Duane Vermeulen admits complacency was a factor in South Africa’s loss to Ireland, but vowed intensity levels will return for Saturday’s Test with England at Twickenham.
Just a month after beating New Zealand – ending the world champion All Blacks’ 22-match unbeaten run – in the Rugby Championship, the Springboks were beaten 29-15 in Dublin.
Assistant coach John McFarland was asked if the intensity of Monday’s training session was a recognition that the players lacked attitude against the Irish.
McFarland said: “We possibly were not at the levels that we had been over the Championship. We know we’ve got big improvements to make.”
Vermeulen was less diplomatic. The Stormers number eight said: “After beating New Zealand you kind of feel like, ‘Hey this is where we’re supposed to be’.
“You’ve got to pitch up every single weekend. You can’t beat the world number one and then think you’re invincible. Hopefully we can come back, play the rugby we want to play and to produce.”
Vermeulen admits his performance was below-par, having been spoken of alongside New Zealand’s Kieran Read as the world’s best number eight in 2014.
“I wasn’t great,” added Vermeulen, who tried to accentuate the positives. “It’s nice to learn how you get knocked off your high horse and you’ve got to fight your way back.
“Every single game is a learning curve for each and every single player. There’s always stuff to work on. You always want to be the best. “And when you’re up there you’ve got to bloody work hard to stay there. I still have a lot of goals that I want to reach, but I think we’re on the right track. I’ve just got to keep working.”
Vermeulen’s “high-horse” metaphor could be applied to the team, and England should be wary.
Meanwhile, England centre Kyle Eastmond has been cleared to face the Springboks after recovering from illness.
Eastmond had been troubled by a virus since the 24-21 defeat by New Zealand but took a full part in yesterday’s training session, as did wing Semesa Rokoduguni who has recovered from a hip problem.
“Kyle was a bit ill but he’s fully fit now. Rokoduguni trained as well and seems to be all right,” attacking skills coach Mike Catt said. “Kyle got some good hits in against New Zealand. He looked confident and we expect a big performance this weekend too.”
Catt is full of admiration for 20-year-old South Africa fly-half Handre Pollard and while he believes the Springboks have added more strings to their bow, he insists their power game remains their main threat.
He said: “They play a lot more expansively. Their centres are very physical as usual, but they also come from depth. Pollard has come through from the under-20s and has been exceptional.
“Ireland seemed to close them down a little bit, but you have got to stop the big green machine rolling.
“And that is when it comes down to defence because with their setback at the weekend… well, we know what’s coming.”
Warren Gatland rings the changes
Prop Gethin Jenkins will captain a much-changed Wales team in Saturday’s Millennium Stadium clash against Fiji.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has made eight changes from the side beaten 33-28 by Australia three days ago.
In the pack, Jenkins replaces Paul James, while Ospreys hooker Scott Baldwin makes a first Wales start and there are also call-ups for locks Bradley Davies and Luke Charteris, plus openside flanker Justin Tipuric.
Regular skipper Sam Warburton is rested, while behind the scrum there are starts for fit-again centre Scott Williams, fly-half Rhys Priestland and scrum-half Mike Phillips.
Priestland takes over from Dan Biggar, who suffered a groin injury during the Wallabies encounter, and Liam Williams moves from wing to full-back instead of Leigh Halfpenny, who went off with concussion during the Australia game.
Phillips, who was dropped for Rhys Webb last weekend, is determined to win his place back.
He said: “I will always have that competitive streak. It is a big part of my make-up, and it is why I am here, really.”
South Africa are steeling themselves to face an England pack regimented by “one of the best forwards coaches in the world” at Twickenham on Saturday.
Springbok forwards coach Johann van Graan hailed England counterpart Graham Rowntree for creating a “world-class scrum”, while calling on South Africa to sharpen up after 29-15 defeat in Ireland.
Van Graan revealed boss Heyneke Meyer has led several Springboks fact-finding missions to England, where the two sets of coaches have traded ideas and forged lasting friendships.
“Graham Rowntree is in my opinion one of the best forwards coaches in the world and a good friend of mine,” said Van Graan, who doubles as South Africa’s attack coordinator.
“The great thing about rugby is the friends you make. “We coached against each other for the first time in 2012, what a great guy and what a great coaching staff. Just look at guys like Stuart Lancaster, Andy Farrell and Mike Catt; Heyneke and I have visited the Northern Hemisphere quite a few times in the last year, we’ve had a few coffees together.
