Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me, as George W Bush almost said, but if Scotland think that the South Africans are going to be felled by a sucker punch for the second time in the World Cup, assistant coach Pieter de Villiers has news for them. When reminded that the last time these two teams met the South Africans ran out 55-6 victors, the scrum coach is having none of it.
“We can certainly remember games where it was a very tough battle against them as well,” says de Villiers. “We are taking them very seriously. Their build-up to the World Cup has been very good, their preparation games have been good. Their first two games in the pool stages have been basically perfect. We know it’s a team on the up.
Their build-up to the World Cup has been very good. Their first two games in the pool stages have been basically perfectPieter de Villiers
“Vern Cotter has changed a lot for their team as well. They have upped it one level. Their clubs are doing well in local and European competitions as well, so it is clearly a country on the up in terms of rugby quality and I think that is more than enough to make sure that our mindset is in the right place on Saturday!”
De Villiers is South African born and bred but he played his club rugby with Stade Francais and all of his 68 international caps came courtesy of La France. So perhaps he has a little sympathy for Scotland’s twin South African imports and he certainly talks up WP Nel’s credentials.
“I think Willem [Nel] has progressed a lot as a player. Coming to Europe brings a different scrum battle, a different scrum challenge and it always makes a more rounded and more balanced player,” says the man who should know. “So he has recently become their number one tighthead and he came on this last weekend again and changed the scrums so we are looking forward to that battle. Willem will obviously have a lot to prove this weekend so the battle will be up there.
“Scotland bring the full package [in the set scrum]; technically very sound. The back five, they fire regularly and they bring a lot of power. They had a great start to the competition. In the past we have had some serious battles with Scotland in the scrummaging so we definitely take them as a serious side. We are looking forward to a top level battle.”
De Villiers’ line was echoed across the board although more than one Springbok hid behind the “concentrate on our own game” line rather than risk talking about the Scottish opposition. It is probably wise, since they finger Alasdair Strokosch as the breakdown specialist.
The Boks’ own openside Frans Louw (known to all as “Flouw”) had a quiet start against Japan, like a good few of his colleagues, and stepped up to the plate against Samoa, like every one of them. Scotland may well be concentrating on their set-piece work coming into this game but listening to “Flouw” talk, the South Africans are focusing on the breakdown and focusing on maintaining discipline at this key area.
Despite winning 60-plus per cent of possession and 70-plus per cent of territory the South Africans somehow conceded 15 penalties and lost the count against Samoa, not a team that is renowned for its strict adherence to the laws of the game.
“It’s a massive focus from their side at the breakdown, they [Scotland] are focusing on that side of the game,” Louw claims. “The emphasis just comes back to us competing when it comes to that point in the game. The quicker we get in there at the tackle, the tighter we are. It’s irrelevant what different types of opposition we face. The element of speed is crucial for us, we want to make sure we get a solid platform and not allow their key players, their loose forwards who are good at the breakdown, to get in there and affect our ball.”
The Bath flanker also conceded that this World Cup is being blown a little differently than any other competition which is in danger of making the turnover a dying art form.
“There has been an emphasis on the tackler rolling away,” he says. “These days the guys get into the breakdown so quickly that quite often the opposition just gets trapped there but they are not having any of that. It is your responsibility as a tackler to roll away. It’s about deciding where to land post-tackle, it’s not just about smashing the guy and taking your time to roll out.
“I’ve seen a few penalties awarded even if the ball is present if there is a player lying around it. So its massive pressure for the tackler to get away there. Discipline is a focus for us, we need to improve there. We need to tighten up, too many pens at the breakdown can be costly.”
The South Africans infamously fell to Japan in the first round, a setback that is spoken of like a death in the family, only referred to obliquely if at all. In a funny sort of way it may help the Bokke because only by winning this World Cup can they silence the sniggers.
“We have to win this game,” says Louw without hesitation. “That’s our World Cup really. Every game is a knockout game. The way that we started this tournament wasn’t ideal. This is a massive game for us.
“We had a great win last week but the outcome is that nothing has changed. We’re still in the same position.
“To finish strongest in our pool we need to win all our games. We’ll do whatever it takes to get a victory, to get a win, which is absolutely essential to our campaign.”