Springbok coach comes under fire from predecessors
Jean De Villiers of the Springboks is brought down by Jamie Roberts of Wales. AFP PHOTO / Marty Melville
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer received some stern criticism from predecessors Nick Mallett and Jake White this week.
Their comments followed South Africa’s woeful performance in Mendoza, where they were lucky to escape with a draw against a riled up and physical Argentinian team.
Speaking immediately after the match, Mallett said that the Springboks have no direction in attack, no support runners and no speed getting to the breakdown. Each and every player looks at his nearest opponent and crashes into him with only one objective in mind: to go down with the ball and create a ruck.
Instead, their first aim should be to twist, turn and drive with the legs while trying to get an offload away to support. They should only go to ground if there is no support available, or if it is part of a set move.
Morne Steyn doesn’t provide direction. He should be making the call, but half the time a forward or someone similarly unsuitable is standing at first receiver. Even South Africa’s kicking game has been suspect, as kicks have gone too deep, out of reach of chasers.
Overlaps aren’t being used correctly, which is a consequence of decision making. Mallet is also very concerned that the defensive structure has gone backwards. There seems to be no commitment to hit the rucks, too few numbers and not enough physicality.
Mallet essentially believes that South Africa’s game plan is an open book, and is too predictable for opponents.
Meanwhile the Beeld, a local Afrikaans newspaper in South Africa, reported that Jake White had criticised Meyer’s style. White apparently suggested that the current strategy would not win any matches.
According to White, the draw in Mendoza is a perfect example of the problem. In his opinion, if you can’t score four try bonus points against Argentina, something is definitely wrong.
As a former coach of the Bulls, Meyer is vulnerable to charges of favouritism. According to White, it seems logical that Meyer will revert to type under pressure, with his selections favouring a Bulls player over someone from another franchise. For example, he may choose Zane Kirchner over Gio Aplon.
Perhaps the report by the Beeld needs to be seen in context. As we all know, the media does have a way of manufacturing controversy at times.
However even if these reports aren’t totally accurate, the message clearly comes across that two of South Africa’s more successful coaches are not encouraged by what they have seen from the Springboks’ performances.
The real question here is whether injuries and post-World Cup retirements can be used as an excuse for the Springboks’ performances.
Consider the facts:
Retired, or unavailable due to overseas commitments:
Gurthro Steenkamp, John Smit, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Fourie du Preez, Jacque Fourie, CJ van der Linde, Ryan Kankowski and Butch James.
Bismarck du Plessis, Coenie Oosthuizen, Schalk Burger, Heinrich Brussow, Juan Smith, Pierre Spies and JP Pietersen.
The reality is that many of these players, particularly Schalk Burger, Coenie Oosthuizen and Bismarck du Plessis, are sorely missed and would have a huge impact in the breakdowns. JP Pietersen would similarly light up a backline devoid of any match winners.
The next conundrum is the players who have recently returned from injury, but who as of yet have had little time to gain match fitness. In particular, Patrick Lambie seems to be low on confidence.
The good news is that Johan Goosen and Duane Vermeulen have been called up for Springbok duty, but once again both lack game time and it might be too soon for them.
Naka Drotske has requested publicly that Goosen be given more time in the Currie Cup, as he has only played 50 minutes of rugby since his 4 month injury layoff.
Taking all of this into account, the biggest mystery of all remains Heyneke Meyer’s game plan.
Does he have anything else up his sleeve? If so, what is he waiting for? Is he intent on sticking to the outdated strategies of kicking and chasing, implementing breakdown pressure and countering on opposition mistakes?
If we consider all the factors, are we judging him too quickly, or should we allow him time to prove that there is more to come?
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