RYAN VREDE, in London, reports that Heyneke Meyer says comparisons between the Springboks and All Blacks are ill-formed and unfair, explaining the world champions are far advanced in their development.
The Springboks’ victory over Scotland somewhat polarised opinion. Some lauded an almighty defence performance that restrict their hosts to just one try despite their comprehensive dominance of territory and possession in the second half. Other lamented another match in which the Springboks looked impotent, imprecise and unimaginative in what Meyer calls the ‘goal zone’ (between opposition tryline and 22m).
For most of the latter group, the All Blacks’ 51-22 victory over the Scots six days earlier was used as the benchmark for the Springboks, and their inability to meet those expectations then fueled their frustration.
Meyer is acutely aware of the criticism and comparison and has generally tried to be diplomatic in explaining the mitigating factors for their struggles. However, speaking in London ahead of the final Test of an unbeaten year-end tour against England, Meyer’s own frustrations were obvious.
‘Comparisons are always fun to do. Let’s do another one,’ he began. ‘They’ve played Australia, who are one of the better defensive sides in the world and scored three times. We scored five in one match against Australia at Loftus and one in the other [in Perth], so we’ve got six against their three in a game less. Suddenly the picture looks different.
‘They have the luxury of playing a different side if they choose because they’ve developed the depth. There’s more than 19 players either injured, unavailable or retired from the World Cup Springboks. They use their whole system to ensure the side peaks at the rights times. They are far more experienced – with Richie McCaw there as 100 plus games as an assistant and Steven Hansen 100 games an assistant. So you have to compare apples with apples.’
Meyer, however, tempered that stern rebuttal by acknowledging the Blacks’ killer instinct when presented with scoring opportunities, which is a glaring deficiency in the Springboks’ game.
‘Where they are definitely ahead is that they are far more clinical than us. Whenever they get a chance to score a try they do. Scotland were in the game against them, then they made two errors and the game was different. We were 16-12 up at half time of the Soccer City Test and a mistake from the kick-off and they were away.’
The Springboks’ forwards were awe-inspiring at the gainline on attack in the first half of the Murrayfield Test, as they were in the second against Ireland. Still there is a large degree of predictability about the attack and an apparent lack of spacial awareness of intelligence in contact, which is a hallmark of the Blacks. The New Zealanders carry the ball powerfully, but also possess the presence of mind to do so in a manner that allows them to free their hands often, after which they have the option of picking off support runners, who are never in short supply.
This is the legitimate criticism of the Springboks’ attack, not that they appear to kick away possession (often their opponents, including the Blacks, have kicked more). It is this refinement that is required and that is entirely a coaching issue.