Amidst a tsunami of criticism, Heyneke is unlikely to survive

Andrew Jardine Roar Guru

By , Andrew Jardine is a Roar Guru

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    It appears that Heyneke Meyer is hanging on to a political raft that he hopes will save his job amid a tsunami of criticism from rugby fans and critics he fears could sink him.

    It’s ironic that the Springboks coach is relying on support from a political body that at one time accused him of racism over his selection policies.

    Meyer may have noted that ANC government officials who have flopped in the past have often kept their jobs or at worst been given a fat golden handshake.

    I can understand why Meyer wants to keep his US$360,000-a-year job. The money’s great but according to a newspaper report at the weekend, he wants to stay in the job because he believes he is still the right man for it.

    “People who question my ability as coach, should look in the mirror and ask themselves if what they are doing and saying are for the right reasons. I feel the team did well and is transformed. I sleep well at night, and those guys (who criticise) have hidden agendas,” he told Sunday newspaper Rapport.

    Hidden agendas? He’s got to be kidding. I haven’t been able to find a single fan who doesn’t want him sacked. That’s not because they have any hidden agendas but because they can see his recent results.

    The fans have not been sleeping well at night since Japan beat the Springboks at the World Cup after a campaign leading up to it in which we came last in the Rugby Championship.

    The 34-32 defeat by coach Eddie Jones’s Japan should have been a wake-up call for Meyer. ‘Japan sub sinks the Boks’ was one canny headline about the match in which substitute Karne Hesketh, a New Zealand-born player to add insult to injury, scored a last-gasp try to win the match.

    In the Championship, winners Australia won all three Tests, New Zealand won two and lost one, Argentina won one and lost two and South Africa lost all three. The South African defeats included a 37-25 hiding at home by Argentina. The Springboks did bounce back to beat Argentina in a non-Championship Test after that, but the record by Meyer’s Springboks was worrying.

    In addition, the All Blacks had beaten us in six of the previous seven Tests. The results tell a sad story.

    September 15, 2012: New Zealand won 21-11 in Dunedin
    October 6, 2012: New Zealand won 32-16 in Johannesburg
    September 14, 2013: New Zealand won 29-15 in Auckland
    October 5, 2013: New Zealand won 38-27 in Johannesburg
    September 13, 2014: New Zealand won 14-10 in Wellington
    October 4, 2014: New Zealand lost 27-25 in Johannesburg
    July 25, 2015: New Zealand won 27-20 in Johannesburg.

    This was not the sort of record that augured well for the World Cup and Meyer should have realised that his game plan was not paying off. I remember his reaction at the time.

    Meyer said his performance as coach should not be based on the recent past and that he was involved in a build-up for the World Cup. Fans would see the results of his efforts then.

    Well, the showpiece has come and gone and he is still making excuses. He blamed the rain after the Springboks lost in the semi-final and unsurprising refused to admit his tactics were wrong.

    Despite this, Meyer still believes that he is on the right track to glory when the World Cup comes around again in four years time.

    The majority of fans and South African critics don’t have faith in the way the Springboks play. It’s all about power for Meyer. Brawn not brain. We can beat up the opposition and rely on a strong defence to keep out their invaders.

    Well, that plan, the only one he has, has not worked. The All Blacks and the Australians have better all-round games and tactics they can vary at will. They have simply looked at the predictable way the Springboks play and devised tactics to beat them time and again.

    The 20-18 defeat by New Zealand in the semi-final clash is a good example.

    After the Springboks led 12-7 at the break, the All Blacks kept them in their half of the field for much of the second stanza. South Africa did kick two penalties in the second half, one by Handre Pollard and the other by substitute Pat Lambie, but for most of the time the New Zealanders kept the potent Pollard boot too far from their posts.

    In all, two tries from the All Blacks, by Jerome Kaino and Beauden Barrett, plus the superb kicking by Dan Carter, who slotted a drop-goal, kicked two conversions and one penalty, sealed victory. All of the South African points came from the boot, 15 of them from Pollard, the other from Lambie, a youngster some fans joke has had about many minutes of game time under Meyer as his more than 40 Test caps.

    Meyer was criticised, too, for selecting 38-year-old Victor Matfield as captain for the third-place play-off match against Argentina. Why didn’t he give other younger players game time? He also dropped the far younger Lood de Jager, one of the star locks of the World Cup, to accommodate Matfield. What this decision a going-away present for his good friend Big Vic?

    The All Blacks went on to beat the Wallabies in a pulsating final to retain the Webb Ellis trophy. The fact that they beat us by only two points in the semi-finals doesn’t tell the real story. The All Blacks have a far better team than the Springboks. Our kicking might be as good, but when it comes to tactics, passing skills and slick moves, they live on another planet.

    Some South African apologists for Meyer among the media should get into the real world. For some time, they have defended his tactics, predilection for selecting older players, such as Matfield who has been clearly been past his best days this year, and his insistence that experience trumps current form.

    It’s not a good idea to get too close to your contacts and worry that people like Meyer might not take your calls or share a beer with you if you criticise him or his tactics.

    In the mid-1980s, when I was a sports writer on South Africa’s largest selling newspaper, the Sunday Times, the then sports editor Barry Glasspool warned me about getting too close to my contacts.

    Be careful, he said, don’t get too close to your contacts. If they shake their bums, they could break your neck!

    Meyer should stop making excuses and accusing his critics of having a hidden agenda. They like most South African fans want to see the Springboks win the World Cup again. They don’t see this happening under Meyer, who has clearly been a flop.

    The see an obstinate coach who will not admit his mistakes and looks like he has five million reasons (that’s what US$36,000 amounts to in South African rands) to want to keep his job.

    When will Meyer see the light and change his way? I doubt it. Even Helen Keller, the deaf-blind American heroine who died 47 years ago, could have seen the error of his ways.