With just two and a half weeks to go until the First Test between South Africa and England in Durban, time is not on Heyneke Meyer’s side. Speaking to BBC 5Live last night, the new South Africa coach revealed how his side will have only four days to prepare for the first encounter between the two teams this summer, putting Meyer and his squad under enormous pressure.
“It’s a big concern because we have derbies between the South African sides in Super Rugby the weekend before, and there’s always injuries. We probably won’t start training until the Tuesday before the Durban test, so there’s really no time at all to prepare.”
Given the lack of time with his squad, Meyer will be looking to keep things relatively simple in the first week, sticking to the players that he knows and attempting to get across his message. “I’m not going to have an awful lot of time with the South Africa side so we’ll play to our strengths and what I believe in. It’s important for us to have a winning start but at the start it’s going to be pretty basic and then about working our way up from there.”
The good work in a similar short amount of time by Stuart Lancaster has not gone unnoticed by Meyer either. “I’ve got a lot of respect for England and I was impressed with the way they fought back. I think Stuart’s done a great job and done the right thing. He was in a situation with the older players where he really didn’t have a choice. For me, the South African public are used to winning and they want a coach who is winning straight form the start. A lot of our senior players have either retired or moved on so it’s forced my hand slightly in terms of selection for a younger team, much in the same way Stuart has done.”
Regarding the makeup of his squad, according to leading South African journalist Mark Keohane there will be 30 players called up for the June tests, in a group that could include the returning Francois Steyn and also Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar. Whilst Meyer was happy to rule out the return of retired former captain Victor Matfield, he insisted that anyone who was available, particularly more experienced players, would be considered for selection.
“I’m looking to every single player, which did include Victor but he won’t be back. Even though they have a young side England have just bonded in a Six Nations so they’ll have a slight edge. We’ve been in contact with Fourie Du Preez and we’re not ruling him out. We have a lot of youngsters coming through but they need experience of international rugby.”
One of England’s young stars on tour will be Leicester hooker Tom Youngs, whose conversion from centre to the front row was actually instigated by Meyer during his stint as Director of Rugby at Leicester Tigers. “People thought I was a crazy South African suggesting it at the time but I’m so happy for him. That’s the beauty of rugby because now I’m facing him as an opponent and it’s taken him a lot of guts for him to develop into his new position.”
With time against him and his squad, Meyer’s concern is understandably on the next game, rather than worrying about how the overall series will pan out. “I’m not stupid enough to think about winning the series 3-0 or 2-1 – it’s about going game by game, because every Test will be different.”
by Ben Coles