Heyneke Meyer identified the Springboks’ improvement at the gainline and breakdown as the reason for their better second half performance against England at Kings Park.
The Springboks struggled to find an attacking groove in the first half, with their primary strike runners regularly repelled by accurate and physical defence from the tourists. They looked rudderless at times on attack as a result, but improved markedly in this facet of play in the second half and were able to ask far more probing questions of England.
Asked what his directive to his charges had been at half-time, Meyer said: ‘I’m very emotional, sometimes I lose it. Jean [de Villiers, captain] was brilliant at half-time and I said to the forwards they have to get stuck in better because I wanted to up the tempo. They responded and we got better cleans and our ball carriers got into the game. When that happened I felt there were times we played some brilliant rugby.’
Speaking about the officiating at the breakdown De Villiers explained he felt referee Steve Walsh was ‘quick on the call’ [to penalise the Springboks], but stressed the responsibility rests with them to improve.
Central to their second half showing was the ball-carrying potency of blindside flank Willem Alberts, who earned the Man of the Match award off the back of an outstanding performance. Meyer was lavish in his praise of Alberts, and noted his back row partners’ contribution as well.
‘I was very happy with the loose forwards, I think they were important in us winning the game,’ he said. ‘Willem was brilliant. I spoke to him during Super Rugby and told him he was going to start and I wanted him to be at his best. He was awesome. Marcell Coetzee, starting his first Test, was unbelievable. People criticised that selection but he showed his class. Pierre [Spies] had one of his better Test matches as well. They’ll get better as a combination the more they play together.’
He also spoke highly of Bryan Habana’s showing. The winger has struggled in Tests in the last four years but looked sharp and dangerous throughout the match.
‘Bryan has probably played his best rugby for me. We’ve had long chats and I told him he needs to enjoy the game again, and be that vibrant player he had been at his best. He got to the point where he was just too conservative. He doesn’t have the X factor when he is like that, so I encouraged him to take risks. He was brilliant at times tonight, and he’ll grow from here.’
Meyer was absolutely clear when asked about possible changes for the Johannesburg Test next week.
‘I don’t believe in giving jerseys away, you earn the chance so I’ll stick to the same team. We don’t have a lot of time, two more Tests and then they go back to Super Rugby. They have to get game time together,’ he said.