THEY MAY have lost a couple of grey beards in the form of twin skippers Jean de Villiers and the lock Victor Matfield but injuries to both the veterans may just have done Heyneke Meyer a favour.
The Springboks coach yesterday announced a squad that is a mix of the old and the new to take on Scotland in Newcastle on Saturday but it is bristling with intent from one to 15. The well-travelled scrum-half Fourie du Preez takes over the captaincy from de Villiers with flanker Schalk Burger nominated as his official back-up.
The twin towers of Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth team up in the second row and Meyer had put his trust, and his immediate future, in the hands of a young midfield trio of Handre Pollard, Damian De Allende and Jeese Kriel who are 21, 23 and 21 respectively. Between them they boast just 27 international caps and, if things do go wrong for the Boks on Saturday, that lack of experience might bite them in the backside. The Boks will lean heavily on scrum-half du Preez for direction although Meyer referred to Boris Becker’s Wimbledon win at the age of 17 to justify his selection.
Meyer has also selected several players who were said to be nursing injuries not least the giant flanker Willem Alberts who is poised to make his first World Cup appearance off the bench. Burger, prop Jannie du Plessis and De Allende all had to persuade the medics of their fitness but, as their coach said, he couldn’t keep them off the pitch if he tried...“they all want to play”.
“Scotland are a team with a lot of confidence,” said Meyer. “They are not going to go away. They are a team with a lot of confidence.
“They are not a team that we have faced previously. They have brought in a few South Africans and New Zealanders, they have suddenly got big ball carriers in their back three as well. We have a lot of respect for them.
“Glasgow has really done well. They have lifted confidence. It is easier for them when you have a lot of players from one franchise because they all know what they are doing. They have had great warm-up games, they have won, they have beaten the two previous teams quite easily and they are on a big roll.”
But just when the assembled press were beginning to believe all the sugar-coated flattery from the voluble Springboks coach, Meyer brought a touch of realism to proceedings with a sharp warning for the Scots.
“We have been under pressure since day one of the championship. We have been fighting since day one and we have been under pressure every single game which was must win. That makes us a dangerous team and that’s the focus I want from the guys.
“Everything is going for Scotland. They have a lot of confidence and they are back home, nearly back home. So it will be difficult on Saturday but one thing about South Africa is that if people write us off that is when we rise to the occasion.
“There are a lot of guys who have niggles and stuff. It was an unbelievably physical game against Samoa. We have to dig deep and guys like Jannie [du Plessis] and the rest of them there is no way they won’t play. I know they are warriors, I know that this is the team I want to go with.”
At one point Meyer referred to the “mistake” against Japan, when the Boks underestimated their first up opponents and paid the price. The coach also admitted that they had to rip up their lineout calls and start again because newly qualified Scotland pair Josh Strauss and Willem Nel were involved in a wider Springbok camp three years back and took home all the code books.
At one point in proceedings Meyer suggested Scotland were favourites not that William Hill agrees with him because the Bokke have got their game face on and Meyer returned to his tactic of talking up Scotland before firing a warning shot across their bow.
“I think Scotland plays total rugby, they have moved on under Vern Cotter who is an unbelievable coach. They score a lot of tries, they offload, they get quick ball. They have a threat in the back three. They have really moved on from the last time we played them. They are one of the best attacking sides we are going to face this year,” said Meyer.
“When I was appointed I said that there were two types of rugby, winning and losing. Lately we have played more losing than winning rugby. I’ve always said that if we play to our strengths then no-one in the world can beat us, and I still believe that.
“It was typical Springboks rugby [in the 46-6 win over Samoa], without being too conservative. We scored six tries and four of those tries were scored by the backs. If we are fired up, if we play to our strengths, play for the guy next to us and play for our country I truly believe that no-one can beat us.
“If we play like South Africans, without sounding too arrogant, no-one can beat us.”