Fit, fresh Boks set off on European challenge

Johannesburg (AFP) - A fit, fresh South African squad fly to Europe this weekend hoping to build on a Rugby Championship triumph over greatest rivals New Zealand.

The Springboks tackle Six Nations title-holders Ireland in Dublin on November 8, followed on consecutive Saturdays by Tests against England, Italy and Wales.

It will be the last chance for South Africans used to hard, sun-baked grounds to adapt to softer, stamina-sapping European conditions before the 2015 World Cup in England.

After defeating the All Blacks in Johannesburg this month through a monster last-minute Patrick Lambie penalty, the squad had a two-week break before a two-week camp near Cape Town.

Conditioning and attention to detail were the buzzwords as the green and gold enjoyed an unusually long build-up to an end-of-season tour.

"I cannot recall having two weeks before to prepare for a tour of Europe," said 117-cap lock Victor Matfield, at 37 the senior squad member.

"This will benefit us greatly," added the forward who ended a two-year retirement this season and quickly reclaimed his place among the best Test line-out jumpers.

Skipper and centre Jean de Villiers said the Stellenbosch camp amid the Cape winelands was crucial to developing an even stronger side than that which overcame world champions New Zealand.

"Beating the All Blacks does not mean we are perfect -- far from it," he stressed. "We need to work on decision making as we made some basic errors during that game.

"We must improve a lot to succeed in Europe this month," said the 34-year-old who has been skipper since Heyneke Meyer became coach two seasons ago.

"Defeating New Zealand for the first time in three years was great, but now we have to play well in our next game against Ireland as well."

Matfield only had praise for the Irish as South Africa seek to extend a perfect tour record in Europe under Meyer.

"Ireland will be a huge battle," he forecast. "They are right up there with New Zealand and South Africa in terms of performance statistics.

"The Irish concede few tries and we have a new attacking approach so it will be an interesting match."

All those who inflicted a first loss in two years on New Zealand are travelling, including Lambie, two-try fly-half Handre Pollard and man of the match and No.8 Duane Vermeulen.

Pollard, who has taken over the No. 10 jersey from long-serving but less adventurous Morne Steyn, became the first Springbok fly-half to bag a brace of tries against the All Blacks.

And Vermeulen passed a last-minute fitness test before giving another monumental display of courage, power and skill.

Although Meyer included five uncapped players in left-wing Seabelo Senatla, hooker Robbie Coetzee, prop Julian Redelinghuys, flanker Jaco Kriel and No. 8 Nizaam Carr, he has ruled out wholesale experimentation.

"We will probably go with the same team, perhaps with one or two changes, and we must go into the Ireland game with some sort of continuity," he said.

Much has been made of eight overseas-based Springboks being unavailable against Wales because the Test falls outside the international window, but only Toulon left-wing Bryan Habana started against New Zealand.

Problem areas for Meyer include developing depth at full-back, scrum-half and tighthead prop.

Willie le Roux 'owns' the No. 15 jersey with no obvious challenger and there is media speculation that fly-half Johan Goosen may get some game-time there.

First-choice 2007 World Cup-winning scrum-half Fourie du Preez suffered a serious mid-year knee injury and has not played since.

Replacement Ruan Pienaar was also injured, leaving Francois Hougaard to star against Australia and New Zealand.

Numerous contenders to understudy tighthead Jannie du Plessis have failed to tie down a squad place and now the door could open for Redelinghuys.

The injury-prone prop was part of the Golden Lions front row that excelled in the Super 15 and Currie Cup competitions this year.