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.”
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