MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day newspaper column, says Heyneke Meyer’s dream of coaching the Springboks has become a nightmare.
The Springboks will lose in New Zealand against the All Blacks. They won’t be smashed but they will be beaten.
Johan Goosen will provide greater variety on attack at flyhalf; Francois Louw, selected primarily to slow the pace at which the All Blacks recycle the ball, will ensure there isn’t guaranteed flow and rhythm to the New Zealanders; and the Boks, fronted by the black jersey, the haka and the belief that this match represents the game’s fiercest rivalry, will produce 60 very passionate minutes that will again give South Africans belief, hope and very little perspective.
The Boks will then beat the Wallabies in Pretoria and possibly sneak a win against the All Blacks in Soweto and the Currie Cup play-offs will be wonderful occasions, in which the rugby will seem new age and the sold-out attendance will seem indicative of what makes rugby such a priority to South Africans, if only a minority.
The Boks will head for the UK with renewed hope in November, our media and public will continue to question just how good the All Blacks really are — because they may have lost or come close to losing one match — and present arguments about just how good the Boks could be because they beat or came close to beating the All Blacks in one match.
And then we’ll be in 2013.
You don’t need a crystal ball to know this; just an hour to go through the Boks’ history will show that since professionalism in 1996, every Bok coach would take a team to New Zealand and Australia every year and host New Zealand and Australia every year.
Bok rugby is not in crisis but in a familiar cycle and I think the vitriol being aimed at Heyneke Meyer is because of a belief that he would be the one to break the cycle and be a leader of change.
Instead he, like every Bok coach who has arrived with pomp and ceremony, has been forced to change because of defeat and selections that were stereotypical in design.
Meyer, in discussing his philosophy on rugby, simplified it to there being only two types of rugby — winning and losing. He’s won three from six and it will be three from seven after the weekend. His way currently, based on his philosophy, is a losing one.
The Bok coach has also said that if his players can’t apply the basics to Plan A then why the need to look for a Plan B? Again, by what he has said, he is currently losing.
That is what I have found dispiriting about the draw in Mendoza in Argentina and the defeat against Australia in Perth. Both could have been avoided with more applicable selections to a more applicable way of playing, which is not a South African or a New Zealand way, but — to quote Meyer — a winning way.
We have players in South Africa who can offload in the tackle. We have 10s who can play close to the gain line, ask questions of the defence and make tackles. We have skilled players. We have mongrel in defence. We have players with an appreciation of how the offload in the tackle takes structured defence out of the game and adds pace to the game because it avoids collisions, which can bring the pace to a standstill.
The All Blacks, in picking a scrumhalf whose strength is the speed at which he can move the ball from breakdown to first receiver, have added a dimension to their play but that does not mean they believe this is the only way to be successful.
The talk is that the more physical Piri Weepu could be a better counter to the physicality of the Boks.
The point here is that there is no right or wrong way, but there is a restricted way — and that’s where Meyer has let himself down and made the South African rugby public feel particularly let down.
The view — and I am among the man’s biggest cheerleaders — was that he had the rugby acumen to identify the right mix of players to produce winning rugby, be it playing percentages or blowing opposition away with dominance at the breakdown and with backs running at pace and into space.
For the first 20 minutes of the second half against England in Durban and the first 30 minutes against England in Johannesburg all the signs were there that this could be a very special era of Bok rugby, in which it was accepted that to attack from your own goal line is not necessarily to risk, and to put boot to ball is not necessarily a no-risk option.
I don’t understand the refusal to try out different things, to select a squad that allows for different approaches and to live the dream of coaching a national team.
Instead Meyer is turning it into a nightmare, for himself and supporters.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
It was never supposed to be this way, even if the history of the cycle told us that it would be this way.