Andries Bekker says his ‘shocking’ performance against Argentina in Mendoza was a massive wake-up call.
Bekker had his worst-ever Test for the Springboks in that 16-all draw, eliciting widespread criticism for his performance, with some even suggesting that it was evidence that he was a pretender as a successor to Victor Matfield.
Bekker was dropped for the next two matches, against Australia in Perth and the All Blacks in Dunedin, with coach Heyneke Meyer sending a strong message to the second rower to significantly improve or face time in the Test wilderness.
He responded with a masterclass against the Wallabies at Loftus on Saturday, and credits his improvement to deep introspection.
‘Mentally after the game in Mendoza I struggled,’ Bekker said. ‘Some [critics] described my performance in harsh terms, but I know I wasn’t up to standard and mentally I needed to make that switch. I was shocking.’
Bekker has consistently shunned comparisons with Matfield, but accepts that he will be the benchmark for years to come. Injuries have seriously curtailed his ability to exhibit the potential many believe he has, and he said staying fit, not stepping out of Matfield’s shadow, is his primary focus.
‘I just need to get back into top form. I’ve struggled after my back op last year and my ankle op earlier this year. If people eventually see me as better than Victor, then all good. I don’t think that will ever happen though. He was the very best in the game,’ he said.
Bekker said in his experience the key to beating the All Blacks was always bossing them physically, with failure to do so terminal to your cause.
‘You need to pitch up physically against the All Blacks or you’ll take 50 points. I’ve been in the Springboks set-up for five or six years and every time you play them you have to take a step up,’ he said.
He added that the pack, which dominated the Blacks in their last meeting, is fast developing into a formidable unit.
‘We are going to be one of the best packs in the world. There’s a good balance of experience and youth. We’ve also got good depth and a range of different combinations. That was the case back with the team under Peter de Villiers,’ he said. ‘It’s great to have competition. If you don’t you’ll sit back and think you’re the best in the world. That’s when you get moered every week.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Johannesburg.