Can the Scots teach Boks another lesson?
Meyer admits the June Test was wake-up in ‘ground play’ rugby
THE SPRINGBOKS are hot favourites to beat Scotland at Murrayfield tomorrow for a number of reasons, including the Boks’ good form in the Rugby Championship and, ironically, the written-off Scots have had a lot to do with the Boks being so highly rated after their attacking game improved vastly in matches against Australia, New Zealand and Argentina.
Heyneke Meyer’s Boks have won eight of 10 matches this season, losing only to the All Blacks (twice), and the coach says it was a match against Scotland in June that resulted in the South Africans completely re- thinking their approach to breakdown play – with highly positive results.
The Boks nearly lost to the Scots in Nelspruit, and although they recovered from a 6-17 deficit to win 30-17 thanks to a flurry of points in the final 10 minutes against a 14-man Scotland team, the Boks had the living daylights scared out of them on home turf by a team rated seven positions below them in ninth on the official IRB rankings.
The Boks were severely embarrassed by the Scots at ruck time and Meyer’s response was quick and decisive. He hired a Scottish breakdown coach in Richie Gray and made improvement in the vital area his No 1 priority for the rest of the 2013 season.
“Scotland taught us a lesson that day,” Meyer said. “Traditionally, South Africans have not contested well on the ground but we have had other strong points, while Scotland have always been technically very good at the rucks (but have not had quality players in other areas).
“We decided to learn from Scotland and a weakness became a strength – we won more balls on the ground in the Rugby Championship than any other team,” Meyer said. “Scotland took us apart at the breakdowns at Nelspruit but we worked very hard with Richie Gray. He changed our body positions at ruck time and we were soon winning quicker ball.”
Meyer says this is the reason the Boks started scoring spectacular tries in the Rugby Championship.
“We have always had a talented back line but we were not giving them the platform they needed to attack,” the coach said.
“I have always wanted us to expand our game and score more tries but in our first year together ( 2012) the pressure was on us just to win the games. In our second year, we wanted to grow into a more attacking side.”
Meyer says there has been a perception he is a conservative who pushes the kicking game, but he says this is nonsense.
“It is simply not true that teams coached by me do not score tries,” he said. “At the Bulls, Bryan Habana kept on breaking try-scoring records. We want to play attractive rugby at the Boks. We want to play total rugby. I back the players to make the right decisions – if there is an overlap in our 22, they have the freedom to move the ball, and we are scoring those kinds of tries.
“But if there is a strong defensive line we must look for space elsewhere,” Meyer continued. “And we are finding that balance. It has helped immensely that we are getting quicker ball, and the confidence is growing. We are very happy with how we are attacking at the moment.”
As much as the Boks have taken a chapter out of the Scottish manual to brush up on their rucking skills, Meyer says this area of the game is not Scotland’s primary strength.
“Scotland’s biggest weapon is that they play with a lot of heart. You can’t coach that,” Meyer said. “They play for their country and are a very proud team. They never go away, they always come back in a game.
“They have a very good lineout and we have found them to be efficient in stopping our drives from lineouts, but obviously their aggressive work at the breakdowns is something they pride themselves on.
“Every time we have played them we struggled to get quick ball,” the coach said.
“After we last played them we went on to score great tries in the Championship, and if the weather permits it, we will look to attack again at Murrayfield. But even if the weather is dry, I am fascinated to see how we go at the breakdowns. We’ll see how much we have learned!”