5 key areas that could determine the success or failure of the Boks’ 2015 campaign.

On Friday the Springboks depart for England on a mission to recapture the Webb Ellis Cup. The Boks came last in the Rugby Championship, an obvious suggestion that they are hardly the finished article, but Heyneke Meyer reckons the tough preparation against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina was priceless in terms of lessons learned about players and strategy, and that with a number of players returning from injury, the Boks will be an entirely different proposition in England. With that in mind MIKE GREENAWAY looks at five key areas that could determine the success or failure of the Boks’ 2015 campaign.


On paper, the Boks have a well-balanced squad, with highly experienced players in most positions, but a number of them have hardly played this year and Meyer will be using the four Pool games to “warm-up” the likes of Duane Vermeulen, Fourie du Preez, Jean de Villiers, Willem Alberts and Coenie Oosthuizen. The combative No 8 Vermuelen is crucial to the Bok forward effort, both on attack and defence and the plan is for him to play as much rugby as is prudent against Japan, Samoa, the USA and Scotland so that he can be back to his best in the quarter-finals.

The same goes for scrumhalf Du Preez. We know Meyer believes the 33-year-old is the general that can guide the Boks all the way but he has hardly played this year and is notoriously injury prone. Du Preez is undoubtedly world class and Meyer needs him to stay clear of the medical staff. His understudy, Ruan Pienaar, is dependable but not influential, and Rudy Paige is talented but inexperienced.


Meyer began the international season with the 21-year-old at 10 against the World XV and continued to start him in the three Rugby Championship matches, clearly showing his hand on the flyhalf debate. For the Durban Test against Argentina, Patrick Lambie was Meyer’s choice early in the week and the coach changed his mind as the pressure mounted on the Boks to end their losing streak. Pollard is a match-winner with his ability to take the ball to the line and ask questions of the toughest defences, but he is also prone to making basic errors. If he can mature at the World Cup and realise his potential while cutting down on mistakes, he could be one of the stars of the World Cup. Alternatively, he could find himself leapfrogged by the calm Lambie.


How does three go into two? We are talking about Damien de Allende, Jean de Villiers and Jesse Kriel. Meyer attempted to solve that at Kings Park by moving Kriel out to wing to accommodate the returning captain, and in the process created a political furore by denying a chance to local wing Lwazi Mvovo. De Villiers will start, no question, but he not only has to overcome yet another injury but also must quickly find the form that made him the SA Player of the year in 2013 and 2008. Meyer knows that De Allende and Kriel are an in-form pair but he must back his captain.


Meyer has learned the hard way that playing two fetchers might work in fast-paced games against Australian and New Zealand opposition in Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship but the tighter games of the World Cup play-offs and the heavier conditions of the Northern Hemisphere will demand a greater physical presence at the breakdowns. The Boks were heavily outmuscled in the collisions by the Pumas at Kings Park, with the South Americans playing the type of forward game the Boks can expect in England. The Boks had two unbeaten tours of the Northern Hemisphere when they had Vermeulen at 8 and Francois Louw and Alberts on the flanks. All three were injured in the Rugby Championship this year, but if they can stay fit and re-establish their chemistry, they could give the Boks the gain-line advantage so vital to the effectiveness of halfbacks Du Preez and Pollard.


The Boks have to settle on a game plan that will win them seven games on the trot in England and steer them to ultimate victory at Twickenham. Meyer has spent almost four years trying to close the gap on the All Blacks and has indeed developed the Boks’ attacking ability immeasurably. The coach has also been obsessed with improving the conditioning of his players, who he has repeatedly stated are behind the levels of the Kiwis. A month of heavy fitness work in Durban might well have achieved the latter objective but statistics for the least two season reveal that the Boks now kick the least of the four Rugby Championship teams – and this year that led them to the wooden spoon. Meyer has to settle on a game plan that is tactically astute but also allows for his backs to play the attacking game they have developed – should the opportunities arise after initial safety-first tactics.

by Mike Greenaway

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