The Springboks will need to beat Scotland at the breakdown and shut out a partisan St James’ Park crowd to win this Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in Newcastle.
The Boks’ 46-6 victory against Samoa was bittersweet. The result marked South Africa’s first win of the campaign. It was encouraging to see the game plan so well executed. However, that win and performance have come at a cost.
Captain Jean de Villiers has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament with a jaw fracture. Willem Allberts remains in doubt for the third pool match against Scotland, and several other key players, namely Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Jannie du Plessis are all nursing minor niggles.
It’s for this reason that Monday afternoon’s field session in Gateshead was cancelled. The coaches have given the players more time to recover ahead of what should be another physical, yet more technically challenging, gainline and breakdown contest this Saturday.
Scotland currently top Pool B after winning their first two matches against Japan and USA. They look a different side to the mob that lost all of their games in the 2015 Six Nations.
The Boks have taken note of the transformation, and what New Zealand-born coach Vern Cotter has added over the past few months.
‘That New Zealand influence is apparent,’ said Bok hooker Schalk Brits, who has been playing his club rugby in Europe since 2009. ‘Vern enjoyed success when he was head coach of Clermont in France by playing a certain way. He has taken that pattern across to Scotland, and to be honest, they’ve been great to watch. They are playing a great brand of rugby at the moment.’
Bok forward and attack coach Johann van Graan agreed that recent contests between the two nations have been shaped by the battle at the breakdown. While the Boks improved in this area last week, they are still not where they need to be.
‘We’ve looked at our discipline [after the Samoa game] and we know we can do better. You’ve got to concede fewer than 10 penalties if you want to win the big Tests,’ Van Graan said. ‘Every team has had to adapt at the breakdown in this tournament. There’s been a new emphasis in terms of how the laws have been applied. There aren’t many opportunities to steal the ball.
‘I felt we did well to adapt in the second half against Samoa. We will have to adapt quickly when we front Scotland, because they are very sharp in that area.’
The Boks will also need to be wary about speaking too much Afrikaans at St James’ Park given the South African presence in the Scotland squad. Josh Strauss and WP Nel, formerly of the Lions and Cheetahs respectively, have already represented Scotland at this tournament.
‘Afrikaans won’t be too handy in this situation,’ Schalk Burger quipped. ‘I think this is going to be a great challenge, and some great theatre considering it will be staged at a venue like St James’ Park.’
Brits suggested that this contest will effectively be a home game for Scotland. Newcastle is less than a two-hour train journey from Edinburgh, and thousands of Scots are expected to make the trek south for what is being billed as ‘the Pool B final’.
‘Last week in Birmingham, there were so many South Africans at Villa Park that it felt like home. But watch out for the Scots this week, they will come out in force. I hope the South Africans in this part of the world also make their way to the stadium and are especially vocal.’
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