After a wretched start to the World Cup, Heyneke Meyer’s two-time champions South Africa get another shot at redemption on Saturday against Scotland.
It is a crucial match in unravelling the Pool B log-jam in which Samoa and Japan also retain quarter-final hopes.
The weight of experience lies with South Africa who have a 4-0 record against Scotland since the last World Cup and field a side with more than twice as many caps as the 330 mustered by Scotland.
Experience meant nothing when Japan shocked South Africa in the opener. But the Springboks bounced back to thrash Samoa 46-6 only to lose captain Jean de Villiers to a Test career-ending broken jaw.
It inflicted further pain on a side already flayed in their local media as an “old man’s” team.
Fourie du Preez, 33, has been handed the captaincy with vice-captain Victor Matfield sidelined by a hamstring injury.
“We were really with our backs against the wall last week,” du Preez said, adding the win over Samoa “hasn’t changed the position we’re in this week.”
Du Preez is rated a “tactical genius” by coach Meyer who made three changes to the line up that put their campaign back on track.
“The biggest thing is he knows how to win, he has been injured so many times, but he has a massive passion for the Springboks.”
Jesse Kriel comes in for de Villiers in a centre partnership with Damian de Allende, while Lodewyk de Jager takes over from Matfield at lock and Bismarck du Plessis returns as hooker in place of Adriaan Strauss.
“I know the team is ready,” Meyer said. “We don’t look past Saturday but I really feel we’re going to have a great performance.”
Scrum-half du Preez, who fought his way back from a medial ligament injury to make the World Cup, is Meyer’s ace for the remainder of the tournament.
“He knows what I want on the field. The biggest thing is he knows how to win.”
It’s been a brighter run for Scotland picking up bonus point victories over Japan and USA to put them one win away from the knockout stages after falling short in 2011.
If Vern Cotter’s side do not seal the deal against South Africa they have a last chance against Samoa a week later.
They too have to overcome injuries with fly-half Finn Russell (ankle) and John Hardie (head knock) not available and lock Grant Gilchrist (groin) out of the tournament.
Although there are suspicions the 11 changes in the Scots line up are a case of preserving ammunition for what could be a must-win pool finale against Samoa, Cotter was emphatic that is not the case.
“This is our third game in 10 days, we’ve taken that into account,” the New Zealander said.
“These players will be giving 100 per cent of themselves and it is a team that will be competitive.”