Lood de Jager will have a game-shaping role to play at the lineouts and collisions when the Springboks play Scotland this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI in Newcastle.
Heyneke Meyer has been in a good mood all week. The Bok coach feels that his side is in the right mental space ahead of what is a must-win clash against Scotland.
While they are coming off a resounding 46-6 win against Samoa, the 34-32 defeat to Japan should still be fresh in the players’ minds. There will be no complacency at St James’ Park this Saturday. The Boks must show Scotland the same respect they showed Samoa in terms of taking the early shots at goal.
They will trust in Meyer’s game plan and look to outplay Scotland via a pragmatic approach. Fourie du Preez, one of the finest tactical players of the modern era and a disciple of Meyer’s rugby philosophy, has been named captain to ensure the team stays on the right track.
The Bok coach is taking no chances, and rightly so. South Africa need to win this match to ensure that destiny remains in their own hands.
Du Preez will lend the team direction in the absence of Victor Matfield. He and flyhalf Handré Pollard will be tasked with winning the territorial battle. The Bok halfbacks will be counting on the forwards to lay the platform at the set pieces and breakdowns.
While they have the leadership personnel to cope with the loss of Jean de Villiers and Matfield, there is a big question mark over De Jager's ability to play a Matfield-type role at the lineout. De Jager will have the opportunity to answer that question on Saturday.
De Jager has been one of the Boks’ best players at this tournament. The versatile lock was the standout player in a disappointing collective showing against Japan. Matfield dominated the lineouts in the second pool match against Samoa, but De Jager’s ball-carrying and momentum-halting defence lent South Africa something extra in the second stanza.
Can De Jager have the same game-shaping impact at the lineout? The Scots will demand more from the Boks in this area. They have a crack coach in the New Zealand-born Vern Cotter, and the selection of two South African-born forwards, WP Nel and Josh Strauss, is significant. The Boks, and De Jager especially as the designated leader of the set piece, will be under pressure this Saturday.
Cotter said on Thursday that the winner of the set-piece battles will gain a psychological advantage. The Boks are a dangerous side when their loose forwards are on the front foot. And if South Africa are hitting the Scots back in the tackle, Scotland’s chances of controlling the breakdowns will diminish.
Much has been made of Cotter’s selections for this match. Indeed, it does appear as if Scotland are holding something back for their final pool match against Samoa on 10 October.
But the Boks would be foolish to underestimate this Scotland team. Two years ago in Nelspruit, a second-string Scotland side had the Boks on the ropes for 60 minutes. The Bok players admitted afterwards that they went into that clash with the wrong mindset.
Bismarck du Plessis's return to the starting side will lift the Boks at the breakdown. Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen should be just as influential.
Vermeulen made his return from a three-month injury layoff last week. It took him some time to adjust to the speed and intensity of Test rugby, but by the second half, he had found his groove. One would expect Vermeulen to make further improvements, and exert an even greater influence on proceedings in the game against Scotland.
Willem Alberts is set for his first appearance at this tournament. If his calf holds up, the Scotland defence could be in trouble.
Meyer has backed Alberts despite the player's struggles with injuries. Now is the time for the player to repay the coach for his faith. Alberts has looked focused and more than a little angry at training this week. Scotland could feel his rage in the second half of Saturday's match.
Thousands of Scots will descend on Newcastle this Saturday. The mass support for Scotland inside St James’ Park should lend the Bravehearts something extra.
This is why the Boks need to start well. They have to replicate last week’s performance against Samoa.
Eben Etzebeth set the tone then with a thumping tackle in the first minute. The Boks have to assert themselves early on in the clash against Scotland, and translate any set-piece or breakdown dominance into points.
DE JAGER’S WORLD CUP STATS THAT MATTER
16 – Carries
14 – Tackles
8 – Lineouts won
5 – Defenders beaten
1 – Tries scored
HEAD TO HEAD
South Africa 20, Scotland 5
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (c), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Richie Vernon, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Dave Denton, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Josh Strauss, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 WP Nel, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Gordon Reid.
Subs: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Alasdair Dickinson, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Sean Lamont.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images