Boks look to grass for RWC edge

Date published: June 4 2015

They say the devil is in the details. Ahead of a World Cup were the smallest margins could make a huge difference, the Springboks are leaving nothing to chance.

What does an international coach do outside of Test windows? Work on his golf swing? Maybe coach a Super Rugby side? Perhaps watch a lot of highlights on TV?

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has been a busy man since his team last played back in November as he prepares for the big showdown in England later this year.

While fans debate over team selection, the Bok staff have taken a page out of the Clive Woodward manual and are preparing for every contingency, from changes in weather to the length of grass on the surfaces they compete and train on. 

Meyer has personally visited every facility and stadium that will host his team and has changes his original plans accordingly. 

"I thought it was going to be slow, sluggish surfaces but most of the surfaces are soccer stadiums so it is short grass, very hard," said Meyer.

"I think it's going to be a much quicker game than we thought and we want to try and replicate everything we have seen," he explained as he spoke at Cape Town's 2010 World Cup football stadium during his team's latest training camp. 

"We have looked at every trend that has won a World Cup so we know exactly what it is going to take. 

"We have studied every single weather pattern for the last 20 years so we will know what to face.

"We've been at the hotels, at the fields. I have guys investigating the fields now again, (breakdown skills coach) Richie Gray is there looking at conditions at the exact times that we are going to play."

"We have been to the training venue to see exactly where the media will be, how do we close it up. I have been to every single hotel, I have almost slept in every single bed."

Of course being prepared off the field will help little if you don't have the correct personnel on the pitch and Meyer has spread his net wide, calling up two squads of 44 players each for training camps and visiting all of South Africa's top players based overseas and talking to their coaches.

He stressed the importance of keeping fringe players motivated, as they may play a crucial role later down the line. 

"You go to the tournament with 31 players, but there are always going to be injuries," said the Bok mentor.

"New Zealand won in 2011, but their fourth fly-half won the game for them. You have to have three or four players in each position if you want to be successful.

"You get a feeling working with the guys in camp. We do a lot of one-on-ones, I speak to every single guy and tell him where he stands, as well as where he needs to improve.

"I want depth and for the guys to know there's a lot of competition. Giving a guy an idea of where he stands also lends the player more focus."

"A fringe player must be able to play more than one position," added Meyer. 

"You can only call for a replacement in the World Cup squad if there is a long-term injury…so you need fringe players with versatility. I will give guys a chance right until the moment when the World Cup squad is announced, because I really want the best 31 there for the World Cup.

"I'm also very mindful of taking the right mix of youth and experience to the World Cup. You don't want to go there with a so-called old side, in a comfort zone, who feel they can play every game and win the World Cup.

"The young guys give the old guys energy. Keep them on their toes. It’s been unbelievable to see this at these camps, the new guys coming through and lifting the more senior players. I don't pick on reputation, and the senior players know these youngsters will be pushing them over the next few months.

"You needs guys that are mentally tough. 

"The World Cup isn't won by the team that wants it the most, because every team wants it for their country. It isn't always the 'best' team, although that sounds strange taken out of the right context, I believe World Cups are won by guys who can handle the pressure, because the pressure is immense, you can feel it building up every week.

"You needs guys that hang in there when you're in a bad space and came back and win the game."