Boks too predictable, T20 not

2012-09-22 00:00

HEYNEKE Meyer is running out of matches in which to convince his growing list of critics that he is not simply another example of the Peter Principle — a man promoted beyond his level of competence.

Meyer established himself as coach of a Blue Bulls team that won the Super 14 rugby competition, but it is his success with the Bulls and his faith in their players’ ability to produce his game plan that now seems to be standing in the way of his work with the Springboks.

Poor Morné Steyn’s woeful performance last week presented the match to an All Blacks team that was ripe for the taking after its forwards were beaten up front by the Springbok pack. At last it seems that Meyer has recognised that Steyn is so out of form that he has become a liability to the team. Why has it taken him so long when this fact has been obvious ever since the drawn England match? If Meyer does not start using the talented and creative players at his disposal, starting with Johan Goosen and Patrick Lambie, he will be seen to be incapable of ridding himself of his Blue Bulls obsession and condemning the Boks to a sterile and unproductive style of rugby.

Morné was not the only Blue Bull to make Meyer look foolish and to play a hand in the Boks’ defeat. Deon Greyling produced a performance off the bench of such stunning stupidity that it is questionable if he should ever again be selected for the Springboks. He conceded four penalties and was lucky not to end his game with a red card. South African rugby would have been done a favour if the citing commissioner had banned him for the rest of the year.

Why has Patrick Lambie been sitting on the bench match after match? If he is not going to play other than for a few minutes in a losing cause he would be better off playing some rugby for the Sharks. Early in last week’s match, Zane Kirchner butchered a try by first timing his pass too soon and then sending the ball behind Bryan Habana. If Lambie had been in Kirschner’s place, Habana would have strolled over for a seven-pointer. Does Meyer not see that Lambie is a better footballer than Kirschner will ever be?

It is not that Meyer’s game plan is flawed, but rather his persistent faith in the Bulls’ players he has chosen to help implement his strategy. The kicking game that he has deployed is not in itself the problem. It probably remains the most effective way to play against the All Blacks — provided its limitations are understood.

The great virtue of the kicking game is that it limits the mistakes off which a side like the All Blacks are so quick to feast. If, however, it is the only option tried by the Boks from most parts of the field, the All Blacks are smart enough to punish those kicks that are not accurate.

This is precisely what happened on Saturday just after the Boks had scored. The ball was recovered from the kick-off, Ruan Pienaar kicked the inevitable up-and-under which went too far, Israel Dagg ran the ball back into the middle of the field where his tight forwards were waiting near the 10-metre line and from the ensuing ruck flyhalf Aaron Cruden received the ball with options available both left and right. He realised which of the Bok chasers had not returned to their defensive positions, sent the ball down the right-hand wing, and seconds later the All Blacks were in at the corner with scarcely a tackle made by the Springboks.

Good teams punish predictability on the rugby field, particularly when the execution is not precise, while varied play keeps the opposition guessing. By playing a number 10 who sits as deep in the pocket, Meyer is handing the opposition an advantage in that they know exactly what is coming.

Furthermore, with Steyn at flyhalf and a fullback like Kirschner, who always kicks from his half, the All Blacks were constantly fed the ball rather than being forced to fight for it. No wonder their loose forwards were so conspicuous in open play.

Ashwin Willemse said that he would pay for Meyer to have a cup of coffee with Nick Mallett. I hope he arranges that meeting before Meyer chooses his next team.

That is enough rugby from me. Cricket’s T20 World Cup has started and provides an interlude from watching the All Blacks dominate the Rugby Championship.

The Protea captain is on record as saying that this team of his will not choke. I hope AB de Villiers understands that the only way the South Africans can prove this is to win the damn trophy. Anything less will be regarded as yet another choke, whether or not it is true.

AB would have been well advised to say nothing given the volatile nature of 20-over matches, but he is somewhat garrulous, which is kind of refreshing in this day and age of utterly meaningless sound bites. The feature of the Protea’s growing list of tournament disappointments is that their big players have not played well in the crucial matches.

My fear for this Sri Lanka expedition is that too much depends on the three star batsmen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB himself. Of the three, AB is the most likely match-winner with the bat, but his recent performances under pressure have been poor. It might have been easier for him if those coming after him in the order had shown some form but, apart from JP Duminy, the others have not been convincing.

This is not a tournament in which predicting the winner is easy. It is difficult to recover from the kind of bad 10 minutes that can happen to any team. Pressure there will be a plenty. There is no better time for AB to prove that he can handle all three jobs of captaincy, ’keeping and batting than right now.

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