Is it now or never for the Boks on Saturday ?

It is premature to say that is getting to a “now or never” stage for Heyneke Meyer’s Springboks in terms of establishing momentum that will give the South Africa a solid chance of winning the Rugby World Cup, but that scenario is not far off and Meyer would be the first to admit that a first-ever defeat tomorrow to Argentina at Kings Park would be an unmitigated disaster.

When the Boks first gathered ahead of the warm-up match against the World XV a month ago, the goal was set that they would win 11 consecutive Test matches, and that would mean glory in a World Cup final at Twickenham.

That is easier said than done, the Boks are discovering, and they have had to reset their sights, and the coaching staff have had to tweak their plans of how they were going to give 40 players a fair shot at stating their World Cup case.

It is reflected in Meyer’s selection for a Test tomorrow that has now assumed absolute “must-win” status. He admits he has picked his strongest possible team and pre-planned experimentation has been sacrificed on the altar of the necessity to win. Three consecutive defeats (which would be five losses from seven games going back to last year’s November tour) simply will not do, and Meyer knows it better than anybody.

There is also the fact that Argentina and have never beaten the Boks in 19 attempts (18 losses and one draw), and if they broke their drought tomorrow, away from home, it would be a miracle injection for them before the World Cup as much as it would be mean Doctor Roberts having to dispense Prozac to the entire depressed Bok squad.

“This is South Africa and you have to win home Test matches, it is as simple as that,” Meyer conceded. “If this was not South Africa, I could have made many changes for this match but the reality is that this Test has to be won, and that is why I went for continuity as far as possible in selection.

“Ideally, it would have been great to have a series of friendlies before the World Cup but we have the Rugby Championship and it is a competition that gives you a reality check, so the positive is that we know where we stand against top World Cup contenders such as Australia and New Zealand, both of whom beat us with superior fitness and tactics in the final quarters of our matches against them.”

It is why Meyer keeps beating the “fitness” drum, and it is why the Boks are going to be drilled into the turf of the “People’s Park” at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, inbetween two matches against the Pumas during their five-week camp in Durban.

Heck, their accommodating luxury hotel in Umhlanga Rocks has – out of patriotism not to mention satisfaction at the extended patronage of their well-heeled guests – built a gym for the exclusive use of the Boks, with the exercise bikes looking out over the Indian Ocean and just metres from the beach sand.

The mild Durban winter is most likely the reason for the prolonged camp in KZN, but at a time when the Boks will accept any solace offered them, it has been noted by Meyer that Kings Park is where it all started for him at this level, and he has never lost a Test in Durban.

Meyer’s first Test match, with Jean de Villiers his new captain, was the June 2012 victory over England, which also marked the debuts of Marcell Coetzee and Eben Etzebeth, two of the protagonists in the Bok pack tomorrow. And boy does the coach need another win at his happy hunting ground.

“It really is a balancing act in that there is a World Cup in the background, and you have to grow your depth for England, but you also have to start winning because that is the best tonic and motivation you can get in sport,” Meyer said wryly.

“Yes I could have given Pat Lambie a start (at either 10 or 15), for instance, and there are a number of other cases, but then as a coach you are constantly reminded that you have to win, and then you see that Polly (Handre Pollard) is coming into good form, Ruan Pienaar is playing well and you don’t have the option of bringing back Fourie du Preez (once more injured), Damian (de Allende) is playing brilliant rugby and Willie Le Roux is getting back to his best after a quiet Super Rugby competition, while Jesse Kriel does not deserve to be dropped, so you opt to keep them altogether so that they can continue to grow their form and give you the best chance of winning a Test that the public demands be won.”

Springboks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Jean de Villiers (capt), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.

Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.

Argentina: TBA

by Mike Greenaway

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