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The stats suggest Meyer's peak as Springboks coach is long gone

Heyneke Meyer was a brilliant club coach, so what went wrong at Test level? (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
Roar Guru
10th August, 2015
131
2162 Reads

The greatest coaches in rugby history – Sir Graham Henry, Sir Clive Woodward and Bob Dwyer – coached their teams for close to two 4-year terms and brought home the World Cup.

One could argue Woodward took seven years to build an experienced, World Cup winning team, Henry had the players for 2007, but couldn’t decide on his best match-day team and it resulted in an early exit. By 2011 he knew his best team, and won the Cup.

Dwyer won the Rugby World Cup for Australia in 1991, and perhaps by the time he got to the 1995 Rugby World Cup his squad were too old and players started losing their class and hunger.

To build a successful World Cup team a coach should have an eight-year tenure to build a squad of talented youngsters, giving them one World Cup to gain experience at the knock-out stages. By the time the second World Cup comes along the squad will be experienced and fully developed.

After some dismal performances by South Africa since November last year, I started recognising some familiar trends under Heyneke Meyer.

South Africa has had four coaches who were appointed for a period of four years in the professional era: Nick Mallet, Jake White, Pieter de Villiers and Meyer.

I have compared the winning stats of each or these coaches per year, excluding World Cup matches as those would skew the results due to easy pool matches.

Coach Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4
Mallet 100% 92% 33% 38%
White 69% 71% 42% 57%
De Villiers 68% 67% 57% 25%
Meyer 67% 92% 69% 0%
Average 76% 80% 50% 30%

There is also a similarity in performances just prior to the Rugby World Cup.

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White won the Tri Nations in his first year, Mallet won the Tri Nations in his second year, De Villiers won the Tri Nations in his second year, and although not winning it, Meyer’s best year was his second year.

The statistics above show a clear pattern regardless of players selected – South African coaches perform in the first two years of their tenure. When you consider that their combined average winning percentage in their first two years is 79 per cent and by the end of their tenures their combined average has halved, questions need to be asked.

Fellow Roarer Harry Jones suggested that many coaches lose their dressing room after a few years, and perhaps he’s on to something. However that would be too simple an answer. There is no doubting the fact that each of these coaches had the talent to work with – you don’t have a close to 80 per cent win rate if you don’t – but what made them fail so miserably in their last two years?

Are players being held on from previous World Cups in the hope that they could make it to another? Are coaches experimenting with new selections too late in their tenures? Do opposition teams adapt and out think them by year three of their tenures? Are the South African coaches one-trick ponies and unwilling or unable to change their game plans? Do the senior players begin to break down? Does the coach lose his passion and along with it his team’s commitment?

I suspect it could be a bit of each.

Should coaches, instead of being appointed from World Cup to World Cup, be appointed in between World Cups to ensure these second-year peaks coincide with the premier world tournament?

Either way, the statistics suggest the current way of appointing South African coaches does not work. Perhaps a coach should only be appointed for a term of two years?