Heyneke happy with Boks’ foundation
20 Jun 2012
Heyneke Meyer feels that after two Tests his players understand the game plan and that a strong team culture has been established.
The three-Test series against England was always going to be a tricky one for the new Bok coach. Meyer wouldn’t enjoy sufficient time to coach and prepare his charges, but the Boks would still be expected to win on home soil. He was always going to rely on a more familiar game plan in these circumstances, but he would also need to start putting structures into place before a far more demanding examination in the Rugby Championship.
Meyer has been honest in his assessment of this Bok side, both in terms of its performance in the Tests against England as well as its potential. Before the second Test, he said that this team was only at 5% of its potential. Ahead of the third Test in Port Elizabeth, Meyer said that the percentage had moved up, albeit marginally, to 10.
The Boks have employed a territory-based approach, utilising their kicking strengths to drive for field position via a kick-chase ploy or a punt for the touchline. They have taken very few risks in their own half, preferring to deploy their hard running forwards and centres only after they’ve crossed the 50m line. The backs haven’t featured much from an attacking point of view.
There are those who would bemoan Meyer’s tactics, who would call him conservative and restrictive. But what they fail to realise is that the game plan employed against England is just the beginning. If the Boks can implement these structures successfully, they can move onto the next phase of the plan which is to use the backline far more.
At this stage, however, Meyer is adamant that the Boks perfect the basics. The South Africans haven’t got it exactly right throughout this series, but the coach has seen enough to feel encouraged by their progress.
‘What we have now is that everybody understands the game plan,’ he said. ‘It may not always be executed efficiently, but at least everybody is on the same page. Now we just need to start getting the small details right.’
The Boks blew away England in the first half of last Saturday’s game. The game plan was executed to perfection, with the Boks winning field position before unleashing their bruising ball-carriers on the England defence.
Unfortunately, it was an effort they failed to sustain and a poor second half almost cost them the match.
They may have won the series against England with last week’s victory, but the coming game at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium represents their last Test as a group before the Rugby Championship in August. Again, Meyer was honest about where the Boks stand, and at the same time he is satisfied that enough has been done to ensure they will go into that series with the right mindset.
‘We are not 100% ready for the Rugby Championship, but it’s good to know that things have been put into place. The culture has also been put into place and that should make things a bit easier for what should be a very hard year.
‘We gave some soft tries away last weekend, which was very disappointing. Defence is a part of the culture, you can’t give away points like that, you need to stay focused. The media has speculated that replacements cost us at times last week, but it was soft moments like that. We have to work to ensure that doesn’t happen again.’
Apart from the changes on the field, Meyer has been happy with the progress off it. On Wednesday, it was announced that Jean de Villiers would lead the team until the end of the season. The Meyer-De Villiers combination seems to be working and both clearly know how to get the best out of this group of players.
Last week, De Villiers said that the team had grown with each training session. Following the match at Ellis Park, he lauded the character of the side as they did enough to win the game and the series.
When asked this week about the motivation to whitewash the tourists and extend the Boks’ winning streak against England to 10 victories, De Villiers played down the hype of those figures.
Instead, he preferred to speak about the significance of the game for what is a new team. De Villiers argues that they are determined to improve on the past two performances and the more time they spend together the closer they will become as a unit.
As the Bok captain suggests, an improved showing this Saturday will bode well for the more testing matches in the Rugby Championship.
By Jon Cardinelli, in Port Elizabeth