‘Boks will stick to script’

Heyneke Meyer is confident that his charges will employ a more direct and tactical approach when they play Samoa, reports JON CARDINELLI in Birmingham.

The Boks need to win this weekend. They need to produce the type of performance that will stand them in good stead for the knockouts. They need to regain some confidence after a humbling defeat to Japan.

At the team announcement in Birmingham on Wednesday, Meyer explained why eight players had been dropped from the starting side, and why the majority of the senior players who underperformed in the game against Japan had been retained.

The Bok coach confirmed that the players failed to follow his instructions in the Pool B opener in Brighton. Meyer said the players learned a valuable lesson following that substandard performance and loss. The Boks will revert to type when they battle Samoa in a must-win clash this coming Saturday.

Some of what Meyer said made sense. The Boks have moved away from their traditional game plan this year, a move that has led to four losses in five Tests. Their solitary victory against Argentina in Buenos Aires was achieved on the back of a dominant forward and kicking showing.

As Meyer reiterated, there is something to be read into that performance. When the Boks stick to their strengths, they can beat any team on the planet.

That said, Meyer did contradict himself on other issues. For example, the decision to back Jean de Villiers as the team’s skipper was not completely clear.

Meyer lauded De Villiers’s fightback from injury over the past year, and the mental strength it must have taken for the player to regain full fitness. However, there’s no getting around the fact that De Villiers played poorly against Japan.

De Villiers must also be held accountable for what transpired on the field during that match, that is the blatant disregard for the game plan. Meyer didn’t say it outright, but De Villiers has a lot to prove to the coach this coming Saturday.

‘We’re in a lose-lose situation with the captain,’ Meyer said. ‘I was part of the Springbok coaching staff at the 1999 World Cup, when Nick Mallett was the head coach. Going into that tournament, everybody said that dropping Gary Teichmann was the right call. After the tournament, everybody said it was the wrong call.

‘I believe it’s the right decision to stick with the captain at this point. He had six knee operations after that recent injury [in Cardiff in 2014], and nobody gave him a chance of returning. He proved people wrong. That is the kind of guy I want for this fight. I believe it’s best for the team.’

Hooker Bismarck du Plessis is the only member of the senior core to be dropped after the poor performance against Japan. Meyer said it was always the plan to rotate Du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss in the starting position. However, it’s understood that the coaches weren’t happy with the number of penalties conceded by Du Plessis in the game against Japan. And dropping him from the match 23 completely is some statement.

The senior players who have been retained will have something to prove. Meyer said he would take responsibility for the loss to Japan, and admitted the players’ defiance casts himself in a particularly bad light. Yet, he is adamant that the team picked to play Samoa will toe the line from hereon in.

‘I must take responsibility as a coach if the players don’t listen,’ he said. 'I want this team to get back to winning ways, and to do that, they have to go back to their strengths.

‘We have played tactically in the past and scored some great tries off the back of that. They were warned in the buildup to last week’s game not to take Japan lightly. We put the plan in place, but ultimately the players have to go out and do the job on the field.

‘We’ve played some great rugby these past few months, but we haven’t played winning rugby,’ Meyer continued. ‘The players need to understand that this is the World Cup. It’s a matter of playing knockout rugby every game.

‘Nobody remembers tries at a World Cup. They remember wins. I will never understand why some people always want South Africa to play like another nation. South Africa must play like South Africa. When we play to our strengths, we can beat any team in the world. And we have proved as much over the past few years.

‘I’m confident that this team understands what it takes to win. It’s not just the senior players, but the whole team.’

Strauss, who will play his 50th Test for the Boks this Saturday, said the players have seen the error of their ways.

‘We realise that we need to do the hard work first, to play the tactical game first. If there is an opportunity to play [more attacking rugby] after that, we must capitalise.

'On Monday, we got together and spoke about where we are at the moment, and where we have been successful in the past. We know where our strengths lie, and we are heading in that direction this weekend.’

Springbok team to play Samoa

Photo: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

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