Heyneke Meyer says the Rugby Championship will be the measure of his men.
The Springboks’ 2-0 series win over England in June was an excellent start for the new generation of players and coaching staff. Indeed it surpassed Meyer’s expectations, which were shaped by the limited preparation time he had with the squad.
However, the Rugby Championship was always going to provide a sterner test of Meyer and his team’s aptitude. Australia and New Zealand both showed their quality in sweeping Wales and Ireland respectively in June. Argentina should be easily negotiated at Newlands in a fortnight, but they’ll be tougher to beat in Mendoza on 25 August.
The bulk of the 30-man squad has gathered in Cape Town to begin their preparations, with the Sharks’ representatives set to join the group on Tuesday. Meyer said this has forced a rethink in his approach to the next two weeks.
‘This is the first week where I would have the team without having a Test match. I thought it would allow me to go through some details in our gameplan and work through repetition of that gameplan. I’d also planned on getting combinations together who’d play in the first Test,’ Meyer told keo.co.za.
‘But with the Sharks only joining the camp on Tuesday, I’ve had to change a few things. With the Sharks players central to our plans, we have to find the balance between training and rest.’
Meyer won’t field a vastly different side for the Argentina opener to the one that he backed against England, with the bulk of his starting 15 coming from the Sharks. He did, however, stress that the performances of his players would be decisive to their Test futures.
‘We’ll know where we stand after the Rugby Championship. With no disrespect to England, I’ll have a clear idea about some players, particularly the youngsters, after I’ve seen them against the world’s best teams. I have a lot of belief in the squad, but guys that don’t perform will be at a disadvantage going forward,’ he said.
Meyer added the All Blacks and Wallabies are better placed going into the southern hemisphere showpiece, with both benefiting from continuity in their playing and coaching staff.
‘I’m realistic, it is going to be tough. Robbie Deans is in his fifth year as coach of the Wallabies and has a settled squad and gameplan. Some people point to the Australian sides not making the Super Rugby play-offs, but that isn’t an indicator of how the Test side will go. He can pick a very strong 22 from the players available,’ Meyer explained.
‘New Zealand are always very, very tough. Steve Hansen has worked with all the players before and their approach hasn’t changed but for one or two minor adjustments. They looked like they hadn’t been apart when they played Ireland a couple of months ago.
‘You also have to take into consideration that those teams still have their key, experienced players available. [David] Pocock, [Quade] Cooper and [Will] Genia are still there for Australia. New Zealand have Carter and McCaw. We’ve lost a handful of very good, very experienced players, with Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez being the biggest losses.
‘We’re starting from behind but we’ll do whatever we can to win it.’