Jean de Villiers’ injury symbolises the Springboks’ year

2014-12-07 17:00

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Jean de Villiers’ scream of agony last weekend and the sad sight of him being carted off the field at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, aptly symbolises the Springboks’ year.

From the high of finally beating the All Blacks in August, the spectacle of South Africa’s fallen captain was a graphic depiction of a season gone horribly wrong.

As it turned out, beating the All Blacks (thanks to Pat Lambie’s last-gasp penalty from the halfway line) may well have been the worst thing that could have happened to Heyneke Meyer and his charges.

The misplaced triumphalism that greeted what was a fortuitous victory indicated to what extent stopping a run of five successive defeats against the men in black had become an obsession to the coach and his players.

Immediately prior to that glorious moment at South Africa’s field of dreams, there had been an overdue and encouraging change of approach by the Springboks.

Coinciding with an injury to scrum half Ruan Pienaar, the bash-it-up-or-kick tactics that Meyer seemed married to were abolished and a smarter style was adopted.

The advent of Handré Pollard at fly half signalled intent to run the ball, and it worked like a charm against the Wallabies at Newlands and again at Ellis Park when the young Number?10 scored two tries in a man of the match performance.

At last the Boks were running the ball, playing into space, bringing to bear the agility and pace available in the team. Grim prognoses for next year’s rugby World Cup were reversed, but now it seems that the win over the all-conquering Kiwis was too important to the Springbok group.

Getting the monkey off their collective back seemed to go to the heads of the Boks, and their resolve to play a different game and use the ball more flew out of the window.

The next stop was Dublin against Ireland and, duped into believing how fragile the Irish would be without Brian O’Driscoll, the Boks turned in an atrocious performance to be well beaten 29-15.

The usual control of the forwards was absent, which impacted on scrum half Francois Hougaard and, in turn, was transmitted to Pollard, and suddenly all the positive signs in the build-up to beating the All Blacks evaporated.

Meyer responded by picking Lambie to play fly half in the test against England, a team uncannily similar to the Boks with their “bovver boy” attitude, and got a win, but it was an indication that Meyer had become unsure of his best line-up.

Italy gave the Boks a torrid time before going down, but then the Boks ran into an ambush by a confident Wales.

Meyer had prided himself that in his tenure, the Springboks had not lost in the northern hemisphere, but suddenly his record for the tour was won two, lost two – a worrying outcome given that the Boks were also defeated in their away matches against New Zealand and Australia.

That might not have been so bad if he had given more of his fringe players a run, but by trying to hang on to the core of his aging side – albeit having to plug many holes caused by injuries – and creating the Lambie-Pollard conundrum, he spawned doubt about how good the Boks really are.

In addition to De Villiers’ catastrophic injury, Meyer was also hit by the unexpected retirements of Bakkies Botha and Jaque Fourie, which made the year end with more questions than answers.

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