Has Meyer got the gameplan wrong?
Imagine for a moment that Morne Steyn was still the 90% kicker that he has been virtually his entire career.
Imagine Bryan Habana had not put down a pass with the tryline at his mercy in the fifth minute of Saturday evening’s game.
Imagine Deon Greyling had taken up tiddlywinks instead of rugby.
By my estimation, the Boks left 25+ points on the park on Saturday evening. If 50% of these opportunities had been taken, this weekend past’s clash would have had an entirely different complexion.
Heyneke Meyer has been much maligned on electing to play what is perceived as an anachronistic gameplan. However, can a gameplan that yielded so many opportunities against the number one team in the world trulybe considered out-dated? Or is there a still space for a forward-orientated, kick-and-chase game in the “modern” era?
Place yourself in his shoes for a moment. You realise that the opponents you will play most often are the All Blacks and Wallabies, both teams that play a wide game (the Wallabies at every opportunity, the All Blacks after a few phases and usually off setpiece ball). What’s your plan to engineer a win? Do you follow a gameplan that your opponents devised (i.e. try beat your opponents at their own game)? Or do you develop your own gameplan?
Considering that the wide game is part of the DNA of Union in New Zealand and Australia, I would think it would be obvious that Wallaby and All Black teams are very familiar with defending against opponents putting width on the ball at pace. Understandably, he decided to pursue a different tack.
Against the Wallabies:
-The Wallabies pack (rightly or wrongly) are perceived to be substandard compared to other top tier teams.
-The Wallabies backline in recent year is comprised of relatively small though quick players.
A Bok plan against the Wallabies should be orientated in creating as many attacking setpieces in Wallabies territory as possible and running big ball carriers through the gold backline. A kick and chase game plan would get the Boks into the right areas of the park to look to force a mistake from the Wallabies. However, I would argue that the gameplan should be modified to kicking the ball out and dead against Beale and co. and have Bekker and co. look to disrupt lineouts or Francois Steyn dominate a tackle (forcing a knock-on or penalty).
Against the All Blacks:
- The All Blacks seem vulnerable to rolling mauls, as evidenced on Saturday and against Los Pumas. This argues for kicking close to the touchline, limiting the fielding player’s angle of clearance -which is possible with a quick chase- and setting up attacking lineouts.
- The Boks defence was generally able to contain the All Blacks back three. Consider how much ball was kicked onto the likes of Dagg, Savea and Jane. Then consider that only one try (Dagg’s opening try) was scored from the glut of possession handed to the most potent back three in world rugby. It is also worth noting that around eight shots at goal were manufactured by kicking onto the All Black back three. Had Morne Steyn kicked like an international quality flyhalf, Steve Hansen would have cause for some soul searching come Sunday morning.
I feel that Heyneke Meyer’s thinking in adopting an “outdated” gameplan actually makes sense. As evidenced against the All Blacks on Saturday, it does yield the opportunities to reap dividends on the scoreboard. His failure in my opinion is in his selection:
1. Flyhalf. The gameplan adopted by Heyneke Meyer is orientated on manufacturing shots on goal. For it to succeed, these opportunities need to be converted into points. After seven games to prove his class, I think he can drop Morne with a clear conscience. Selecting a goal-kicker who can’t kick goals makes no sense. If memory serves, Johan Goosen can kick ‘em from 55 metres out, get him off the pine and into the starting line-up. Alternatively, what does Elton Jantjies have to do to gain selection for the Boks? I understand he is an accomplished goal-kicker, and I was very impressed with the way he managed the Lions backline during the Super season. Either of those two would be preferable to a non-performing Morne.
2. Locks and fetchers. The gameplan he is trying to implement centres around creating opportunities from kicks. This means having locks that can steal opposition ball at the lineout (ala Victor Matfield) or a fetcher who can win “holding-on” penalties if the full back gets sacked in possession. Currently, the Boks are playing Bekker who hasn’t delivered a steal for the Boks as yet and Meyer has elected to leave Brussow at home. Francois Louw, in my opinion, made enough of a contribution to warrant a relook at the “no-fetcher” policy. And surely Victor Matfield can be convinced to help out with the technical lineout work?
3. Full back. Zane Kirchener delivers a solid performance at fullback. He’s safe under the high ball and gets fair distance on his clearances. However, he is prone to placing nothing up-and-unders that don’t achieve the goals of the gameplan. I think Kirchener either needs to be coached into adding a line-kick to his repertoire or a new fullback needs to be found. I enjoy Lambie’s running instincts, and I think he could grow into a great fullback for the Republic…but he’s going to need a lot more than 5-10 minutes in a lost game to grow his ability.
I liked Kirchener’s option for a drop-goal in the match. Popping over the odd three points from a failed clearance makes opposing players less adventurous in their approach to clearing, going for a sure out rather than distance. Meyer could think about moving Francois Steyn to 15, Jean de Villiers to 12 and JP Pietersen to 13. This setup would probably compliment the gameplan better than the current setup.
From a southern hemisphere point of view, there can be few arguments that the gameplan Heyneke Meyer is looking to adopt is not particularly attractive. However, the lack of aesthetic appeal should not blinker our appreciation of its effectiveness and feasibility as a counter to the dominance of the All Black style of playing the game.
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