Arrogance and a refusal to learn from the same old mistakes as well as Heyneke Meyer’s stubbornness mean the Boks face an uphill battle for the remainder of the Rugby World Cup. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
When Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s reign eventually ends, it will be marked with a number of records for which no coach wants to be remembered. On Meyer’s watch, South Africa have reached more “lowest points in their history” than under any other coach. A dramatic 32-34 win for Japan in Brighton on Saturday night was, quite possibly, the most embarrassing moment of Meyer’s career. That is not to take anything away from Japan and Eddie Jones, it simply serves to highlight just how wrong Meyer has gotten things during his tenure.
Even before kick-off, eyebrows were raised when it emerged that Willem Alberts was out injured and Meyer opted to play Pieter-Steph du Toit in his place ahead of Siya Kolisi. For many, this highlighted just how anti-transformation Meyer is and the transformation debate rumbled on. For some, playing a white player, fresh from injury, out of position ahead of an in-form black player underscored that Meyer clearly has no interest in transformation. Perhaps he was concerned that if he started Kolisi and he was injured, the Boks would not have anybody to carry their tackle bags, the joke on social media went. For others, Meyer’s decision simply confirmed that he has no clue what he is doing and that he’s not anti-transformation, but simply anti-logic. It also highlighted the dangers of Meyer insisting on taking players who are already struggling with niggles, and that was only the start.
The Springboks were technically poor, with technical errors that would make schoolboys blush. Those who are in the “Meyer as no logic camp” tutted and wagged their fingers when he took off try-scoring Lood de Jager and kept Victor Matfield on. What is clear from Japan’s historic win over South Africa is that there is a tough road ahead for the Boks and that they do not learn from their mistakes. Constantly kicking into touch against Japan exuded just a hint of arrogance, the same kind of arrogance which cost South Africa against Argentina not too long ago. The team is intellectually barren on the field and if they thought things were difficult against Japan, it is only going to get worse if their stubbornness persists.
South Africa’s brains trust will also do well to look at the size of Japan’s players. The Boks have often favoured brawn over brains but Japan’s man of the match, Fumiaki Tanaka, weighs just 71kg. Japan were tackling the bulky Boks like they were small players. It showed that there is still room for technique and skill to overpower size in the physical exchanges, all it takes is a good coach.
South Africa’s post-match platitudes aren’t worth repeating. In this day of media-trained players who pick their words carefully, they are as generic as you might expect, but considering that we have been here before, on more than one occasion, those words ring hollow because South Africa have never made good on their promises of learning from their mistakes.
In stark contrasts to the Boks, Japan have got plenty to look forward to in the remaining group stages of the tournament. They are no longer the underdogs whom teams view as the whipping boys, only in the tournament for record-margin wins or “on holiday” as some SuperSport pundit said prior to the Rugby World Cup kicking off.
In cases of such tremendous upsets, it is easy to come across as patronising towards the ‘little’ guys, but Japan and Jones really do deserve to be showered with praise. It is not just the way they played technically that was impressive, their never-ending tenacity was incredible. Most notable, as the clock was running down and Japan were pushing forward in the Boks’ half, they could have easily kicked for a penalty and settled for what would have been a memorable draw. But they didn’t, they backed themselves to go for the win and they got it. This is how legends are made and while some will argue that “Japan had nothing to lose” – win, lose or draw – their character showed in those dying minutes of the game and it is something the Springboks could learn a lot form. It’s just a pity they won’t learn it under the guidance of Meyer. DM
Photo: Japanese players celebrate after winning the Rugby World Cup 2015 pool B match between South Africa and Japan at the Amex stadium in Brighton, Britain, 19 September 2015. EPA/GERRY PENNY.