HEYNEKE Meyer has branded New Zealand the best side in rugby history – but still insisted South Africa can topple the defending champions in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final.
Head coach Meyer admitted mistakes in “over-motivating the team” in previous losses to the All Blacks, warning the Springboks to keep their cool this week.
The Springboks supremo joked he bought his Kiwi counterpart, Steve Hansen, a crate of beer after South Africa’s 27-25 October 2014 triumph – and would need a truckload of the duo’s traditional gift to do justice to a win at Twickenham this weekend.
“I really mean this, it’s not just talk: this is the best team that has ever played the game,” said Meyer of Hansen’s All Blacks.
“If you look at the last four years, after a World Cup usually there’s a decline in performance. Steve’s been there for eight years, four as assistant, and they’ve just got better after the previous World Cup, which just hasn’t happened before in world rugby.
“We know this must be our best performance probably ever to beat them, because I do believe they are best team ever to play the game.
“In saying that, you have to believe you can beat them. We know we have to be at our best. Every single game against them has gone right to the wire.
“We’ve started a tradition where the first time I’d lost I was very down. Steve [Hansen] came over and I think that’s great about rugby – he came over and brought me a beer.
“He said ‘listen, I know how you feel, I know the pressure on you, just have a beer with me’. And I really respect that.
“We’d lost that game, the second game we played away was very close and we lost that game as well, and he came looking for me with another beer afterwards.
“He gave it to me and we started talking about his family, and his wife, and we know we’re under the same pressure.
“We’re proud countries. He’s got to know my family, I’ve got to know his family.
“The winning coach always brings the beer now. I said the first time we beat you I’ll bring you a case of beer.
“So what I really respect about Steve is that, after our win, he took it like a man, and said, ‘I’m waiting for that beer’.
“Hopefully, I can give Steve a case of beers on Saturday!”
South Africa have selected Lood de Jager in their starting line-up, but the lock must still pass the formality of a fitness test on his foot injury later in the week.
Veteran lock Victor Matfield is fit to take a seat on the bench after hamstring trouble, and will start should De Jager fail to complete his own recovery.
South Africa, England and Australia are the only three sides to inflict defeats on New Zealand since the 2011 World Cup.
Springboks boss Meyer admitted he has over-hyped his men in past confrontations with the All Blacks – and vowed not to repeat the error.
Psychologist Pieter Kruger will, therefore, spend the week keeping the South African squad level-headed.
“Where we’ve made mistakes in the past is that you just want to go long on defence, on attack, kick-off, the aerial game, everything,” said Meyer. “I’ve made mistakes as a coach in over-motivating the guys, because everyone wants to do something different against the All Blacks.
“But you’ve just go to keep doing what you do, the belief is there that we can beat any team on our day. It’s been a low-key week so far. The self-belief has been there from day one, so we just have to go there, don’t put too much emotion on it, just be very, very excited and go and play.
“If you do too much off-field then that’s where the players start to wonder.”