PORTELIZABETH, South Africa (Reuters) – South Africa forward Pieter-Steph du Toit says their focus on the defensive side of the game is starting to pay off as they prepare to close out the Rugby Championship with a test against champions New Zealand in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Springboks inflicted the All Blacks’ sole defeat of the competition two weeks ago, stunning the world champions 36-34 in Wellington.
That shock victory was built around an impressive second-half defensive display by South Africa, who showed the same tenacity in keeping Australia at bay in Saturday’s 23-12 victory in Port Elizabeth.
“South African teams are trying to get that physicality back,” Du Toit told reporters. “We’re trying to put the opponents on the back foot.
“Defence has been a big focal point in recent games, and hopefully we will get it right next week too.”
Du Toit also paid tribute to the work of defence coach Jacques Nienaber.
“We’ve worked hard on our tackling with Jacques. He’s a great defence coach and I feel like he’s helped me a lot, especially on my technique,” he added.
South Africa are coming off two poor seasons in which they won 11 of 25 tests under former head coach Allister Coetzee, which included a record 57-0 loss to New Zealand.
Nienaber was drafted in by new head coach Rassie Erasmus after the pair had worked together at Irish team Munster and South African Super Rugby side the Stormers.
Du Toit said the constant turnover of backroom staff had been a distraction in terms of building an understanding of their roles on defence.
“We went through four defence coaches. It makes a difference in terms of getting your mindset around it,” he said.
“The laws of the game have also changed and you have to tackle low now. We’ve made adjustments and it feels like we’ve improved.”
Saturday’s test in Pretoria is an opportunity for the Springboks to show further progress, and also to send a message that their Wellington victory was no fluke.
“The All Blacks are going to come at us with everything they’ve got. They’re going to try and prove a point,” Du Toit said.
“That said, we’ve got a point to prove as well. We’ve beaten them there, and we have to show we can beat them here as well.”
(Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Peter Rutherford)