SOUTH Africa will stick closely to the side that came from behind to beat Ireland on Saturday as a mark of respect for the challenge they expect from the Scots at Murrayfield on Saturday.
That was the message stressed by Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer on his first visit to Scotland at the helm, the coach insisting that he had been impressed by the hosts’ ability to score a hat-trick of tries against the All Blacks.
South Africa came from 12-3 behind at half-time to win 16-12 thanks largely to the invention of their Ulster-based scrum-half Ruan Pienaar, who scored the game’s only try. He was a picture of calm yesterday as he strode past All Blacks, the South Africa team having taken up residence in the same Royal Mile hotel in the capital as New Zealand were vacating.
Patrick Lambie, whose grandparents come from Ayrshire and is related to former Scotland captain Peter Brown, kicked three penalties and a conversion after a shaky first-half on Saturday. Asked whether he expected a tougher game from Scotland, or whether his side would take heart from the heavy defeat dished out by New Zealand, Meyer said: “This might sound like a PR exercise, but I really believe that Scotland are a quality side. They are very dangerous when they keep the ball in hand and the scoreline probably doesn’t show how close it was.
“I think there were ten minutes of brilliance from the All Blacks where they got 20 points, but other than that Scotland were always in the game. The thing that stood out for me was that they scored three tries, and if you look at the whole season the likes of Australia and ourselves struggled to score tries against the All Blacks. We scored one try in each Test match and Ireland didn’t even score any points at all in their second Test in June.
“But Scotland scored three tries and were unlucky not to have one or two more, so I think the Scotland team is a great team. Obviously, the All Blacks are the best team in the world now so I have to look closely at the game and I have, and think they [Scotland] played well but in those ten minutes the All Blacks ran in a few points.
“It’s important for us to stay focused and keep our feet on the ground because we know we have to improve, and we’re looking forward to a great challenge on Saturday.”
The 45-year-old Meyer took over the head coach position only this year and so far has lost once to Australia and twice to New Zealand in nine Tests. Twice his side has beaten England but they have also drawn with Stuart Lancaster’s team and Argentina.
He has come on tour without 14 players who could all be vying for a 1st XV berth, but believes that has afforded him the opportunity to blood fresh young talent that he is confident will become key figures in the 2015 World Cup. He was quick to state, however, that after squeezing through in Dublin he is not planning on any experimentation at Murrayfield, which is likely to mean Lambie retains the No 10 jersey and changes may be restricted to just one.
“Selection is always difficult because every single player in the tour squad wants to play for their country, and they put you under pressure with the way they train,” he said. “But, whilst we are a young team and haven’t had a lot of games together, I want to keep some form of continuity. Also, out of respect for the Scottish team, we’re not going to just throw in guys that need a chance. You don’t just give Test matches away and every single Test match you play in you have to deserve your cap. I don’t want to just go out there and give certain guys experience. I don’t think this is the right team to do that against.
“Without giving away too much, I can tell you that there won’t be a lot of changes. The one I might make is giving Juan de Jongh a chance. He has been knocking on the door, so there is a good chance he will get a run in this game.”
Asked if he would show faith in Lambie, he replied: “I probably will. I haven’t finalised the team yet, but it was a difficult start for Pat because we didn’t have the ball for the first-half. In the second-half it was catch-up and I thought he did some great things with the ball. Obviously, he has high standards and so do we and he can play much better. He hasn’t played with Ruan as a nine before, and so I want to give him some confidence going forward.”
Meyer, a successful Blue Bulls coach, spoke highly of his defence, insisting that “attack puts bums on seats but defence wins trophies”, and provided an insight into this week’s focus when he said that the team’s poor statistics for turning possession in the opposition 22 into points was his major concern.
“We kicked less than our opponents again, for the seventh game in a row, so I’m getting worried and have said to the guys ‘listen, we need to kick more ball away’,” he said, laughing. “But, when we get to the opponents’ 22, one thing that is letting us down is our patience, and I’m being very strict on that.
“If you compare that with other top teams in the world, once they’re there they get points. Even Scotland were brilliant – once they got into the New Zealand 22, they got points.For us it’s not good enough. We have to convert pressure into points and that’s been one of the problems I haven’t been happy with and I will be hard with them on that this week. We’re getting into the right areas and getting quality ball and then are not executing, and, at this level, that’s inexcusable.”
So South Africa arrive with their own problems, injuries afflicting the squad and young players being given time to prove their worth, but with an excitement of the quality of youthful talent emerging. And many in the squad have clear memories of the last visit to Murrayfield and the 21-17 reverse, one week after New Zealand had bene here and thumped Scotland.
So, no room for complacency then. Scotland have been warned.