Meyer accomplishes first mission
18 Jun 2012
MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says Heyneke Meyer would have learned a lot from the Boks’ Test series win against England.
Credit must go to England for a magnificent second-half comeback that could have ended in victory. Better teams have failed miserably against the Springboks at altitude and I can’t think of teams that have come back from an 18-point deficit at Ellis Park to win.
With 10 minutes to go, I thought England were the stronger team and the more likely to win. The Boks were hurt by injury and I don’t think the front-row substitutions added value to the match.
Losing loose forward Willem Alberts to injury was significant. Keegan Daniel is a fine player but he is not a straight swap for Alberts and the Boks lost physicality and bulk. They also lost presence at the breakdown when hooker Bismarck du Plessis was substituted on the hour and they certainly lost their lineout composure and organisation when Juandré Kruger’s match was ended prematurely because of injury.
The pack was a shambles at full-time, with England dominating physically, technically and tactically.
If it reads like a horror show then it certainly had the potential to become one but for the individualism of right wing JP Pietersen, whose electric break set up the match-winning try that he fittingly scored in the 75th minute.
Pietersen’s Test career has been as mixed a bag as the Boks’ performance at the weekend. His innocuous play has made as big a statement as the match defining-moments he has produced.
Fortunately he seems to produce the extraordinary against England. Some players take a liking to particular opponents. South Africans must be grateful that for Pietersen that is England.
It needed the sort of moment he produced to resist England’s fightback as all the momentum was with the visitors.
The Boks were sensational in the first 30 minutes of the game and again showed the potential to become the world’s best team, but they also displayed the kind of vulnerability that could see them struggle in the expanded Rugby Championship.
This season will be a testing one for Heyneke Meyer and the Boks. You don’t just replace Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Fourie du Preez and Jaque Fourie. You also don’t just find a substitute for Juan Smith and Schalk Burger, and you can’t ignore that three of the starting pack are playing their first month of Test rugby.
This is a young Bok side prone to error and indifference, and they showed us that in the second half, but they also showed how much there is on offer in the opening half and on balance in the two Test wins in Durban and Johannesburg the good outweighs the wobbles.
I couldn’t settle on a word to adequately describe the 80 minutes of the second Test. To call it a strange 80 minutes would be an understatement and not necessarily accurate.
The neutral would have enjoyed the rugby played. There was (among both teams) flamboyance, creativity, attacking intent and a willingness to use the hands more than the boot to advance the attack.
There was also a lot of naivety from both sides, but that is not unexpected given the relative inexperience in so many key decision-making positions.
Both coaches will believe their players are stronger for the experience of the past fortnight. But as Meyer told the media afterwards, his good fortune is that he can reflect on a victory when assessing the weaknesses of the performance.
Victory allows for calmness and it also ensures greater perspective from the public.
Meyer’s priority was to win the series and that goal has been met. Don’t lose sight of the significance of the series win in testing circumstances and against opponents who have earned respect by way of their performance in both Tests.
Meyer, especially, will have learned plenty and England coach Stuart Lancaster will have greater self-belief that the right players have been identified after the disaster of England’s 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
Saturday’s third Test will be as important as the first two for both sides because the two teams will meet again at Twickenham at the end of the year and they will both be among the title contenders for the 2015 World Cup to be played in England.
Every time these two sides meet there will be value in the battle and the gains and losses that result will extend beyond the scoreboard.
The great plus of a three-Test series is that it does ask every question of a squad’s capabilities and those of its coaching staff, but it also provides the opportunity for answers … some of which may not make for pleasant reading.