Heyneke Meyer in danger of forfeiting his goodwill

2012-09-01 00:00

IF Heyneke Meyer did not realise he had problems after the first Test match against Argentina, he must surely know it now. If he still doesn’t, South African rugby has an even bigger problem, which would be that it has a coach who does not have the ability to fashion a winning team with the material at his disposal.

A team that is bereft of ideas and playing to a predictable and flawed formula has no chance of beating the All Blacks, let alone achieving a standard that could travel to the next World Cup with some optimism.

Let us give Meyer the benefit of these doubts and concede that his team have suffered an abnormal amount of injuries to most of his best and most experienced players.

An outsider’s concern is that the current team has many ordinary players that are unlikely to grow into the kind of experienced performers around which future teams can be constructed. For a start, the team do not have quality decision makers at nine, 10 and 15, all three of whom come from Meyer’s team of choice, the Blue Bulls.

The loose trio that started in Mendoza consisted of two bashers and Marcell Coetzee. As a combination they proved inept at either protecting or foraging for the ball, with the result that the forward pack were completely unable to establish the momentum that is crucial to any success the Meyer style of rugby might have against the better teams in world rugby.

The forward pack lacked the punch and skills to dominate the Pumas. One does not know if Bekker is still carrying an injury, but any hopes that he might have taken the place of Matfield appear to have been way too optimistic. The South African lineouts were a mess and the Pumas encountered no opposition of the kind that used to frighten both hookers and jumpers alike. No mastery was established in the scrums, but at least the Springboks were not going backwards against a team renowned for its scrummaging.

The defence was often guilty of the sort of poor organisation that led to a walkover try for the Pumas. On the one occasion when a double overlap presented itself to the Springboks, a clueless skip pass to Bekker on the wing eliminated the chance of a try. Apart from that single moment, the Springboks created nothing and it was left to a Puma blunder to provide an opportunity that Frans Steyn was able to seize and score, thus salvaging an undeserved draw.

It was a shocking performance for a team whose next dates are away matches against Australia and the world champions. Meyer looked stressed out in both games against Argentina. After the next two matches he might be wondering what it was that made him covet the job of Springbok coach. Others might be asking themselves if they appointed the right man.

His substitutions and selections have also had his critics baffled. Hougaard has been replaced twice at scrumhalf, but left on the field in place of one of the wings, neither of whom had the slightest chance to run with the ball. Patrick Lambie, easily the most creative back in the squad, has spent both matches waiting on the bench in vain.

Meyer seems to have some kind of faith in Zane Kirchener as his fullback, despite Lambie playing well in that position against England until he was injured.

I do not know whether it is a colour thing, but on that score Meyer will not have many supporters left in the Cape after his treatment of Kolisi, who was one of the stars of Super Rugby. Sadly, Kolisi is now injured but surely he could have been given a run against the Pumas? After all, he was the stand-out loose forward in the team that conceded the fewest tries in Super Rugby.

If Meyer persists with his selections at nine, 10 and 15 and continues to rely on a kicking game backed by his forward bashers, the chances are that he will return from Australasia with a couple of defeats and no chance of winning the Rugby Championship. That could be the best outcome for South African rugby, for it might just force Meyer to think again.

He will then have a couple of home games and an end-of-season tour to begin the task of creating a Springbok team that could be competitive come Japan in 2015. There is talent enough in the ranks if Meyer chooses to use it. If he persists along his current path, however, I cannot see him surviving his term of office. The South African public will not stand for the kind of rugby played by his team in the opening matches of the Rugby Championship.

It was refreshing to listen to Nick Mallett, Ashwin Willemse and Naas Botha being open and honest about the shocking performance in Mendoza during their post-match TV appraisal. I do not know if Mallett’s presence has had a liberating effect on his partners but the trio pulled no punches. One hopes that Meyer has had the chance to hear their comments and that he has been man enough to pick up the phone to talk to Mallett, if not all three of them.

No coach of the Springboks has come into the job with as much goodwill as Meyer. Many thought he should have inherited the 2007 World Cup winning team. Now that his time has come, advancing years and injuries have had their inevitable impact on John Smits’ side. Meyer has been forced to rebuild almost from scratch. Time, for the moment, is on his side, but immediate history is against him.

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