Springboks aim to strike right balance against All Blacks
Coach wary of playing the running game in their final match as South Africa look to secure second place in championship
South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer is a realist rather than a romantic and that is set to show when his team confront New Zealand in a Rugby Championship final-round fixture at Soccer City today.
The Springboks handled the ball far more in a five-try 31-8 demolition of Australia in Pretoria last weekend than in the three previous rounds of the southern hemisphere national team competition.
Gone were the generally over-hit field kicks that gave even the fastest of players no chance of getting to the ball before a rival, and contributed to a lucky draw in Argentina and avoidable losses in Australia and New Zealand.
But Meyer, who succeeded outspoken Peter de Villiers this year on a four-year contract with the aim of reclaiming the World Cup in 2015, believes a run-at-all-cost approach against the All Blacks would be suicidal.
“The key to victory will be striking a balance between running and kicking,” he said ahead of a Soweto showdown between the teams lying first and second on the table and ranked first and second in the world.
“There is always pressure on home teams to run a lot with the ball and that is exactly what the All Blacks like.
“If you give them turnovers, they will punish you.
“Naturally, we want to play great rugby and score tries, but we must find a balance between when to attack and when to play tactically,” stressed the former Northern Bulls coach, who turns 45 on the day of the test.
“You are never going to defeat New Zealand by playing their game. They have quality athletes from No 15 to No 1 and, fortunately, we also have some good game-breakers now.”
After two victories, a draw and two losses, Meyer accepts the New Zealand test will define his Rugby Championship campaign, with the green and gold needing two points to be certain of finishing second ahead of Australia.
It has been a sharp learning curve for the ex-Leicester Tigers coach, who eventually chose loose forward Francois Louw from English club Bath after initially believing the team did not need a “fetcher”.
While South Africa named an unchanged team, New Zealand made two alterations to the side who overwhelmed Argentina 54-15 in La Plata last weekend with left wing Hosea Gear and lock Brodie Retallick promoted.
Gear takes over from Julian Savea, Retallick comes in for Luke Romano and bench changes see Ben Franks, Adam Thompson and Tamati Ellison replace Charlie Faumuina, Sam Cane and Ben Smith respectively.
Meyer lavished praise on the greatest rivals of the Springboks, calling flanker and skipper Richie McCaw “one of the greatest players of all time” and acknowledging the huge threat posed by star flyhalf Dan Carter.
South Africa and New Zealand share the record for consecutive test wins by a top-tier nation with 17 each and if the All Blacks succeed in Soweto, Australia (October 20) and Scotland (November 12) stand between them and 18 in a row.