The Springboks know what massive challenge lies ahead when they face the All Blacks in Dunedin on Saturday, and they worked hard in New Zealand this week to get back to winning ways after the disappointment of Perth last weekend.
Although they played well for an hour or so, the Boks were shattered after their loss against Australia, but didn’t have a lot of time to ponder the result as they left Perth a few hours after the Test on a direct flight to Auckland, where they did most of their preparation for the Dunedin Test.
As very cold temperatures and snowstorms hit the southern parts of New Zealand’s South Island, the Boks prepared in cool but dry-ish conditions in Auckland, at the very scenic Western Springs Stadium, home of the famous Ponsonby Rugby Club and on a field that has a speed racing track around it.
It was a low key week in Auckland for the Boks as many of the squad members came to terms with their first defeat of the season. For many of the younger members of the squad – Marcell Coetzee, Johan Goosen and Eben Etzebeth are still U21 – it was the start of the biggest week of their rugby careers, preparing to face the All Blacks.
Sadly Eben had to return to South Africa following a suspension and he was replaced by another U21 player in his WP team mate, promising prop Frans Malherbe, who was called up as the Boks’ two tightheads, Jannie du Plessis and Pat Cilliers, were both struggling with injuries.
Since South Africa’s readmission to international rugby in 1992, the Boks have won only three Tests in New Zealand and drawn once (from 21 Tests), illustrating the enormity of the task on Saturday.
Two of those wins (in 2008 and 2009) came with teams that were very experienced and having lost the core of those players (greats like John Smit, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Jaque Fourie, to name but a few), as well as a couple of very influential players that are currently out injured (Bismarck du Plessis, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Pierre Spies and JP Pietersen), has hit the Boks hard this year.
"Even with an experienced pack it is always a tough challenge against the All Blacks ... it is the ultimate challenge for any rugby player, especially a Springbok, to play New Zealand in New Zealand," Meyer said this week.
"We are excited about that. I know people are not giving us a chance, but I believe this team is growing. We will definitely have to step up on Saturday and it will be a huge challenge for our pack.
"I do have confidence in this pack ... with Flo (Francois Louw) and Flip [van der Merwe] in, it is a little bit more experienced there ... guys who can mix it up.
"It will be a tough battle up front, especially at scrum time, but you want to test yourself against the best in the world."
Having said all that, the Boks travelled to Dunedin on Thursday morning and were warmly greeted by a number of SA fans, a Scottish pipe band and singers of the SA National Anthem. Afterwards, they took some time off in the southern city to regain their focus as they look forward to Saturday. They will probably be written off by all and sundry, but they know anything is possible in rugby. And they will remember what happened in 2008 – if you have forgotten, just Google “Ricky January Carisbrook 2008”.
To check out our Facebook gallery of the Boks’ travel during The Castle Rugby Championship, click here.
Injury update: Springbok prop Jannie du Plessis came through the captain's run on Friday without any discomfort and looks good to play New Zealand on Saturday.