The Springboks land in Johannesburg on Tuesday with their coach, Heyneke Meyer, in defiant mood after he yesterday insisted that he is the man to take the Springboks further, that criticism of him was unjustified, and that he has the backing of the government.
Meyer feels his side’s third place was a credible achievement and he is determined to convince a Saru review committee in December that he should take the Boks to the next World Cup, in Japan in 2019.
“As I always remind my family, we Meyers never give up,” the 48-year-old said. “We are very positive and we never give up on people — we never give up on others or ourselves.”
Meyer, speaking before the team left London, reminded reporters that he had a record of recovering from tough times to win titles.
“At the Bulls, I lost 11 games in a row. I was sworn at, spat at, people threw things at me … I’ve been fired three times and I came back and I won the Super Rugby trophy three times,” he said.
“Giving up is not part of my vocabulary. Leadership is about walking up front when it isn’t going well and leading the team. I will never walk away from something I believe in, it isn’t part of my personality.
“It’s easy to throw insults at me, but that is just when you need to be strong,” Meyer said. “We have had some very bad times, but I am excited about this team. If we could get the country to work together, especially in Super Rugby and with the top players being centrally contracted (by Saru), there is no team that can stop us. We can be invincible.”
Meyer said that for every critic in South Africa, there was a host of people who were behind the Boks, including the ANC.
“I have had unbelievable support from politicians,” he said. “I have had SMS’s from members of the ANC saying: “Well done and we are proud of you.”
The coach added that critics who deemed the Boks’ World Cup campaign a failure were being harsh.
“It depends what you define as a success. At the end of the day only one team can win the World Cup and 19 others can’t,” Meyer said.
“We have high standards and only winning is good enough, but you must see it in context as well, there are bigger things such as did we make a difference in people’s lives? I can tell you we did because we received massive support from South Africans at home and here in England.”
Meyer feels that there were extenuating circumstances for the Boks’ poor showing in the build-up to the World Cup, which culminated in a first-round defeat to Japan.
“We didn’t do well in Super Rugby and had no momentum before the Rugby Championship, as well as very little preparation time,” he said. “What is tough about the Rugby Championship is that we played the three best teams in the world and then two of them at the World Cup (New Zealand and Argentina). Just to win would be good enough in my books, but even in defeat there have very good things happening with this team and I would like to work with the young nucleus we now have.”
Whoever gets the Springbok coaching job going forward will indeed have a core of youngsters that will spearhead the South African challenge in 2019. The entire tight five that played in the Boks’ semi-final against New Zealand will continue next year — Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, and Lood de Jager (plus Pieter-Steph du Toit), while of the loose trio, only Schalk Burger has hinted that he is retiring from Test rugby.
In the backline, the axis of Handre Pollard, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel is still in the first flush of youth while Rudy Paige is set to come through at scrumhalf.
by Mike Greenaway
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