Springboks must lift game against England
South Africa will be better prepared and have an altitude advantage when they seek a series-clinching second Test win over England at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Super Rugby commitments meant new Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer had only six days with his squad before the first game last weekend, which the green and gold won 22-17 in Indian Ocean city Durban.
After playing in familiar sea-level conditions, England must adjust to the 1800-metre venue where South Africa won the World Cup for the first time in front of Nelson Mandela 17 years ago.
The lack of time together showed as South Africa improved on a poor first half performance to score two tries and then keep England at bay when the tourists belatedly exhibited some adventure.
“This team is not even five per cent toward where I want them to be,” was the blunt assessment of Meyer this week as Johannesburg experienced a typical winter weather combination of cool, sunny days and cold nights.
“You can see the squad is much more relaxed this week and the training sessions have been sharper. However, we have to lift our intensity because England will improve from the first Test.”
A Super 14 and Currie Cup winner with Northern Bulls, Meyer advocates continuity and the only change from the Durban starting line-up was enforced with Patrick Lambie replacing injured Zane Kirchner at fullback.
Lambie came on at halftime in Durban and Meyer praised his performance while admitting there was room for improvement in the tactical kicking of the exciting 21-year-old Coastal Shark.
“Patrick is a good kicker, but I want him to do better and he is working hard on the issue. However, we are not losing much when it comes to tactical kicking with this change,” stressed Meyer.
The coach who has signed a four-year contract up to the 2015 World Cup in England said he knew the opposition better now, but the emphasis was on improving his own side.
“We have set high standards for ourselves and while training has gone better and the players are more relaxed, the thing that matters is what happens on the field this Saturday.”
There are also natural expectations that ace goal-kicker Morne Steyn will be back to his best after a rare off-day at Kings Park, where he succeeded with only four of seven shots at goal.
England coach Stuart Lancaster, another post-World Cup appointment when Martin Johnson quit following a limp last-eight exit to France, has laid the blame for the first Test loss among his backs.
Injuries ruled out fullback Mike Brown and inside centre Brad Barritt and only two players — right wing Chris Ashton and scrum-half Ben Youngs — stay where they started at Kings Park.
© AFP 2013
South Africa: Patrick Lambie; JP Pietersen, Jean de Villiers (capt), Francois Steyn, Bryan Habana; Morne Steyn, Francois Hougaard; Pierre Spies, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee; Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth; Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Werner Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Keegan Daniel, Ruan Pienaar, Bjorn Basson, Wynand Olivier
England: Ben Foden; Chris Ashton, Jonathan Joseph, Manu Tuilagi, David Strettle; Toby Flood, Ben Youngs; Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw (capt), Tom Johnson; Geoff Parling Mouritz Botha; Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler
Replacements: Lee Mears, Alex Corbisiero, Tom Palmer, Phil Dowson, Lee Dickson, Owen Farrell, Alex Goode