South Africa have set themselves the ultimate benchmark, beating none other than the All Blacks during their last outing, and the pieces very much seem to be falling into place for Heyneke Meyer’s Springboks.
It has been heady stuff for the second ranked Test nation, playing impressive attack, while their relentless carpet bombing of the ruck contest has been driven by the Meyer tendency to pick giants in the back row – and this has been a key area of their ability to match New Zealand.
This is a template that the team will only look to develop, while their squad balance is remarkably similar to their great rivals, with Meyer introducing new talent to complement some of the most experienced players in his country’s history.
Conditioning has been a big part of the Springbok development this year, and the side will have extra time to train as they don’t leave the Republic until November 1 (NZ and Australia play matches to open their respective campaigns on that date) – playing Ireland, England, Italy and Wales to round out their season.
The Irish will be a tough opener for South Africa, but a week later the Springboks will run out onto Twickenham, just after the 2015 Rugby World Cup hosts play the All Blacks.
In 11 Tests against the Red Rose, the tourists have won ten and drawn one, even though the last two outings – a 16-15 win in London in 2012 and the 14-14 draw in Port Elizabeth earlier that year – have been cliff hangers.
If the Boks can maintain this sort of form over Stuart Lancaster’s men, with the Leeds man picking a formidable 33 man squad that will back their chances, it will be a major marker for the two-time World Champions.
Sat, 08 Nov 2014 Ireland v South Africa @ Aviva Stadium
Sat, 15 Nov 2014 England v South Africa @ Twickenham
Sat, 22 Nov 2014 Italy v South Africa @ Olympic Stadium
Sat, 29 Nov 2014 Wales v South Africa @ Millennium Stadium
EXPERIENCE TO BE RESTED?
Lwazi Mvovo, Cobus Reinach, Lourens Adriaanse, Handré Pollard, Rudy Paige, Bongi Mbonambi and Boela Abrahams have all been invited to the Springboks training camp.
With Western Province and the Golden Lions still to supply Springboks (contesting the Currie Cup Final), the introduction of new blood continues.
Developing depth at halfback will be on the agenda, as will further development of Pollard and Pat Lambie as a lethal ‘one-two’ punch at flyhalf.
However will Jean de Villiers, Victor Matfield and the unholy trinity (from an opposition perspective) of Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen and Marcell Coetzee be given time ahead of a 2015 where their services will be required throughout?
The obvious advancements to the Springboks offensive blueprint haven’t detracted from their mighty aerial attack led by the peerless Matfield.
Yet when examining pure numbers, South Africa’s threat metrics, measured via clean breaks, beaten defenders and offloads were not as high as their rivals.
Further scrutiny reveals that only the 28-10 win against Australia in Cape Town was the only ‘romp’ during The Rugby Championship, with the team losing in Perth and Wellington while being pushed hard in street fighting conditions against Los Pumas.
The team is growing, but again, with an uncanny resemblance to New Zealand, they haven’t been able to consistently blow sides apart, something they might like to do on the soft pitches of Europe.
With the All Blacks winning another title, and the Wallabies attracting headlines for off field reasons headlined by Michael Cheika’s appointment, the Springboks have in some respects slipped off the radar.
A training camp in Stellenbosch is giving the team strong preparation again, a component of 2014 has been Meyer’s increasing access to his top players, with 20 signed on national contracts.
For so long South African rugby fans lamented the All Blacks advanced access to their flagship players, but key Springboks are not off limits as they were in previous years with cooperation between the former Bulls mentor and the Republic’s franchises very strong.
It wouldn’t be a surprise that with a New Zealand scalp fresh in hand, the Boks are targeting an unbeaten tour.
While the Springboks are the last of The Rugby Championship teams to confirm their touring squad, 25-year-old Rudy Paige and Yuseph Williams Abrahams, a year older, have been invited to be scrutinised by the national selectors.
Both players wear the number nine jersey, and with Fourie du Preez out for the year, and Ruan Pienaar’s condition still to be confirmed, developing depth in a typically dominant position for South Africa will be of major precedence for the squad.