South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has demanded improvement in several key areas as the Springboks begin their international season this week.
Meyer has named nine uncapped players in his squad for the four nations tournament involving Italy, Scotland and Samoa starting in Durban next week, in part to blood younger players but also to rectify problems the side suffered last year.
“We have to improve in all areas,” Meyer told a news conference. “We need a step-up in the scrums and we need a huge step-up at the breakdown. We have spoken to the [Super Rugby] franchises and suddenly we can see our sides are getting quicker ball.”
Meyer added that he had targeted converting penalties as his major concern, with sloppy place-kicking costing the side dearly last season.
“The biggest step-up for me is the goal-kicking. Last year, we were at 56 per cent in the goal-kicking and just 29 per cent against the All Blacks. [Flyhalves] Pat Lambie and Morne Steyn are now kicking at 75 per cent plus in Super Rugby and with that last year we would have won a few more test matches. I need a huge improvement there.”
The coach is also concerned with his side’s behaviour on the pitch.
“Our discipline all over needs to improve. On our end of season tour, I wasn’t happy with the number of penalties we gave away,” he said.
However, Meyer does see some positives ahead of South Africa’s season opener against Italy on Saturday.
“There is a perception that we don’t score tries, but you need to look at the facts. I hear that we should play like the Australian backs but they scored 15 tries in 14 games last year.
“We scored the second most tries in international rugby with 22 in 12 games. Test match rugby is about using your opportunities. But we still want to improve our backline play and score more,” the coach said.
“I am very happy with our defence and our lineouts,” he added.
Meyer named a 34-man squad for the tournament. Bulls centre Jan Serfontein is one of nine uncapped players in a much-changed Springboks squad for the four nations tournament.
The 20-year-old captained South Africa to the IRB Junior World Championship last year and, along with another inclusion from that side, loose-forward Pieter-Steph du Toit of the Sharks, is viewed as one of the bright young things of South African rugby.
“It’s good to see Jan and Pieter-Steph make the step up. I’ve always rated them and they’ve shone this year for Bulls and Sharks,” said Meyer.
SOUTH AFRICA SQUAD
Forwards: Lourens Adriaanse, Willem Alberts, Arno Botha, Marcell Coetzee, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Juandre Kruger, Lappies Labuschagne, Francois Louw, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Pierre Spies, Adriaan Strauss, Flip van der Merwe.
Backs: Gio Aplon, Bjorn Basson, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (captain), JJ Engelbrecht, Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Zane Kirchner, Pat Lambie, Willie le Roux, Lwazi Mvovo, Ruan Pienaar, Jan Serfontein, Morne Steyn, Jano Vermaak.