MARK KEOHANE, in his Business Day newspaper column, writes denial is the devil that has to be avoided for the Boks to be winners and the best team in the world.
Once again South Africans will take comfort that the All Blacks are not quite as good and the Boks are not quite as bad. Once again we can reflect on a heroic defeat. Once again we would be deluded.
If the aim is to consistently be the best rugby team in the world then brave 10-point defeats against the old foe can’t be viewed as victories. If the aim is to be the best then the Boks have to set standards that include not playing well and beating the All Blacks by 10 points; not exceeding expectation and still losing by 10 points.
There has to be a change of mindset, from within the current management. And there has to be a demand from the rugby public that quality of performance is never secondary.
There has to be some honesty about where it went wrong. Only then can it be corrected.
Meyer, as coach and head strategist, promised more than we saw in Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, and the public rightly expected more of the Springboks.
I don’t get why there is an absolute fear of failure within the management. If ever there was a time where the public would have been accommodating it was in the year post a World Cup when most teams tend to be in transition and when coaches can embrace variation in selection, strategy and approach.
I am not talking about experimentation but variation.
All of the successful Bok teams of the professional era have played good rugby without having to be like the All Blacks and Wallabies and without having to give up the fundamentals associated with the South African game.
Meyer’s Boks are capable of so much more, but it starts with the coach and his support staff.
Passion should be a given and not the exception that gets the Boks close to beating the All Blacks in New Zealand or inspires the one-off win against the Kiwis in South Africa.
The Boks have players capable of producing a game that embraces moving the ball through hands and winning with skill and not relying exclusively on forward dominance and physical superiority.
Every good Bok team has employed an effective kicking game, and there is no crime in Meyer believing in the merits of playing for field position and minimising risk. But it has to be balanced with a trust that those selected are good enough to want to maintain possession and effectively use this possession.
Selections have to offer hope of victory and not limit the margin of the defeat.
I am not dispirited. If Meyer had done everything right and the Boks were three from seven, then we could talk about a catastrophe.
He hasn’t and acknowledging this would signal strength in character.
There is hope for the Boks and there will always be because the quality of player is good enough to beat any team once, but the measure of great Bok teams is that they beat all opponents more than once, home and away.
Meyer’s conservatism in selection cost him a famous win in Dunedin. I championed Meyer’s national appointment, but he’s struggled more than I ever anticipated in getting his selections right. He surely can’t get them wrong for the two home remaining Rugby Championship matches against Australia and New Zealand.
There can no longer be a case made for Morne Steyn’s retention. There can also no longer be the nonsense of Johan Goosen not being good enough, experienced enough or old enough to start. There can’t be an argument to ignore the claims of Elton Jantjies as his understudy and if Meyer does not rate Pat Lambie then he owes it to the player to send him back to Durban and allow him to actually play some rugby.
I never considered Meyer would struggle to break his association with the Bulls, but I underestimated the bond that exists. His loyalty to Morne Steyn was misguided and no newcomer picked at flyhalf would have been afforded seven Test matches in which to get it right. No newcomer would have been excused a goal-kicking success rate in the mid-50s.
Defeat will force change but there would have been greater comfort had innovation determined selection.
The Boks always produce inspired performances at home in the latter stages of what was the Tri Nations and now is the Rugby Championship. What we are seeing in 2012 is no different to what we saw a decade ago.
I refuse to believe Meyer will not get it right. He is a student of the game, a man who instills confidence when talking rugby and a man who appreciates the nuances of the game.
Which makes the last month that much harder to fathom. How the hell did he get it so wrong, in selection and in inspiration?
I can’t recall a coach being more unanimously embraced as a national appointment and Meyer needs to know the public wants him to succeed.
He needs to lose the fear of failure and trust his ability to win as much as the public did when lauding his appointment. If he does that, not only will there be hope for the Boks, there will also be conviction in the belief they can be the best.