Wounded Springboks plot fresh plan for ABs
The Springboks are operating behind a smokescreen of outrageous flattery for the All Blacks as they plot a plan for Saturday night's test in Dunedin.
New Boks coach Heyneke Meyer was gushing with superlatives for the All Blacks on his first trip to New Zealand.
But he flatters to deceive and the old adage that there's nothing more dangerous than a wounded Springboks side stays true.
Behind the praise for his opponents lay a frown or two for his own problems. They deepened last night when young lock Eben Eztebeth was banned for two weeks by the Sanzar judiciary after being found guilty of head butting Australian lock Nathan Sharpe in the loss to the Wallabies in Perth last weekend, a result that has mounted pressure on Meyer following the previous sloppy draw with Argentina.
Eztebeth's enforced absence comes on top of worrying injuries to tighthead props Jannie du Plessis (hamstring) and Pat Cilliers (elbow).
Suddenly the engine room - the heart of any Boks team - is looking low on power.
There was talk of hard man Bakkies Botha being called in to cover the loss of Eztebeth and the management were needing to make a call on a replacement prop given the time frame of flying replacements in.
Meyer's said today they wouldn't appeal the Eztebeth decision but was still mulling over the ramifications. He admitted he had been in contact with Botha, the 76-test veteran whose last test was at last year's World Cup. He has been playing for Toulon in France.
"Losing Eben is a big setback in a very important week of our preparation, but I have the utmost confidence in the players that are in New Zealand with us. We will only make a decision on a possible replacement later in the week.
"It will be a big loss. I have a lot of respect for Flip (Van der Merwe) but I really believe that Eben, as a 20-year-old, is playing superb rugby. He was awesome last weekend and he will be one of the greats going forward.
"It will be a huge setback because we have some sort of continuity in our tight five now and he has done well with Juandre (Kruger). I believe that Eben has improved in every single test he has played and, even though he is a youngster, he is a huge physical presence."
Meyer's praise for his rookie second rower despite his dubious deed, paled in contrast to his admiration for the All Blacks.
"The great thing about the All Blacks at this stage is they have a lot of depth, a lot of experience as well. When they bring youngsters in they play them around experienced guys. They have a very experienced captain who leads from the front. They are an unbelievable team," Meyer said.
"What makes them a quality team is that in days when they don't get it 100 per cent right they still win games."
Meyer said that was the hallmark of a good side and he didn't buy into the criticism being levelled at the All Blacks after their scratchy win over the Pumas.
"They can play any sort of game. They know how to lift, even under pressure. You could see in that last game that when they needed to they came through with two tries in the last 10 minutes and made it look so easy.
"Even if they don't play particularly well in their own eyes, they are still good enough to put 20 points on any team in the world.
"They don't panic, they stick to the basics and stick to their game plan. It's more about getting the basics right, getting their gamebreakers into space and if they get the opportunity to finish they make it look so simple.
"That's why they are the world champs. They have been together for a long time, there's a lot of continuity and they know how to finish any opportunity they get.
"They are a very difficult team to play against. They are almost unbeatable at some stages. That's our challenge."