South Africa will be better prepared and have an altitude advantage when they seek a series-clinching second Test win over England at Ellis Park today.
Super 15 commitments meant new Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer had only six days with his squad before the first game last weekend, which the ’Boks won 22-17 in the Indian Ocean city Durban.
After playing in familiar sea-level conditions, England must adjust to the 1,800m venue where South Africa won the World Cup for the first time in front of then-South African president Nelson Mandela 17 years ago.
The lack of time together showed as South Africa improved on a poor first-half performance last weekend to score two tries and then keep England at bay when the tourists belatedly exhibited some adventure.
“This team is not even 5 percent toward where I want them to be,” was the blunt assessment of Meyer this week.
“You can see the squad is much more relaxed this week and the training sessions have been sharper. However, we have to lift our intensity, because England will improve from the first Test,” Meyer added.
A Super 14 and Currie Cup winner with the Northern Bulls, Meyer advocates continuity and the only change from the Durban starting lineup was enforced, with Patrick Lambie replacing injured Zane Kirchner at fullback.
Lambie came on at halftime in Durban and Meyer praised his performance, while admitting there was room for improvement in the tactical kicking of the exciting 21-year-old Coastal Sharks player.
The coach, who has signed a four-year contract up to the 2015 World Cup in England, said he knew the opposition better now, but the emphasis was on improving his own side.
“We have set high standards for ourselves, and while training has gone better and the players are more relaxed, the thing that matters is what happens on the field this Saturday,” he said.
There are also natural expectations that ace goal-kicker Morne Steyn will be back to his best after a rare off-day at Kings Park, where he succeeded with only four of seven shots at goal.
England coach Stuart Lancaster, another post-World Cup appointment when Martin Johnson quit following a limp last-eight exit to France, has laid the blame for the first Test loss among his backs.
Injuries ruled out fullback Mike Brown and inside center Brad Barritt, and only two players — right wing Chris Ashton and scrumhalf Ben Youngs — stay where they started at Kings Park.
Ben Foden moves from the wing to his customary role of fullback, David Strettle is recalled on the left wing, 21-year-olds Jonathan Joseph and Manu Tuilagi form a new center pairing and experienced flyhalf Toby Flood is back.
After a bright start with England this year, flyhalf Owen Farrell has been demoted to the substitutes’ bench, although Lancaster insists he can play a crucial role as England seek to end a run of eight Springbok wins on the trot.
Assistant coach Mike Catt hailed the elevation of Joseph, saying he is “a special player who can create something out of nothing. His footwork is phenomenal and his ability to do things at pace creates room for others.”