Heyneke Meyer cannot afford to back second-stringers and experimental combinations in what will be a must-win clash against Argentina in Buenos Aires. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Boks have lost four Tests in succession. That is the only stat that matters.
The ardent supporter will argue that South Africa were weakened in the clash against Wales in Cardiff last November, a game that fell outside the Test window and thus robbed them of their Europe-based players.
That supporter will bemoan the 50/50 calls that went against the Boks in the 2015 Rugby Championship clashes against the Wallabies and All Blacks. That supporter could turn all their anger and frustration on the referee of the most recent Test between the Boks and Argentina, Romain Poite.
That supporter could point out that the Boks fielded a couple of rookies over the course of the Rugby Championship, and that injuries precluded some of the best players from participation.
But all those arguments count for nought. Indeed, all the arguments, excuses and complaints in the world aren’t going to change the fact that the Boks have lost four in a row. And if they don’t turn things around over the next week, that rotten run will extend to five.
As it stands, the class of 2006 is the only Bok team to have lost five successive Tests in the professional era. It was a dark time for South African rugby, and then coach Jake White nearly lost his job.
The Boks recovered from those losses to mount a powerful World Cup campaign in 2007, and eventually win the trophy that matters most. However, one has to take into account that White’s team improved steadily over a period of 12 months, collecting some big scalps along the way. They built up some momentum before heading into the global tournament.
Meyer doesn’t have that luxury. He is out of time, with the first World Cup fixture against Japan scheduled for 19 September. The Boks have one more game before the tournament in England commences. They need to win that fixture in Buenos Aires, and take some confidence into the World Cup.
At the start of the international season, Meyer revealed his plans for the greater Bok squad. He intended to play his strongest available side in the matches against Australia and New Zealand. He would mix and match in the Test against Argentina in Durban, and then take a largely experimental side to Buenos Aires. The star players would be placed on a conditioning programme with a view to peaking at the World Cup.
It will be interesting to see how Meyer responds following the Boks’ dismal performance and shock result against Argentina in Durban. Meyer is right when he says the Boks’ fitness levels aren’t where they should be, and that the conditioning programme in the lead-up to the World Cup is absolutely essential.
And yet, because of the defeat to the Pumas, and the fact that the Boks are on the verge of five straight defeats, Meyer may be forced to change tack. The Boks will need a mix of the young and the old if they are to get back to winning ways in Buenos Aires. Meyer will need to take more senior players to Argentina than he originally planned to.
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