It’s all about game management
The Springboks plan to employ a smarter, forwards-driven approach in their second end-of-year international against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.
South Africa got their tour off to a winning start with a 16-12 come-from-behind win over Ireland in Dublin last Saturday, and Springbok assistant coach Johann van Graan admitted it was a learning curve for the new squad.
Van Graan, along with scrum consultant Pieter de Villiers, faced a media scrum in Edinburgh on Tuesday where the duo assessed the pack’s performance against the Irish and highlighted areas in which they will look to improve against the Scots.
Van Graan said that the Test against Ireland had given the Springbok camp a greater understanding of northern hemisphere teams’ defending of the driving maul and adapting accordingly.
“The maul and the sacking of the maul is a big part of the game in the northern hemisphere, as it is in our game back home, and you have to respect your opponents,” said Van Graan.
“The driving maul is something that needs to be used cleverly. In other words, it needs to be deployed at the right times, and from the right areas of the field.
“The northern hemisphere teams do stop the maul very well. It’s all about game management, and on Saturday it was Jean [De Villiers] and Juandre [Kruger] that were making those calls.
“It is about adapting to the referee, but after half-time Duane [Vermeulen] and Juandre worked particularly hard at keeping the base up.
“Once your base is up it is really hard for the opposition to sack you effectively. It’s all about synergy and working together as a unit, each player knowing and understanding his role.”
Van Graan said Scotland are a better team than the scoreline of last Sunday’s Test against the All Blacks has led many to believe and expected the hosts to test the Springboks at the set-piece and with ball in hand.
“They’ve shown that once they get into the 22, it doesn’t matter how good the defence is, they can keep the ball. They did that quite well [against the All Blacks].
“They’ve also got some big runners in the backline and their mauling and line-out is one of their big strengths. We’ll have to be clever in countering that,’ he noted.
Van Graan also touched on their decision to kick-off deep, a curious tactic with many teams preferring to contest the restarts.
“It was our plan to kick-off deep,” he confirmed.
“It’s very difficult to play out of your 22 when you receive a kick-off that deep, and the result we got from that was line-outs in the green zone and we were immediately on the attack again.
“Pat stuck to the plan and he did it quite well.”
Van Graan hinted that Toulouse-based Gurthro Steenkamp will replace Tendai Mtawarira at loosehead - after the Sharks prop returned to South Africa following a recurrence of mild heart palpitations - and said Jannie du Plessis is expected to recover from his ankle injury to retain the tighthead berth.
De Villiers, a former French international, said coach Heyneke Meyer’s decision to draft European-based players like Steenkamp into the squad for the November Tests was a wise move.
“He [Meyer] wants to select players who are in form first and foremost, and that has been the case with Gurthro [Steenkamp. and Heinke [van der Merwe],” said De Villiers.
“They bring a certain maturity and balance from having been exposed to a different style and different conditions, which adds something new and valuable to the team.
“Players have matured very well. We’ve had settled combinations in the front row and the experience we’ve got there has helped a lot to set a base for us.
“We’ve got a lot of young players in the team, and they’ve been introduced with a lot of experience around them, which has been good.
“Some of the front rankers have played some rugby in Europe, which is always a very different set-up. This has benefited our youngsters as well.”
De Villiers added that the weekend’s clash will be another educational encounter for the development Springbok pack.
“We want to build on our strengths. We’re in Europe with a lot of young players who’ve never played here before.
“That’s a good learning curve for them. On Saturday they’ll again be up against a very specific European game style and technique and that will be our focus."