Conditions may force Boks to revert to type

Temperatures in Johannesburg are expected to reach 26 degrees this week.

Humidity is as high as 83%. Little wonder, then, that the weather was uppermost in the minds of the Springboks as they acclimatised to the wet and cold of Dublin yesterday.

Wind and rain has never had much of an impact on a game-plan predicated on the virtues of grunt and grind, but this isn’t quite the same South Africa that has made the northwards trek time and again in recent years.

Heyneke Meyer’s team has won plaudits after adopting a more off-the-cuff approach to the game that flies in the face of the nation’s reputation for destructive but dull rugby.

“It’s always been our ambition to play in that style,” said Meyer’s backs coach Ricardo Loubscher at the team base in Stillorgan yesterday morning.

“If you go back to the championship, we played a few games in the wet and it was difficult to play that style. But in the last few games, in great conditions, we were quite happy with our performance.”

Tries have been sourced from deep in their own half, even against the All Blacks, but there is clearly an expectation among the travelling media that the Boks will revert somewhat to type and embrace old, less aesthetic, habits in Europe.

“The conditions will play a big part,” Loubscher accepted. “A key focus point is definitely our game management. We spoke about that and hopefully on Saturday against Ireland we can get it right.”

The weather aside, their greatest concern right now is at scrum-half what with Fourie Du Preez left at home due to injury and Ruan Pienaar highly unlikely to feature this week despite a run-out yesterday.

Pienaar’s absence, as he continues to rehab from a medial knee ligament injury picked up on Boks duty back in September, would be a major blow given his kicking abilities and tactical acumen are tailor-made for conditions in these parts.

That said, Loubscher was quick to add the reminder that the other two contenders for the nine jersey — Francois Hougaard and Cobus Reinach — had played their parts in the recent Rugby Championship without losing their footing.

There is also the added consideration that this tour is the last opportunity Loubscher and Meyer will have to run the rule over their players in the northern hemisphere environment before they return to these parts in a year’s time for the World Cup.

And then there is Handre Pollard.

Still just 20 years of age, Pollard has been pegged as the future of South African rugby thanks to an ability — and a willingness — to think outside the box that has been pivotal in allowing Meyer’s South Africa toshed the straitjackets of old.

Pollard has also experienced less than clement conditions, not just in his appearances in the recent Rugby Championship, but in New Zealand last June where he captained the Baby Boks to the Junior World Cup final.

“If you go back to when he started, he had to get used to the conditions, get used to playing at this level,” said Loubscher. “Handre is a guy with a different skill set. He’s a threat with the ball in hand. He has a great kicking game. He has great vision. That’s exactly what I want from a coaching point of view.”

With Morne Steyn and Patrick Lambie also in the touring party, South Africa find themselves spoilt for choice at out-half, unlike this time two years ago when they were in the midst of a crisis due to a lack of tens.

In fact, the issues at scrum-half apart, the tourists find themselves with a clean bill of health and the party touched down in Dublin last weekend on the back of a two-week training camp and with their players having been excused Currie Cup duties.

They look ominous.


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