismarck du Plessis, and have started to develop some exciting alternatives at prop.
‘Frans Malherbe will be missed [after sustaining a season-ending ankle injury against Argentina in Salta], he has a very bright future,’ said De Villiers. ‘Marcel has shown that he has a lot of power, and all he needs now is more chances. He will get better with experience. Trevor Nyakane is another with a lot of potential, as a loosehead. We are not short on options.’
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