What will Heyneke Meyer do for SA rugby?
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The appointment of Heyneke Meyer was akin to the second coming if you were to believe any Blue Bull supporter in South Africa.
After four frustrating years under Pieter de Villiers, the Springbok supporters in South Africa felt it was high time for a head coach appointed for ‘rugby reasons’ only.
Although I don’t know a lot about Heyneke Meyer, I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. Let me make it clear I do not support any specific franchise in South Africa and therefore have no bias either way.
For me the Springboks are the ultimate goal and hence the best team must run onto the field, regardless where the players come from.
So what has he shown us in the English Test series?
While it’s true the Springboks at times did show some incredible intensity, hitting the line hard and at pace, the usual game plan was not altered much, except perhaps the forwards hitting their lines harder and less runs from a standing start.
Frans Steyn has shown his influence with a number of skip passes over Jean de Villiers to his wings and JP Pietersen has found sublime form. Even Habana, along with JP Pietersen, had some scintillating runs from kick returns and it wasn’t just the usual aerial ping pong from the back.
So even though there were some glimmers of hope, considering injuries limited ‘experiments in selection’, there are still a good number of questions needing answers.
Why did Meyer not allow Jantjies to come off the bench in the last test? Why did Meyer not give Lambie an opportunity at 10? Why is Meyer so intent on his 8, 9, 10 and 15 to come from the Bulls? And is there any chance of expanding on the existing strengths and allow players more freedom to use their instinct and vision to play the game, or is he content with playing one structure only?
When looking at the selections of Spies, Hougaard, Morne Steyn and Zane Kirchner in those pivotal positions, and the current form of those players, it begs the question would any of them have been selected if Graham Henry was the coach of the Springboks?
Henry was a firm believer in picking players on form, and had no issue with selecting an uncapped form player in place of a seasoned out of form international.
Pierre Spies has been mediocre at best for some time now and, as captain of the Bulls, does not look like he is leading from the front or inspiring his players in any way.
Morne Steyn has been in poor form since 2009, when Fourie du Preez injured his shoulder, and has not been the same player since. The 2009 laws and gameplan suited Steyn’s skills to a tee, but since then the game has moved on and Steyn has not only stagnated, he has lost form and confidence.
Zane Kirchner has never been that great to begin with, he is a front foot player. The only time you see Kirchner affecting an offload or breaking the line is when his forwards have put the opposition on the back foot.
Hougaard is a talented player and, if you were to put him in a Sharks jersey where he would have more freedom to snipe around the rucks and mauls, using his attacking nous and strength to create space for his support runners, he would thrive. But within a Bulls setup he will never reach his full potential as he is forced to play a Fourie du Preez style game.
By selecting these four players (with the exception of a Hougaard given freedom) players such as Frans Steyn, Jean de Villiers, JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana will continue to be underused and ineffective.
Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen and yes even Kankowski will be more physical, more effective and much, much more beneficial to the South African pack than Spies. I would even give Josh Strauss an opportunity if needed.
Johan Goosen has shown in only half a Super XV season that he is by far the best attacking option at 10 for SA. He is still leading the statistics with the most offloads, most line breaks and most tries of all the fly halves in South Africa, with Patrick Lambie and Peter Grant all ahead of Morne Steyn.
At Fullback, South Africa have players like Louis Ludick, Jaco Taute and even Joe Pietersen ahead of Zane Kirchner.
So the question remains, will Meyer remove his Blue-tinted glasses and realize that the Springboks have at least three players with more potential and in better form than his incumbents in each of those positions and will he realize the Sharks, Cheetahs and even the Lions show the way forward for Springbok evolution?