Our discipline is a massive focus for us
The Springboks are ready to fight fire with fire in the all-important breakdown battle in Saturday’s Rugby Championship decider against the All Blacks at Ellis Park.
The contest at the breakdown could be decisive when the world’s top two teams collide in the Johannesburg blockbuster.
The visitors are set to be bolstered by the return of their captain and the pre-eminent fetcher in world rugby, Richie McCaw, and with an in-form Sam Cane available as back-up, the defending champions seem to have the edge on paper.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, following his debut season at the helm last year, identified the need for improvement in this area of South Africa's game and roped in Scottish breakdown specialist Richie Gray to serve as a consultant for the 2013 season.
The Springboks have subsequently made notable strides in this facet of play and are confident that they’ll get the upper hand in this department come Saturday.
Francois Louw is the Springboks’ apex ball scavenger but the Bath openside flank is not South Africa’s sole strike weapon on the ground.
No.8 Duane Vermeulen has been a menace in tandem with Louw, while hookers Bismarck du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss are both known for their ability to act as a fourth loose forward.
Captain Jean de Villiers showed in the 28-8 win over the Wallabies at the weekend that the Springbok backs can also manage turnovers.
Forwards coach Johann van Graan on Tuesday said a change in approach was the main reason behind the Springboks’ improvement and said they know they’ll face the ultimate challenge this weekend.
"Both teams are very good at the breakdowns on attack and defence. After scrums, it is where the most penalties are conceded," said Van Graan.
"Any team in the world would like quick ball and, as we've shown this weekend, if we get quick ball we are a very dangerous team.
"We've made a change in mentality that all 23 players must be able to make the right decision at the breakdown.
"Even if you look at the weekend, when a guy like Gurthrö [Steenkamp] and Jean [De Villiers] start stealing ball that is where you want to be."
Van Graan was pleased with the Springboks’ performance in this regard in the 15-29 loss in Auckland last month but stressed that they’ll need to lift their game this weekend.
"Attack wise we had exactly 100 breakdowns on our ball and we managed to win 96 of those, so that is quite good but we want to aim for 100 percent," said Van Graan.
The previous encounter between the sides was marred by controversial calls from French referee Romain Poite, which saw the Springboks having to tough it out with 14 men for 50 minutes after Du Plessis was sin-binned in the first half and red carded early in the second half.
Nigel Owens, another Northern Hemisphere official, will be in charge of the clash of the Southern Hemisphere giants this weekend, but rather than focus on the referee, the Springboks - who also conceded two yellow cards in Cape Town last Saturday - are focused on their discipline.
"We had Nigel for two matches last year - in Perth against Australia and England at Twickenham - so we know what he is about. He is one of the world's best referees,” Van Graan.
“The message is always the same. We want to keep improving our discipline, we want to concede as little penalties as possible. In the last three Test matches we conceded less penalties than our opposition. There were some incidents in the previous two weeks, some were unfortunate and some we have to take a hard look at ourselves.
“The two yellow cards we conceded at Newlands cost us a lot of momentum. We can’t afford to lose a player just before half-time because those first 10 minutes after half-time are very important, and we know you can’t then get on the front foot.
“In the last 10 minutes of the game, it opens up. If you look at all of our results this year, we’ve won most second halves and we’ve scored tries in the last 10 minutes of games.
“In last weekend's game, we were without a player and only got him back for the last three minutes. Definitely our discipline is a massive focus for us, we want to be the most disciplined side in the world.
“When incidents happen on the field, we can only control what we can control. Discipline starts with ourselves.”