The Loftus factor will be huge
The embattled Springboks could not have hoped for a more fitting homecoming venue for Saturday’s clash with the Wallabies than Loftus Versfeld.
The headquarters of Bulls rugby was where Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer established himself as an immaculate mentor and turned a struggling union into a provincial powerhouse.
A triumphant Vodacom Cup campaign in 2000 was followed by four Currie Cup titles between 2002 and 2006 and, in 2007, Meyer’s Bulls famously became the first South African team to win the Super Rugby title.
Unsurprisingly, the Bok boss surrounded himself with the lieutenants who served him so well at the Bulls when he announced his management team, appointing Johann van Graan (forwards), Ricardo Loubscher (backs) and John McFarland (defence) as his assistant coaches and Basil Carzis and Ian Schwartz as fitness coach and team manager respectively.
It is a Bok brass rooted in Bulls rugby with an emotional connection to fortress Loftus. They know the venue and the conditions inside out and it is the one venue where Meyer and his charges will be confident of beating any team on any given Saturday.
The Pretoria cauldron is also home to six members of the 30-man squad named at the weekend, including flyhalf Morne Steyn. The misfiring pivot has been caught in a downward spiral this season and with young playmakers like Johan Goosen and Elton Jantjies breathing down his neck, he is due a match-winning performance to vindicate his continued selection.
One way or the other, Saturday’s Test will be a defining moment in Steyn’s career. Another mediocre showing at Loftus, especially in the goal-kicking department, should be his last in green and gold this season.
However, despite Meyer’s admission that his first-choice number 10 is in desperate need of a break, his lack of faith in his back-up flyhalves will demand that Steyn boards the plane for the end-of-year tour of Europe due to his invaluable experience.
For the time being, though, all focus is on Loftus and snapping a five-match losing streak to the Wallabies, who are coming off a fortuitous 23-19 win over the Pumas. The Boks, in turn, haven’t tasted victory since their opening round win over Argentina last month.
The Loftus factor will be huge, but home ground advantage and the Boks’ old auxiliary altitude alone won’t get Meyer’s men over the line. It will be up to the players themselves to emerge from their slump and produce a performance worthy of the green and gold jersey.
By Quintin van Jaarsveld