Heyneke Meyer predicts Australia will try to run the Springboks off their feet but was bullish about their ability to exploit such a tactic.
During Meyer’s tenure with the Bulls teams often looked to employ this approach against them. Their opponents gained some purchase from it initially, but Meyer would later condition his team so well and ensure they were so familiar with the defensive structure that they were able to negotiate it competently and consistently.
Indeed the Bulls’ Super Rugby championship winning sides of 2007, 2009 and 2010 mastered the art of pressure defence which generated turnovers, and scored many of their tries in this fashion. Meyer wants this to be the blueprint for the Test at Loftus on Saturday.
‘If you look at previous games on the Highveld, Australia have opened the game up from the start and I can’t see them changing,’ Meyer said. ‘They’ll look to keep the ball in hand and we’re expecting them to start with Kurtley Beale at flyhalf to helped move us around in the hope we’ll tire. I like that because it gives us a chance to isolate them and get turnovers, which is a great platform to score tries from.’
With defences of the elite Test teams so well organised and so accurate in their execution, turnovers are like gold. It allows the team that effects the steal to attack an unset defensive line.
The Springboks’ success in this regard will hinge largely on their ability to dominate the gainline. They must build on their defensive performance from Dunedin against the All Blacks in this regard. There they forced the world champions to take risks they usually wouldn’t as a result of the pressure created by their impressive tackle fight.
However, while any victory will be built on their defensive potency, their attack needs to exhibit a greater level of precision, innovation and punch. Meyer explained there would not be wholesale changes to their approach but was confident that they would improve their attack.
‘There have been slight changes week to week. I’ve coached a lot of teams that have struggled overseas and then suddenly scored lots of tries once home, particularly on the Highveld,’ he said. ‘I can’t explain that fully beyond saying that they feel more comfortable and want to win badly for their home crowd.
‘We want the guys to score tries and express themselves, so hopefully the subtle changes we’ve implemented click into place. We had enough opportunities to score tries overseas but didn’t finish well. We must do that because the more we score the more the pressure build on the opponents and the more chances we get as a result. I’ve got a good feeling about this team and believe we will play some good rugby on Saturday.’
Meyer concluded by reiterating his stance on the Springboks not dropping points at home. ‘Every team struggles away from home and we’ve played three away against tough opponents. I’m not making any promises but winning at home for me is a non-negotiable, even though we have a relatively inexperienced team.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Johannesburg