There is little meaning in the third place playoff, but it is likely to simply underscore once more how stubborn and illogical Heyneke Meyer has been as a coach. A golden opportunity to see what the young guns can do has been wasted and the coach has seemingly let sentiment rule once more. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said the third place playoff is a bit like kissing your sister while New Zealand coach Steve Hansen questioned whether it is nothing more than a charade to get some extra coin out of fans who trickle through the gate. Both coaches lamented how difficult it is to pick yourself up and go out all guns blazing for a match that seemingly has little meaning.
It’s a Catch-22 for Meyer. From a statistical perspective, winning is the difference between finishing the year with a win record of 55% or 45% and being third or fourth in the world rankings. But there is something more important at play here and that is Meyer’s approach to the game. Meyer’s future is something that is currently being hotly debated. One, mostly meaningless, match isn’t exactly going to change the public perception but it can provide an opportunity for Meyer to show that he is not as stubborn as many people think.
That seems to be too much to ask of the man who possesses the least amount of logic in World Rugby. The coach has named a strong team for the bronze medal playoff which many will view as a wasted opportunity. A ‘strong’ or ‘best team’ are relative terms at this stage in Meyer’s career. This year has been arguably one of the worst in Springbok history.
South Africa have the potential to be as good as the All Blacks in every way. A country brimming with talent that’s yet to be tapped and structures to ensure that the talented are nurtured already exists. This is not solely about transformation, although that should be a vital part of the four-year plan too. The resources are there, but it will take a visionary for South Africa’s true potential to be realised.
It is easy to get caught up in sentiment, but this is foolish. Let’s not forget that on Meyer’s watch South Africa lost to Japan because they were out of ideas. They lost to Argentina on home soil and they have stagnated by sticking with players who had passed their sell by date. On Saturday in the semifinal, the substitutes off the bench offered no impact and as the All Blacks absorbed and transferred the pressure, they had no answers. The subs simply underscored Meyer’s preference for sentiment rather than logic.
On that semifinal night, South Africa had struggled in the line-outs and the solution was to bring on Victor Matfield – a player who had not played a game of rugby since he was injured a few weeks ago. Yes, Matfield has experience in crunch games, but to expect him to single-handedly turn things around based on a reputation is not just cock-eyed but unfair on the man himself. Lood de Jager has now been punished for struggles and dropped from the starting XV. This is not conducive to progressing a player’s career, especially not a young one.
There is no doubt that Meyer loves the Springboks. But passion does not equate to being the right person for the job. Under his watch, South African rugby has not moved forward. While their rough and tough approach has been effective at times, it has been too one-dimensional and has stunted the growth of some young players.
The team selected proves once again just how anti-rugby Meyer is. Can he really say that a team with Trevor Nyakane, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Rudy Paige, Patrick Lambie, De Jager, Jan Serfontein and Siya Kolisi will not be able to beat Argentina? The answer is no because on every occasion on which Meyer was given the opportunity to see what his fringe players are made of, he refused to do so and he will do so again on Friday.
Perhaps Meyer is giving the bulk of the Boks who are likely to retire after Friday one last chance to say goodbye and, if that is the case, it only further underscores that he has allowed himself to be ruled by sentiment rather than logic.
While the All Blacks and Australia are likely to contest a tight final and one will win the ultimate prize, South Africa will play out a largely meaningless match which will only further underscore just how much of a frustration Meyer’s reign has been.
Win or lose on Friday, for South African rugby, the most important thing is to end the Meyer reign sooner rather than later when the nostalgia has consumed the Boks. DM
Photo: New Zealand and South Africa compete for a lineout ball during the Rugby Union World Cup semi-final at Twickenham in London, Britain, 24 October 2015. EPA/ANDY RAIN