Friendship adds spice to rivalry

Heyneke Meyer would love to get one over All Blacks coach Steve Hansen in the World Cup semi-final this Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in London.

The Springbok coach was in a calm and collected mood at the team announcement press conference on Wednesday. Indeed, Meyer was a very different man to the one who fronted the media in the days following the infamous defeat to Japan.

The Boks rebounded from that loss to win their remaining pool matches and advance to the play-offs. They beat Wales 23-19 last Saturday to set up a semi-final showdown against their arch-rivals, the All Blacks.

New Zealand have beaten South Africa in six of the last seven Tests. They will be favourites to win the semi-final at Twickenham. The statement is made on the basis of the All Blacks’ past results against the Boks, as well as on their form at this World Cup.

The odds are also against the Boks when you consider who has been selected to officiate in this particular match. Jérôme Garcès will referee the match, Romain Poite and John Lacey will run touch, and George Ayoub will be the TMO. All four have been guilty of costly mistakes over the past four years, and all four have made blunders that have impacted on matches involving the Boks.

On Wednesday, Meyer refused to be drawn into talk about odds and probabilities. In his mind, the Boks have a good chance of winning this Saturday.

The Boks are fighting for a place in the World Cup final. Meyer revealed that they are also fighting for their second win against the All Blacks, the best team in the world over the past five years.

The Bok coach was in an upbeat mood at Wednesday’s press conference. While he understands the importance of the match this weekend and the pressure that will be on his side, Meyer is looking forward to facing, and hopefully beating, the All Blacks.

‘When I was a youngster back in 1981, we watched the All Blacks playing South Africa on probably the only TV set in our village,’ said Meyer. ‘When we played rugby on the grass, it was always the “Boks” versus the “All Blacks”.

‘There is a lot of mutual respect between us and the current side. We’ve had some great contests over the years, and developed a great relationship with them. I love what they stand for and it’s an honour to play against them.’

Meyer said his charges would need to produce their ‘best ever performance’ to beat the All Blacks this weekend. He said they will be up for the challenge.

The Bok coach admitted that he would dearly love to get one over his opposite number. While Meyer counts Steve Hansen as a close friend, it hurts to think that Meyer's Boks have lost six out of seven to Hansen's All Blacks.

‘After my first loss to the All Blacks in 2012, I was feeling a bit depressed. I didn’t know Steve at all, but he came over to give me a beer and have a chat.

'It became a tradition. The next time, I was feeling very down and too embarrassed to go into their change room. Steve came to find me and give me a beer. He laughed when I told him I was a bit embarrassed, and said I would bring him a beer when South Africa beat the All Blacks.

'I said I would bring him a whole case when that happened. And that’s what I did after the win at Ellis Park last year. Hopefully I can give him another beer on Saturday night.

‘There’s no inch given when we are on the field, though,’ Meyer added. ‘We don’t even look at each other. We both respect each other, but we both want to win.’

Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli