The Springboks are mentally as well as physically prepared to make some big statements over the next four weeks, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Bok players and management team are calling it ‘The Fresh Tour’. The remaining four Tests on the 2014 schedule will not mark the end of a season, but the beginning of a journey to the 2015 World Cup final at Twickenham.
Heyneke Meyer made the distinction when the bulk of the touring party first congregated in Stellenbosch two weeks ago. The message has been reiterated again and again over the past fortnight, and indeed in the lead-up to their first tour match in Dublin.
Every game from hereon in matters in the context of that global tournament. Meyer’s Boks have done enough over the past three seasons to be recognised as genuine contenders for the 2015 crown, if you consider their six from six record in the northern hemisphere as well as the drought-ending win against the All Blacks.
And yet, it is clearly not enough, at least not for Meyer, who is determined to see the Boks strengthening their already powerful position. The Bok coach feels that there is a lot to be gained this November, a lot more than four results in isolation.
Meyer has spoken to this group about putting down a marker in the northern hemisphere over the next four weeks. A four-from-four return will see the Boks travelling to England next year as the only undefeated Test team in northern conditions.
A perfect tour will also see the Boks extending their undefeated record against next year’s hosts, England, to 11 matches. Indeed, there are some significant psychological prizes up for grabs.
Jean de Villiers once told me that one of Meyer's greatest attributes as a coach was his ability to motivate his charges. Meyer has always believed in the power of the mind, and has always looked to improve a team by instilling the right attitude and values.
This side has failed to win a Rugby Championship during Meyer’s tenure, but they have succeeded in making a serious statement on their previous tours to the northern hemisphere. And that success in the north has been down to their mindset more than anything else.
One of Meyer's favourite phrases is: ‘there are no tough conditions, only soft people’. In other words, no player should use the northern hemisphere conditions as an excuse for a substandard performance.
Anybody who has played or even watched live rugby in the north during the month of November will know what the teams are up against. There are times when the weather is so foul that you have to applaud the fans for sticking around for 80 minutes, let alone the players. It’s an experience that will leave you with the opposite of a fuzzy, warm feeling deep inside.
TV broadcasts never do the actual scene justice. It’s always cold, often windy and raining, and the heavy turf underfoot can quickly become a quagmire. If a team is not mentally prepared to excel in those conditions, if a team is not willing to embrace the challenge of a swirling wind, an inevitably wet ball, and an altogether slower, more combative contest, then that team is setting itself up for a failure.
The truth is that the conditions always effect both teams, and so visiting teams can't use them as an excuse for losing. Playing in the north requires a change in tactics for southern hemisphere teams, and more importantly a shift in mindset.
On the past two tours, the Boks have successfully adjusted on both counts. The 2014 sojourn is about embracing the testing conditions once again. That attitude will increase the Boks’ chances of a four-from-four return, as well as their chances of winning the World Cup in these conditions next October.
The team is clearly motivated despite a season-defining win against the All Blacks last month. The Boks have put that relative success behind them, and have mentally prepared themselves for the challenge that lies ahead over the next four weeks.
This spells trouble for any of the northern teams who may have been hoping to catch a complacent and inadequately prepared Bok outfit. If teams like Ireland and England are going to beat the Boks this November, they will need to produce a special performance.
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