New captain Fourie du Preez will ensure that the Springboks keep heading in the right tactical direction, writes JON CARDINELLI in Newcastle.
Heyneke Meyer’s choice of skipper has caught many by surprise.
Du Preez will lead the Boks against Scotland this Saturday. Not Schalk Burger, who led the team against the All Blacks at Ellis Park earlier this year. Not Duane Vermeulen, who Meyer rates as a fine prospect for the future. Meyer feels that, for this particular clash, Du Preez is the man.
Victor Matfield would have been Meyer’s first choice now that Jean de Villiers is no longer in the frame. One would expect the veteran lock to assume the captaincy when he returns from a hamstring injury. Until then, Du Preez will be tasked with making the big calls and steering the team in the right direction.
Speaking from the team’s base in Gateshead on Wednesday, Meyer extolled the rugby virtues of Du Preez. He commended the player’s understanding of the game and went as far to call the No 9 a tactical genius.
Meyer said that while Du Preez was a man of few words, he commanded the respect of senior and junior players alike. Most importantly, said Meyer, Du Preez knows what it takes to win a high-stakes Test.
The Boks have looked a happier group both on and off the field this week. The players are still buzzing in the wake of a 46-6 victory against Samoa.
Yet, the Boks would do well to remember what transpired against Japan. They should remember why they prospered against Samoa. A move back to a pragmatic approach paid dividends.
They need to stick to that game plan when they face the Scots, who have been planning for this fixture for six months. Meyer suggested this is why Du Preez has been backed ahead of the other candidates.
Meyer has made another big call this week at No 2. The Bok coach said that Bismarck du Plessis's strengths at the scrum and breakdown were suited to a clash of this nature. However, this could also be an opportunity for Du Plessis to nail down a place in Meyer’s preferred starting lineup.
Lood de Jager and Jesse Kriel replace Matfield and De Villiers respectively. De Jager has been one of the Boks’ most effective ball-carriers and defenders at this tournament, but his lineout management skills will be put to the test this week. Kriel is the only remaining outside centre in the squad. He will be tested by the Scotland attack in that channel on Saturday.
The inclusion of Willem Alberts on the bench is significant. This is the do-or-die moment for Alberts as far as the 2015 World Cup is concerned.
The blindside flank has run with the team this week, but is still not 100% clear of a calf injury. Meyer said he had no choice but to push Alberts to play Scotland. He confirmed that if Alberts was ruled out for the third consecutive week, the flanker would have been sent home. Meyer didn’t mind saying that Alberts has everything to prove this Saturday.
He ended the press conference by declaring that a win against Scotland could mark the start of something special. The Bok coach feels that the team are now on the right track.
‘Without sounding arrogant, if we do beat Scotland this Saturday, I believe we can far go far in this tournament,’ he said. ‘We have a few guys coming back from injury, and when those guys [Du Preez, Vermeulen and Alberts] start to hit form, we are going to be even more dangerous.’
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images