Rebuilding the Bok brand
Wed, 14 Nov 2012 20:14
Within a year the guys moved from the front of the bus to the back
It may be a cliche, but it is also a home truth - Heyneke Meyer is in the process of rebuilding the Springbok brand.
While many so-called pundits have been frowning on Meyer repeated references to the 'lack of experience' in the Bok squad, nowhere is it more evident that ahead of this week's encounter with Scotland.
Two years ago South Africa could boast double the number of Test caps than one of Scotland's most seasoned outfits, which ironically beat them the Boks at a soggy Murrayfield.
At the same venue this coming Saturday it will be the Scots who have more experience.
The Springbok team has 416 Test caps in the starting XV – 150 of them amongst the forwards and 266 in the backline.
Scotland, in contrast, have 480 caps in their starting XV - 264 caps among their forwards, almost double that of the Bok pack, and 216 in the backline.
Meyer, who is determined to turn the Boks into a world-beating outfit by the 2015 World Cup in England, has had a hard time convincing the Doubting Thomas's that a lack of experience at Test level is an issue.
And it hasn't stopped the media from again raising the issue at a briefing ahead of South Africa's encounter with Scotland.
Meyer used a lighthearted moment within the squad this week to illustrated how the team structure had changed.
"When we got out the team bus yesterday, Hougie [Francois Hougaard] and Morné [Steyn] was sitting at the back - last year they were right in the front," the Bok mentor quipped about a tradition that the most experienced players sit in the back of the bus.
"Last year Jannie [du Plessis] was there, Bismark [du Plessis] and John [Smit] sat at the back. Also Victor [Matfield], Bakkies [Botha], Danie Rossouw, Juan [Smith], Schalk [Burger] and Fourie [du Preez] - I can go on.
"Within a year the guys moved from the front of the bus to the back."
The Bok pack have three players who are still in single digits, with prop Jannie du Plessis (40 Tests) the most experienced. (Compare that to 2011 - when the forwards had centurions in John Smit and Victor Matfield, two other players with over 50 caps, another with over 40 and a total of 450 Test caps in the pack alone).
This week the Scots have three forwards with more caps than Du Plessis and another on the same number.
However, Meyer knows that some of his single digit youngsters are not just gaining experience in the Test arena, they are also very fast learners.
"If you look at the team, a guy like Eben Etzebeth has played nine Tests," he said of one of his rookies.
"I knew this was going to be a transition year, more so than any other team," Meyer said, adding: "The great thing for me is suddenly these guys are starting to go into double figures.
"Another goal for me, keeping in mind you have short-term goals as well, is that the World Cup is in England [in 2015].
"You want these guys, 23-years-old, 24, with 40 caps - that is where you want to be.
"The next four years they will be superb.
"I am really happy with the amount of Test rugby they are playing and experience they are getting.
"If you take into consideration all the injuries, I think we are on the right track in that regard.
"Eben [Etzebeth] and Marcell [Coetzee] have been incredible in the way they have improved in just a year - suddenly they are almost up there with the most experienced players in the team.
"It can only get better next year."
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