Mind Games: Meyer’s Boks off the radar for World Cup

2014-09-16 13:45

The 2015 rugby World Cup is almost exactly a year away (the tournament kicks off on September 18) and you have to ask if Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has already missed the boat.

There are certainly indications that the Boks are not as well-placed as they might have hoped to be and that a long-term prediction must be that South Africa will not win the Webb Ellis Cup for a third time.

Meyer, partly through his own doing and partly because of circumstances beyond his control, has steered the Boks into a situation in which they will either be seen to be too old to go all the way or too inexperienced and unsettled when the big day breaks and they start their sixth World Cup tournament against Japan in Brighton on September 19.

Instead of there being a clear picture of the best 23-man match squad plus reserves a year out, Meyer has been chopping, changing and experimenting with possible solutions that have not worked.

To be fair, some of these have been forced on him by an overcrowded fixture list and a string of serious injuries, the latter being the inevitable result of the former.

But the man whose vein-popping stress in the coach’s box has become the focus of television directors has also been hellbent on calling back the past; seemingly to prove that the method that won him success with the Bulls some years ago still works, and that the best way to implement it

is with experience.

Meyer has had bad luck in that five of his investments in youth – locks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit, flanker Arno Botha, fly half Johan Goosen and utility back Jaco Taute – suffered long-term injuries.

Also, experiments with JJ Engelbrecht at outside centre and Coenie Oosthuizen at tight head prop have failed.

But since taking over at the start of the 2012 season, his fallback has been to recall players on the wrong side of 30, most of whom are based overseas and are off the radar when it comes to knowing their true form or fitness.

He was always keen on calling Victor Matfield out of retirement. And he did lots of arm-twisting, and cost the SA Rugby Union (Saru) a pretty penny bringing Fourie du Preez back from Japan.

Meyer made no secret of the fact that he considered the pair crucial to his game plan.

But, in spite of a Saru edict forbidding the recall of overseas players (which to my knowledge is still in place), he also pulled in Francois Louw, Ruan Pienaar, Bakkies Botha, JP Pietersen, Juandré Kruger, Jaque Fourie, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Zane Kirchner, Schalk Brits, Juan Smith, and even Bryan Habana.

Schalk Burger was summarily restored after recovering from serious injury and illness. Meyer also made it clear he is committed to his captain, Jean de Villiers, who will be 34 next year, by putting him straight back into the test match fray after a 90-day, injury-enforced absence from action.

It seems South Africa could take a “dad’s army” to the World Cup. But unlike the England side who earned the same nickname in 2003, they will no longer be in their prime.

Other aging sides have tried and failed, and remarks by tennis great Rod Laver, discussing Roger Federer, are germane.

Laver said his own physical decline began in his late 20s and by the time he was 35, he was “a shadow” of the player he was.

He said he could see Federer succumbing to the same process. If he had a hard match and had to play the next day, he struggled.

“It’s just that your body takes time to recover,” said Laver.

And that’s exactly what a mature Springbok side will face.

While players will be able to produce the odd big performance, they will be unable to do so for seven matches in a row over seven weeks of action.

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