“And like we did with the All Blacks a few weeks ago I’m sure we’re going to have a chat before and after the game, talk about their challenges, our challenges, where the game is going, what you think.”
South Africa dominated territory and possession against Ireland in Dublin but slipped to defeat owing to a host of handling errors and a costly yellow card for replacement hooker Adriaan Strauss.
Ireland’s physicality and technical nous caught the Springboks out, with Van Graan admitting their refusal to bind on an early maul was a “shock”.
Van Graan believes former Leicester and England prop Rowntree has built a pack that is now the envy of the world.
“They are always well-prepared at lineout time in attack and defence,” said Van Graan.
“It’s a world-class scrum and a world-class plan.” South Africa may parachute Patrick Lambie in at fly-half to face England ahead of fast-rising star Handre Pollard.
Meanwhile, Lancaster is “optimistic” Courtney Lawes and Dylan Hartley will pass concussion tests in time to face South Africa.
The England forwards took blows to the head against New Zealand but Lancaster said: “They will do a cog test on Thursday which they have to pass to train. We will have provisions in place should they fail that, but we are optimistic.”
All Blacks’ Conrad Smith returns home for ‘family matter’
All Blacks’ centre Conrad Smith will skip Saturday’s Test against Scotland so he can return home to deal with a family matter.
Coach Steve Hansen said Smith, who became a father in August, would miss the Test in Edinburgh and return in time for the Test against Wales on November 22.
“It’s not overly serious but it’s serious enough for him to have to go home,” Hansen said.
Saint-Andre says France want ‘triple revenge’
France have “triple revenge” in mind ahead of Saturday’s Test against Australia.
Philippe Saint-Andre’s team suffered three straight defeats to the Wallabies in June. Either side of a dour 6-0 reverse in Melbourne, France were thumped 50-23 in Brisbane and 39-13 in Sydney.
“We have to take triple revenge,” said Saint-Andre. “In the third Test we collapsed too quickly. That’s unacceptable when you represent a country, a history, an identity.”
England’s ambition of issuing a statement of intent ahead of next year’s World Cup was crushed by a losing start to the QBE Series that saw New Zealand depart Twickenham narrow 24-21 winners.
The game slipped from the hosts’ hands after the All Blacks dominated the second half to extend their mastery of the fixture to five successive victories.
While the pre-match attention focused on the debut of serving British Army solider Semesa Rokoduguni, it was his fellow wing Jonny May who brought Twickenham to its feet with a stunning solo try.
May, the fastest player in England’s squad, switched on the afterburners to sprint around Conrad Smith and Israel Dagg as England made a dream start to the first of their autumn internationals.
New Zealand’s response through Aaron Cruden was shrouded in controversy as the fly-half did not appear to ground the ball properly and England were able to reflect on a strong first half they finished 14-11 ahead. But after the interval they were rarely able to escape their half and spent long spells defending waves of All Blacks attacks that were hampered by the driving rain.
Missing seven British and Irish Lions to injury, Stuart Lancaster’s men showed resolve and a refusal to concede defeat until the final whistle was rewarded with a penalty try with seconds remaining.
New Zealand arrived heavy favourites but looked anything but as England raced into the lead after just three minutes. Two missed passes from a line-out created half an opening for May and the lightening-fast Gloucester wing seized his chance by racing around Smith and Dagg to cross in the left corner.
England’s brilliant start continued with May threatening a second try until Dagg intervened and number eight Billy Vunipola being stopped just short of the line on two occasions.
The All Blacks were rattled and but for better hands from Mike Brown their line would have been breached again as Kyle Eastmond sought to exploit an overlap.
By the 10th minute they had composed themselves and ran in a controversial try through Cruden, made possible by Kieran Read’s bullet pass to lock Sam Whitelock.
Cruden appeared to fall short and spill the ball forward before grounding it, but referee Nigel Owens awarded the score immediately instead of referring it to the TMO and replays on the big screen were met with boos.
Farrell landed three penalties for an interval lead trimmed to 14-11 by a Cruden three-pointer.
The advantage lasted only five minutes of the second half when New Zealand expertly exploited a crumbling defence.
Prop Owen Franks punched a hole in midfield before the ball was spun left, with Dagg sending Richie McCaw over for the simplest of tries.
A tight encounter made way for a dominant third quarter from New Zealand, who began to find space with regularity.
It was only a matter of time until England’s line cracked again and it was substitute Charlie Faumuina who drove over after waves of attacks, although England had the final say when Owens gave a penalty try after the All Blacks had pulled down a maul.