The Rugby Championship Preview: South Africa
Nickname: The Springboks
Coach: Heyneke Meyer
Ground: Ellis Park (Main Ground)
South Africa like New Zealand are entering a transitional stage under new management. However unlike the All Blacks, everything is not going quite as smoothly as they would like. In their last competitive fixture they drew to England and were for large periods outplayed by their opponents. During the summer tests, the Boks were also heavily criticised for a lack of an ability to play well for a full 80 minutes. Having a good half in each of the first two internationals against England was just about enough to win the series but, in many facets England came out of their tour in a better state than the Boks.
But, a series win is a series win and that will have given Meyer an enormous boost of confidence going into this Rugby Championship. They have a formidable front three, with Bismark Du Plessis the best hooker in world rugby and with Marcell Coetzee and Willem Alberts a man mountain, a pretty strong pack all round.
As mentioned before their pack is awesome, they can call upon a vast amount of power and seem to have the precision that other teams lack. They also seem to have phenomenal squad depth, especially in the back row with Potgieter and Daniel not even guaranteed squad places.
They also have two incredibly accurate and long boots to choose from in the midfield with Morne and Francois Steyn. Any opposition will have to be careful not to give silly penalties away, as these two can easily take a game away from you with 3 pointers.
The Boks are without quite a few talented individuals for one reason or another. The amazing talent of Fourie du Preez, perhaps the best scrum half in the world, is currently playing in Japan along with Ryan Kankowski another hugely talented back row forward means they are both unavailable for selection.
They have also been hit with a raft of international retirement since the World Cup. John Smit, Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield all hung up their international boots, and the Springboks line-out was bound to suffer – it did not look its imperious best when they played England in the summer.
Most worryingly however, is the number of players absent through injury. South Africa are missing the following big names: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Pierre Spies, JP Pietersen, Bjorn Basson, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Heinrich Brüssow, Bandise Maku and Coenie Oosthuizen. All of these players are of the utmost quality and this is bound to have an effect on the type of rugby the Boks can produce.
Willem Alberts is an absolute beast of a man and will continually line break in attack and produce thunderous hits in defence. Also keep an eye out for Patrick Lambie, equally adept at full-back and fly-half this young South African and Natal Shark is definitely one for the future.
3rd. Close to second but with that many injuries to key figures and the poor form of Morne Steyn entering the tournament, second is probably a bit too much for this young, depleted squad.