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Wed Apr 23 21:35:46 SAST 2014

Moment of truth for Meyer and his men

LIAM DEL CARMEin Dunedin | 14 September, 2012 06:120 Comments
Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn and teammates warm up during training at Western Springs stadium in Auckland this week ahead of tomorrow's game against the All Blacks

IT IS likely to be the most searching examination of Heyneke Meyer's game plan and personnel.

Facing the All Blacks anywhere is a daunting prospect, but playing them this far south requires more than tactical nous and iron will. When the odds are long, insists Meyer from previous Bok experience here, luck can be an irresistible course alterer.

Whether they make their own luck remains to be seen, but the Springbok coach has had six tests in which to prepare his side for this moment of truth. He has had to face questions about his game plan and some of his personnel, and it is fair to suggest the All Blacks provide the game's most indisputable litmus test on both matters.

Meyer knows this and, although there are largely measured expectations of what his team is capable of against the world champions, the coach has to present a brave face.

"Being the Springbok coach, the pressure is always on. I am used to it in my career. I have always been written off and my teams have always been written off. So, for me, it's all the same.

"But the team usually play better, especially if they are inexperienced and when people write them off. We haven't had a good record in New Zealand with great, experienced teams, so it can be a win-win for us," he said.

"I have a lot of respect for the All Blacks, but if you don't believe that you have a chance to win, then you will never win. You need some sort of luck and need to play well. I still believe we can win this game."

If the Springboks fell short of expectations last week, the All Blacks, too, have reason to look inward. They were off their clinical and ruthless best as a gutsy Argentina and atrocious conditions in Wellington conspired against them.

They, too, will be searching for improvement, much in the way they did after the second test against Ireland earlier this season. Coach Steve Hansen then likened the experience to washing windows without getting into the corners. They then thoroughly cleaned up.

For this challenge, the Boks need to heed Meyer's call for them to front up and display mental toughness, but how they respond might be compromised before kick-off.

His experience and the position he occupies dictate that tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis delivers a performance of outsized proportions. The hamstring injury he sustained against the Wallabies has, however, made him a potential late withdrawal, which, if it comes to pass, will be devastating.

The Springboks cannot afford further defections to injury. As it is the All Blacks boast seven players in their match-day 22 with 50 caps or more. The Boks have only Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers and Ruan Pienaar.

All three will recall the peaks the Springboks scaled here in 2008, but this match presents a challenge that will either embolden Meyer's beliefs or rock him to his core.

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Moment of truth for Meyer and his men

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Wed Apr 23 21:35:47 SAST 2014 ::