The loss to Ireland showed that the Springboks are not as accomplished in northern hemisphere conditions as first thought, reports JON CARDINELLI in London.
‘I’m ashamed of that performance,’ Heyneke Meyer said at a press conference on Wednesday. The performance in question is the recent display by South Africa against Ireland in Dublin.
It was an embarrassing performance in isolation, and only a late try by JP Pietersen prevented it from becoming South Africa’s heaviest loss to Ireland. In the context of the next three matches in Europe and a 2015 World Cup that will be staged in similar conditions, that performance in Dublin proved the Boks are not where they need to be.
Over the past four days, many of the coaches and players have been unable to pinpoint where it all went wrong. Why did the Boks lack the necessary attitude to win the battle at the breakdown, and indeed the big moments, at the Aviva Stadium? And why is it so often the case that a team needs to lose before it can completely eradicate complacency? Nobody I spoke to was able to provide an answer.
Last month, the All Blacks lost their first Test in two years when they went down 27-25 to the Boks. In the aftermath, many spoke of the rare defeat as a blessing in disguise. They said it would force the All Blacks to push harder in the coming year, and to lift standards that were starting to flag.
Last week, the Boks were similarly humbled at the Aviva Stadium. This has forced them to readjust their attitude before the game against England, and own up to some uncomfortable truths about their abilities in northern hemisphere conditions.
As the record in Dublin attests, the Boks no longer boast a perfect record in this part of the world. They are beatable at the point of contact, and can be surpassed on the scoreboard.
‘Losing last week was a big wake-up call,’ said Meyer on Wednesday. ‘But perhaps that’s what we needed. We had set ourselves the goal of winning all four Tests on this tour and ultimately going to the 2015 World Cup with a 100% record in the northern hemisphere. Obviously that is now off the table.
‘But often results before the World Cup mean little in the context of a World Cup. A lot can change. In 2006, the Boks lost two out of three on the end-of-year tour, but won the World Cup in 2007. It’s about learning lessons before that tournament, and we certainly learned one in Dublin.’
The contest against England is massive in the context of the current tour, and indeed next year’s global tournament. Meyer’s side can make a statement with yet another win against England – their 11th since 2006 – but it’s clear that the team is more determined to produce an improved performance.
‘This game is going to go right to the wire, so we have to make our chances count. We weren’t clinical enough against Ireland last week,’ the Bok coach said.
‘We don’t play well in wet conditions, so that is something that needs to improve. You need to be more physical at the breakdown and on defence in these conditions, especially against a side like England.’
Duane Vermeulen said on Tuesday that the Boks had been guilty of complacency in the buildup to the Test against Ireland. Meyer said there would be no lack of fire this weekend.
‘It’s always a special occasion to play against England at Twickenham. It’s an unbelievable crowd and atmosphere, and we actually feed off that as well. There’s a lot of pressure, but this is something we’ve been looking forward to for a while. Even if we had won by 80 points last week, there would be no holding back at Twickenham this week.’
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images