South Africa will have to produce their best ever performance if they are to defeat heavily-favoured New Zealand in their Rugby World Cup semi-final on Saturday (24 October). The Springboks come up against a high-flying All Blacks side, fresh from humiliating France in their 62-13 victory in the quarter finals.
South Africa, who had to come through a much tougher test against Wales to progress to the semi-final, have only beaten the All Blacks once since the Kiwis 2011 world cup triumph. The Springbok's humble head coach Heyneke Meyer said that the All Blacks team is probably the best to ever play the game.
"This is probably the best team that I think has ever played the game," said Meyer at a news conference on Wednesday (21 October).
"If you just look at their record, the last four years, after the world cup. Usually, after the world cup there is a decline in performance. Steve has been there for eight years as an assistant and most of their coaching staff has gone on and they have just got better after the previous world cup, which hasn't happened in world rugby."
"So, this is a different team but Fourie has faced them, he has faced the best teams in the world, the British and Irish Lions, so he knows what it takes and we as a team know it must be probably our best performance ever if we want to beat them because I think they are probably the best team that has ever played the game," he added, praising his experienced captain Fourie du Preez.
Meyer believes that it will come down to their defensive work if the Springboks are going to surprise New Zealand, who have won 10 of the last 12 games between the sides. "So, I think it is more of a question of if we can execute very, very well, use every opportunity, and defend for our lives. We have always scored enough tries, that wasn't the problem. We have always scored four tries, three tries, against them and had more chances. I think it is more a question of backing our defence and being very, very disciplined in this team. We are fit enough," he added.
Rugby is a sport often commended for the respect and commadarie shown between rival teams, none more so than the clashes between two of the games' heavyweights South Africa and New Zealand. Meyer said that there was a lot of mutual respect between the two coaching teams and that, no matter who wins on Saturday, he and his opposite number, New Zealand's Scott Hansen, will share a beer after the game.
"We are great friends off the field, great mutual respect between the two sides and that is great, in modern rugby, the ethos of rugby between us. Once we get going, we really want to go at each other for 80, 90 minutes, but off the field there is also a great relationship," said Meyer.
"We started a tradition, way back, where the first time I lost I was very down and he came over - and I think that is great about rugby, as I didn't know Steve (Hansen) - came over and brought me a beer and said 'listen, I know how you feel, I know the pressure on you, and just have a beer with me', and I really respect that," he added.
"We lost that game, and the second game we played away it was very close and we lost that game as well, and I didn't even want to go back into the function, but what I respect about him is he came looking for me with another beer, and gave it to me, and we started talking about his family, and his wife. We know we are under the same pressure, we are proud countries. I got to know his family, he has got to know my family, and I don't usually meet with coaches before games, but there is so much respect, and I have said to him 'Steve, I can't wait for the first day when I can bring you a beer' because the winning coach always brings the beer."
"So, when we beat them at Ellis Park - it was only the once - I said, as it is the first time we have beaten you, I will bring you a case of beer. So, what I really respect of Steve is that he came after that game, took it like a man and said to me I have been waiting for my beer. So, we have a tradition now. So, hopefully, Steve, on Sunday I can bring him a beer, a whole case of beers!"