Meyer at breaking point

2012-06-30 20:06

The fact that South Africa’s most capped flyhalves Butch James and Morné Steyn, have only played 37 Tests in the position speaks volumes, especially about past and current coaches’ indecision around this crucial position.

It is natural for coaches to back flyhalves because they are the chief decision makers and they are the ones who dictate the tempo and flow of the game.

If there is no confidence vested in them, the team will cease to function.

South Africa’s physicality based gainline domination battle has served them well in the past and plays to the strength of the incumbent Steyn, who executes the kick-and-chase game meticulously.

What the second half of the second Test and ultimately the entire third Test against England exposed was the lack of a plan B when their plan A gainline battle was countered.

When Steyn’s nominally accurate radar deserts him, it becomes difficult for him to justify his position.

The 12 out of 23 kicks he scored in the series is a poor return by Steyn’s standards.

And unless he is able to rekindle the running game which made him a refreshing substitute at the Bulls when Derick Hougaard owned the number-10 jersey there, he gives the team no value.

While Australia and New Zealand have running flyhalves in abundance, it is also worth noting that the Australasian sides emphasise keeping the ball in hand and, even more importantly, targeting the breakdown battle by employing specialist fetchers to sniff out the ball on the ground.

Besides the Cheetahs and Lions, who have Heinrich Brussouw and Derick Minnie as their respective pilferers, South Africa’s Super Rugby sides prefer to swarm the breakdown and use muscle to retain the ball.

This tactic has worked well for the Stormers and to an extent the Sharks, but not for the Bulls, whose tactical blueprint is used by Heyneke Meyer.

This affects the type of ball the scrumhalf gets.

If the breakdown battle is won and the gainline is dominated, there will be quicker balls for the halfbacks and more space for the outside backs to work with.

The inverse is applied when the collisions are lost and that affects the quality of the ball the halfbacks get.

The former applied in the first Test and most of the second, while the latter was prevalent throughout the third Test.

With the Rugby Championships lying in wait after the Super Rugby competition, Meyer walks into the crucible with two variables – whether to take his tried-and-tested gameplan and die by it or be willing to adapt and take some hits along the way.

The All Blacks have shown that running rugby can be winning rugby if implemented correctly and South African rugby does have the players and resources to match them.

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