Former Springbok greats Frik du Preez and Carel du Plessis admit they have concerns after the current team lost to Argentina for the first time ever, but both say one result does not mean that South Africa suddenly have no chance at the World Cup.
The Springboks went down 37-25 to Argentina last weekend in Durban and tonight’s re-match in Buenos Aires is not only a chance to redeem themselves after one of the lowest points in the team’s history but also their last official Test before the World Cup starts on September 18.
“We’re all disappointed by the game against Argentina but let’s be honest, against Australia they played very well and they improved by 60% the next weekend against New Zealand but just lost again. It’s been the first time a Springbok rugby team has been allowed to run the ball from everywhere and they need to get used to this new pattern of play, they’ve never played this type of rugby before. Of course there are going to be mistakes because it is high-risk,” Du Preez, South Africa’s Rugby Player of the 20th Century, told The Citizen on Friday.
Du Plessis, whose 12 Tests in the 1980s were enough to earn him the nickname ‘Prince of Wings’ and who also coached the Springboks in 1997, agreed with Du Preez.
“I don’t think you can go on just one bad performance, they played well against New Zealand and Australia, but there are obviously some concerns around systemic things like selection and playing guys in different positions. I’m also concerned that we might be overly leaning towards experience, because their performance might not be up to the required intensity,” Du Plessis said.
But Du Plessis’ captain in 1997, Gary Teichmann, said he now worried that the Springboks had lost their way just before the World Cup.
“I thought we were on the right track after we were in position to win the matches against the Wallabies and All Blacks but for a couple of lapses in concentration, but it’s pretty obvious after last Saturday that we’re not. The loss to Argentina threw a big spanner in the works, we just didn’t arrive for the game. That has definitely set us back and I’m worried that we’ll go back to the kick-chase game which won’t win us the World Cup,” Teichmann said.
Du Preez said the Springboks still have the players to win the World Cup for the third time.
“Argentina have done us a great favour because now we’re not one of the favourites for the World Cup, but I still believe we have an outside chance. We have got the guys to surprise everyone, but we have brilliant players who are injured. They’ve been out for months and we don’t know if they can all of a sudden perform. The problems are up front because we have a beautiful backline,” Du Preez said.
Teichmann agreed that the personnel is there, but coach Heyneke Meyer has to keep his nerve.
“We’ve certainly got the players but Heyneke tends to go back to what he knows. We had previously played a good brand of rugby, but then when we didn’t win, Meyer went across to the UK and changed it. When the pressure mounts, he tends to go back to the different style of more kick-chase and less ball-in-hand, which is a concern,” Teichmann said.
Du Plessis said Meyer had really managed the players well up till now and he needed to ensure there were settled combinations at the World Cup.
“He needs to try and settle the team and bed the combinations down as quickly as possible, which is going to be a challenge. His decisions may be unpopular, but he needs to make them earlier rather than later to allow the team to settle down. The leadership also still needs to be determined … ” Du Plessis said.
“People may look at things differently, but now is not the time to make changes. Heyneke’s obviously going to stick to what he believes in and the style of play that has been successful before, trusting his players to deliver is going to give them their best shot.”
Du Plessis said that, in terms of transformation, Meyer had to have given potential black players enough time by now in the team environment for them to be settled and confident at international level.
“There are some good players who should have had a run, but Heyneke has to believe that they will improve his team and it’s a bit late now!”