JON CARDINELLI says Heyneke Meyer must approach the next Test in Edinburgh as an opportunity to build momentum rather than a chance to experiment with new combinations.
So often a tour fixture against Scotland is viewed as an opportunity to experiment, to blood youngsters and hand fringe players rare starting chances. In reality, it can be a potential banana skin, as the Boks found out on their 2010 tour of the home nations.
The Boks were surprised by a plucky Scotland on that occasion, the hosts thriving in the poor conditions and manhandling the Boks at the collisions and breakdowns. The visitors went into that Murrayfield Test with the wrong attitude, and were duly punished by a more determined Scotland side.
The current crop of Boks shouldn’t fall into the same trap. They may have recorded a fine comeback win in Dublin last Saturday, but the inconsistency of that performance will mean that they travel to Edinburgh with a point to prove.
Player burnout is an issue that’s been spoken about at length over the past few months, but I agree with Meyer and Bok captain Jean de Villiers when they say that Tests are the priority, and that the workload of each individual should be restricted at the lower levels.
With regards to experimentation and handing fringe players opportunities, Meyer has been forced to do so from the outset. The Boks have travelled to Europe this November with a depleted side. These three Tests will afford certain individuals rare starting chances that they may not have enjoyed if first- and second-choice players were still available.
I am of the belief that the Boks should always include an openside flanker who excels at the ground, and yet Francois Louw needs this tour to prove to Meyer why he should be backed when several Bok loose forwards return from injuries in 2013.
Louw has been one of the standouts since returning to the Test set-up, and two further starts on this tour will be good for the individual and the collective in terms of building confidence, momentum and depth ahead of the 2013 season.
The forward pack showed its strength in the second half against Ireland, and should be handed a further opportunity to settle against Scotland. Scotland are the weakest of the Boks’ November opponents, but this should be viewed as a dress rehearsal for the final tour match against England.
Give this combination time to improve their scrum and lineout work. The set pieces improved dramatically in the second half, as did the discipline at the breakdown. The more this combination plays together, the stronger it will become. And with a view to 2013, that will provide Meyer with more depth.
With regards to the backline, Ruan Pienaar and Pat Lambie should be handed an extended opportunity to strengthen their halfback partnership. Supporters of Elton Jantjies may argue that he needs to be given a chance, but there is more to be gained at this stage by retaining Lambie.
The Sharks pivot had no possession to work with in the first half against Ireland, but did well in the second stanza. He should be given a chance to build on that if the Boks are going to take momentum into the England Test. A three-Test assessment will also give Meyer the definitive answer he needs regarding Lambie’s aptitude as a Test flyhalf.
Captain De Villiers will retain the No 12 position, but I’m not sure what Meyer is trying to achieve by persisting with Jaco Taute at outside centre.
Meyer has made it clear that he views Taute as a fullback, and it is here where he should start against Scotland. In the absence of players like Frans Steyn and Jaque Fourie, I would move Juan de Jongh into the No 13 position.
There will be opportunities to score tries this Saturday, but I doubt the Boks will go the route of the All Blacks by playing a high-risk game. The Boks simply don’t boast the synergy and skills of the All Blacks, not in the backline or forwards, to excel in a high-tempo approach.
As was evident last Sunday, it is a game plan that also made the All Blacks defence more vulnerable (they conceded three tries). If this less experienced and settled Bok side was to attempt to replicate that style, it would backfire badly.
No, the Bok forwards will hold the key to success this Saturday. A win in Edinburgh will be built on forward ascendancy, no nonsense defence and territorial dominance.
If correctly implemented, this game plan should yield several tries as well as the all-important victory. It will put this Bok combination into a strong position right before a testing and tour-defining match at Twickenham.