Keep the faith

RYAN VREDE writes that the Springboks’ performance in Mendoza was woeful but it is premature to make absolute judgements about Heyneke Meyer’s aptitude.

A draw, and the manner thereof, against Argentina was inexcusable. Meyer said as much in his post-match assessment.

It would be remiss not to credit Argentina for their industry, intensity and tactical appreciation. They were outstanding when viewed in the context of their opponents and the infancy of their Rugby Championship involvement. But this was one the Springboks botched as opposed to one they were completely overwhelmed in. They were awful, with their attacking game in particular failing to inspire.

However, the emotion-fuelled predictions of peril that soared after the final whistle and that persist are premature and unfounded. It is understandable in some ways. The level of disappointment is influenced by the level of expectation. The result, which Meyer agreed felt like a defeat, wasn’t inconceivable, but the widely held expectation was for a comfortable Springboks win. Still, it is absurd to see that result and the quality of the performance as indicative of a doomed road ahead under Meyer.

The coach has never explicitly asked for time to settle into his role, for his charges to grasp his philosophies and methods or for him to address physical, technical and mental shortcomings of individuals. But to expect him to have immediate success is unreasonable, particularly given the limited preparation time he has had with the squad, the youthfulness of his group and injuries to key and experienced players (and the unavailability of talented rookies).

With regards to the latter, the perspective here is that the absence of JP Pietersen, Bismarck du Plessis and Schalk Burger is significant. The trio are among the best in their positions in world rugby and have over 150 Test caps between them. I’ve lamented Pierre Spies’ inability to impose himself consistently on the Test stage, but he is a player I believed would thrive with his mentor at the helm, and one with a half century of caps.

Coenie Oosthuizen was an integral part of Meyer’s plan before he was injured, as was Ryan Kankowski before he opted to continue his career in Japan. Both are seasoned players and possess the ability to make telling impacts off the wood. Furthermore, Johan Goosen and Duane Vermuelen’s injuries denied Meyer their services (both would have had substantial game time) and strike one as having the technical and mental constitution to have made the transition to Test rugby relatively comfortably.

Meyer’s preferred scrumhalf, Fourie du Preez, was committed to Sungoliath in Japan. Du Preez is likely to return for the year-end tour (should a renegotiation of his contract work out as planned), but for now Meyer has a void not yet adequately filled in his absence.

I’m not an apologist for Meyer, but there needs to be perspective on the Springboks’ future under him. It is not bleak. He is different from Peter de Villiers, who was technically and tactically inept and largely squandered the player riches at his disposal during his tenure.

But how long is long enough before we can make more legitimate conclusions about him and his methods? I would say by the end of the 2013 Rugby Championship, when he would have had more than enough time to work with the players he wants, not those he was forced to turn to through circumstance.

Follow Ryan on Twitter
Follow SA Rugby magazine on Twitter