5 Biggest Concerns for South Africa Coach Heyneke Meyer in Rugby Championship
South Africa escaped their doubleheader with two narrow margins of victory that has done little for the confidence of their fans back home as they embark on their visits to Australia and New Zealand.
Despite boasting nine wins from their last 10 games, Heyneke Meyer’s men sit atop the Rugby Championship table with more questions than answers springing from the robbery they committed in Salta to sneak off with a 33-31 win.
Here are Heyneke’s major headaches.
1. The Scrum
The Springboks lost four scrums against the head in Argentina, which will trouble their coaching staff greatly.
The Pumas are well known for their love of the set piece, but so are the South Africans, and they were a clear second-best in Salta in this area. The player most under the microscope is Jannie du Plessis, who got a lesson from Leicester stalwart Marcos Ayerza.
The perfect tonic is to face Australia, their next opponents, who were obliterated on more than one occasion in the engagement against New Zealand.
2. Settling on a Playmaker
Handre Pollard started at fly-half against Argentina and, frankly, struggled. He failed to produce his midfield runners with balls they could use to do some damage to the Pumas defence.
Meyer has a decision to make here about whether to bring back the more measured style of Morne Steyn or persist with the younger man.
Ashfak Mohamed of iol.co.za is in no doubt about what the coach should do:
Surely the Handre Pollard experiment has to stop now? In both Argentina Tests the Bulls wunderkind has looked lost, struggling to keep up with the pace of the game and unable to impose himself on the Bok play. Apart from his amazing touchline conversion in Salta, Morne Steyn once again showed that he can play close to the advantage line as a fly-half standing flat on attack as he brought great energy to the Bok effort with his decisive option-taking and distribution.
3. The Back-Row Combination
Juan Smith made his long-awaited comeback against Argentina but is by no means assured of his place if Willem Alberts wins his fitness battle.
There is no Schalk Burger to call upon, and Duane Vermeulen may struggle to keep up with the pace of the likes of Michael Hooper and Kieran Read when they face Australia and New Zealand.
Getting the blend right here could be the difference between being blown away and making it a tight contest against New Zealand when that away game comes around.
4. What to Do with Victor
Surely you don’t bring a man of Victor Matfield’s quality back into the fold at his age to sit him on the bench? Therein lies a conundrum for Heyneke Meyer.
One assumes Eben Etzebeth will start for the Boks, which means the man under threat from the presence of Matfield, back in the party after injury, is Lood de Jager.
The young man ripped up a few trees on the November tour of the Northern Hemisphere but was decidedly average against Argentina. Should Matfield take his place, or should a callow player be given the chance to play himself into consistency at this level?
Furthermore, what message does it send to up-and-coming players if the old stager is preferred, thus blocking their path?
5. Wallaby Trickery
One area of the Springbok game that worked well last weekend was the rolling maul.
The Pumas had little answer to the green machine once it got rolling. Australia, on the other hand, are well practised in the art of de–powering brutish forward packs through the use of acute angles and sharp practice.
Indeed, this week former skipper Nathan Sharpe has called on his countrymen to find a way to stop the South African maul, per Rugby365.com.
With other departments of the team not functioning particularly smoothly at present, Meyer will need his players to be alive to Australia’s attempt to disarm one of their key weapons.