Should he stay or go now. Heyneke Meyer the post mortem

There are elements of the media reporting that it is fait accompli that Heyneke Meyer will be appointed Springbok coach for another four years, and that a deal with Saru has already been concluded, but yesterday a Saru spokesman said that the position of coach would be dealt with at a meeting of the governing body’s General Council in December (the General Council appoints the Springbok coach in terms of the Saru constitution).

Meyer has indicated that he wants to continue in the job through to the next world Cup in Japan, and has been supported by his two trusty lieutenants in Fourie du preez and Victor Matfield, but neutral observers will wonder if the 48-year-old is the man to take the boks forward given what has been achieved (or not achieved) in the last four years.

The likes of Matfield and Du Preez, both talked out of retirement and semi retirement respectively by Meyer to take part in this World Cup, say the Boks need continuity and point out that it took more than four years for Meyer to take the Bulls from bottom of the Super 12 log to three-times champions.

There will be others who will point out that Meyer has won no trophies in his tenure, lost to the All Blacks six out of seven games, lost to Wales and Ireland in November last year, lost to Argentina for the first time in South African history (on SA soil, nog al) and after four years of planning took a team to the World Cup that lost in the first round to hopeless underdogs, Japan.

After four years of preparation, Meyer arrived in Brighton just over six weeks go uncertain of the vital flyhalf and fullback positions, and having two senior citizens out of form in Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield, neither of whom he had the conviction to drop.

After Handre Pollard and Willie le Roux had been the No1 choices in their positions all year, suddenly they were dropped after the loss to the Pumas in Durban for Patrick Lambie and Zane Kirchner. The latter pair had good games in the win in Buenos Aires which saw Meyer abandon his attacking game for a conservative tactical game, and retained them for Japan.

But after the shock loss, Kirchner and Lambie were dropped, the former never to be seen again, and the latter confined to the bench. Back came Le Roux and Pollard, with the latter being impressive with ball in hand, defence and his goal kicking through the remainder of the Pool and in the quarter-final.

But Meyer has been the first to admit that tactical kicking has been a problem for the Boks throughout this World Cup, especially in exiting from pressure situations in their own half, and this frailty was cruelly exposed by the All Blacks in the second half of the 18-20 defeat.

Sir Ian McGeechan, the former British and Irish Lions coach and one of the finest rugby brains on the planet said: “The difference between the sides was Dan Carter, who set the tempo for the All Blacks and controlled territory. By stark contrast Handre Pollard struggled. Carter kicked immaculately out of hand, his decision-making was wonderful, his drop goal glorious. But South Africa’s exit play was poor. They could not get any respite in their half because the exit plays by Pollard and Le Roux were just not good enough.”

If this was so obvious to all and sundry, why did not Meyer not have the courage to make a big call and bring on Lambie for Pollard either at half time or not long after, given that the rain had intensified at half time and tactical kicking was going to be even more important? Lambie is a skilled kicker and if he had got more than the 12 minutes he got at the end, he might have been able to get his team into a position to win the game, or even have had the Boks in a position where Carter would not have been able to snatch a momentum-turning drop goal.

Meyer said after the game that he had got a few tactical decisions wrong. The failure to bring on Lambie at half time was one of them. It could have changed the game and won it for the Boks.

A criticism of Meyer is that he does not have a history of making big calls. Three months before the World Cup he emphatically said South Africa could not win the World Cup playing traditional Springbok rugby, that the game had evolved, and the team that won the World Cup had to have an attacking string to its bow.

A few days after losing to Japan, the coach said that the only way South Africa could win the World Cup, was for the Springboks to play their traditional game …

How can a coach have such a paradigm shift in thinking in a matter of weeks? And after a game against Japan that should have been seen in isolation. It was an aberration. The Boks just did not turn up for work because they disrespected their opposition.

And if the Boks were going to abandon all pretense of an attacking game, then surely it would have made sense to keep Kirchner in the picture. On attack, he is dull as ditch water but defensively speaking he is the best fullback in the Bok squad, and if you just want a fullback to catch and kick you out of trouble, he would have been a whole lot more useful against the All Blacks yesterday than Le Roux.

Again, a big call was not made by the coach in failing to pick players that suited the cloth he had cut for the team. In fact, having chosen a conservative strategy for the team, it is a surprise that he did not recall Morne Steyn, the best kicker of a rugby ball in South African since Naas Botha.

by Mike Greenaway

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