Can the Scots teach Boks another les­son?

Meyer ad­mits the June Test was wake-up in ‘ground play’ rugby

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - MIKE GREENAWAY

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!”

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