Heyneke Meyer refused to say that a victory or defeat against England would define their season, but accepted that it was critical to deeming the year-end tour a success.
The Springboks have lost three and drawn two of 11 Tests in 2012 and there is a discernible sense that some in the South African rugby fraternity see the result of Saturday’s Test at Twickenham as the one that will determine the success or failure of the season.
This is of course not the case. Meyer has maintained from the outset that he wants his team to be the best in the world. To achieve that end he has to be better than the All Blacks consistently. They are his team’s benchmark, the one they must measure themselves against.
Victories over northern hemisphere sides are expected, even with this injury depleted side. The Springboks are superior across most of the key facets of play and, but for some close calls, trump England man-for-man.
The more reasonable expectation is for them to measure the success or failure of the tour, not the season, by the result. Meyer agreed.
‘Beating England would mean we achieve what we set out to, which is to go unbeaten on the year-end tour. No Springboks side has done that for a couple of years, so that would be considered a successful tour,’ he said.
‘It would also mean that we would have lost three games this season. To put that in perspective, the Springboks of 2009, who were considered among the best ever, lost four. If we win against a very tough England side, that would be very good for this young team and one with as many injuries as we’ve had. But we need one more big performance.’
Eliciting that ‘big performance’ from his players will require careful management from a conditioning perspective.
‘Its been a long hard season for the players, most of whom have played more rugby than they ever have, probably more than any team in the world,’ he said. ‘But that’s not an excuse. In my experience in Test rugby [Meyer was an assistant coach in 1999] the guys have always lifted themselves for England. But we have to be mindful of their workload this season.
‘It is a fine balance getting it right. I’m a training fanatic. I’ve made the mistake in the past with young sides of giving them off, then saw a definite feeling of complacency in the camp. What will happen is that the sessions will be much shorter and less intense. We’ll still do some work specifically related to England, but it has been a long season and we need to be smart in how we manage the players.’
Privately Meyer feels fatigue has been central to their second half fades and he stressed the need for his team to sustain through the entire match.
‘We have to put together an 80 minute performance. We’ve only managed that once, against Australia at Loftus,’ he said ‘The main thing is to drop our penalty count. We conceded 17 penalties against Scotland, most of those at scrum time, which is unacceptable. That’s at least 17 minutes that we don’t have the ball. We have to sort that out, so that we can get territory and get on the front foot.