Although the Springboks trounced Italy convincingly, Scotland has traditionally not been an easy opponent to destroy. Heyneke Meyer’s reluctance to add to the 852 players in the index of South Africa’s capped internationals for Saturday’s Test against a depleted Scottish side has many people baffled, but the Springbok coach perhaps let slip his motivation with a throwaway line during the team announcement.
“Our past results against Scotland are nothing to be proud of,” he said in midweek.
He obviously meant results in the recent past because Meyer would have grown up hearing stories of how the Springboks set the world record score against Scotland in Edinburgh in 1951 when they walloped them 44-0. Tries were only worth three points back then, so South Africa’s tally of nine, plus seven conversions from Okey Geffin and a drop goal from Hannes Brewis would have been equivalent to a 62-0 drubbing in today’s terms.
But since 2002, the Springboks have struggled to really put the Scots away. They lost 21-6 that year in Edinburgh and again 21-17 in 2010, but even their victories, with a couple of exceptions, have not been by much – 29-25 (Durban, 2003); 28-19 (Johannesburg, 2003); 45-10 (Edinburgh 2004); 36-16 (Durban, 2006); 29-15 (Port Elizabeth, 2006); 27-3 (Edinburgh, 2007); 14-10 (Edinburgh, 2008) and 21-10 (Edinburgh 2012).
So Meyer is clearly hoping for something more along the lines of 62-0 as he calls into service the bulk of the team that put Italy away in impressive fashion last weekend.
With South Africa set to play Scotland in a potential pool decider in their own conditions in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Meyer will also be keen on scoring some psychological points through a big victory.
With another week of training together hopefully providing even more continuity, and those first Test nerves a thing of the past for a handful of players, Meyer is confident that the Springboks will build on their King’s Park performance when they play the first Test to be hosted by the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.
And the home side certainly has numerous weapons with which to really hurt the Scots.
Bryan Habana won the Man of the Match award for his dazzling display of pacy counter-attacking and new Scotland flyhalf Ruaridh Jackson and debutant fullback Peter Murchie are warned that aimless kicking will be punished.
Saturday also provides another opportunity for Willie le Roux and JJ Engelbrecht to shine, while if left wing Bjorn Basson continues to look for work, he could well add to his maiden Test try last weekend.
Scotland suffered a terrible injury toll after their loss to the physical Samoans. Coach Scott Johnson said he was “hard-pressed to remember so many injuries from the one Test match” – and unfortunately for them they can expect more of the same from the Springboks.
The loose trio of Pierre Spies, Arno Botha and Marcell Coetzee are renowned for their physicality, as is lock Eben Etzebeth, while Meyer can turn to the likes of Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe and, of course, Bismarck du Plessis, for even more punching power off the bench.
The ferocious Du Plessis is likely to only be on the field for a short period, but Scotland could well learn the meaning of vasbyt in that time.
“I’ve never been out this long before, I’ve missed six Sharks games in eight years before the knee operation, so frustration doesn’t even come close to describing the feeling. Even if you miss one game, you can never get it back again and even if I just get one minute on Saturday, I’m going to try and fit 80 minutes of rugby into it,” Du Plessis vowed this week.
Siya Kolisi, who at 1.86m is shorter than the loose forwards Meyer usually favours, is another who should get a stint off the bench and the debutant will want to make his presence count at the breakdowns.
Meyer has identified the breakdowns as one of the key areas he is looking to improve in the second year of his term and, with Francois Louw the first-choice open-side flank, Kolisi will want to make the most of his chance while the Bath man is away getting married this weekend.
The scrums are another area where the Springboks can improve, but in the unlikely event of Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira struggling, Meyer does have the insurance of in-form Cheetahs props Oosthuizen and Trevor Nyakane on the bench.
Scotland will have an experienced tighthead in British Lions tourist Euan Murray to test the Springbok scrum, but the visitors will be hard-pressed to match the lineout skills of the hosts.
The fact that an already depleted Scotland team have now been battered and bruised to such an extent that coach Johnson had to make seven more changes, does not inspire much confidence that they can upset a Springbok team that has their coach calling for blood.
“We still have to put in the hard work against Scotland. It’s like SuperRugby, any team can beat you on their day. We played some great rugby last weekend, but we’re still far from our best. We still need to improve and for us it’s about putting in 100%, 100% of the time,” Meyer said.
For the Springboks to slacken now would totally expose their coach’s about-turn on using this quadrangular series to try a bunch of players.
With a Nelspruit crowd eager to see the Springboks in action for the first time in their city, we can surely expect the Springboks to improve further on their start to the season in Durban by putting Scotland to the sword.
South Africa – Willie le Roux; Bryan Habana, JJ Engelbrecht, Jean de Villiers, Bjorn Basson; Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar; Pierre Spies, Arno Botha, Marcell Coetzee; Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth; Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Siya Kolisi, Piet van Zyl, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein.
Scotland – Peter Murchie; Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar, Matt Scott, Sean Lamont; Ruaridh Jackson, Greig Laidlaw; Johnnie Beattie, Ryan Wilson, Alasdair Strokosch; Jim Hamilton, Tim Swinson; Euan Murray, Scott Lawson, Alasdair Dickinson. Replacements: Steven Lawrie, Jon Welsh, Moray Low, Alastair Kellock, David Denton, Henry Pyrgos, Peter Horne, Duncan Taylor.