MARK KEOHANE, in his Business Day newspaper column, says a defeat in 2012 should not be seen as a disaster by the Springboks.
What should be an adventure seemingly has the restriction of a chore. The Springboks are playing with fear of failure when they should be playing with the freedom of fantasy.
It starts with an inexperienced management whose passion for the job is being transferred with too much tension and not enough enjoyment.
Somebody within the leadership of South African rugby has to give Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer comfort that it is not life or death each time the Springboks play.
It may feel like we’ve lost someone on those Saturday evenings when the Boks stumble but sport’s cruelty that a team is only as good as its last game is also its kindness, because there is always the next game to win to allow us all to feel life again.
Meyer needs a soundboard. He needs a man of integrity, with the necessary international experience to allow him to talk out loud without a judgement being made that he is inadequate for the job.
He is good enough to guide the Boks to a position of strength in the world order but he must feel he is operating in a vacuum, a lot of it self-inflicted because of a belief that to ask is to show weakness.
I write this as an observation.
The desire to get it right for fear of letting down a nation is causing anxiety. The players deliver on passion but there has been minimal fluidity in the Tests played this season.
I worked within the Bok management a decade ago at a time when the playing talent was not as inspirational as now and when results were poor. No player ever lost deliberately.
They lose because in most cases they aren’t good enough on the day. The Boks won in Dublin because Ireland weren’t good enough, player for player, or as a collective.
The Irish passion lasted for 40 minutes — 20 minutes more than is the norm for any home team with fantastic support. The 12-3 scoreline, however, was not a reflection of any superiority.
The second half was comfortable for the Boks because they were stronger in the collisions and were never threatened in defence.
The Boks were rightfully expected to win but the pressure the coaching staff are feeling was illustrated in Meyer’s post-match admission it would have been a disaster had they lost.
It would have been difficult to accept given the Boks’ superior playing pedigree but it would not have been a disaster.
The coaching staff ideally want to win every weekend, but there has to be realism that the heart of the Bok pack is new to international rugby and that the coaching staff are feeling as vulnerable. If ever a team is given a pardon it is in the first year after a World Cup when most rebuild in the hope of peaking at the next World Cup.
Meyer’s approach that every Test has to be viewed as a World Cup final is not flawed in that he never wants to diminish a Test match but the execution is creating trepidation when there should be expectation.
There have been short bursts against England and Australia in Pretoria to confirm a player’s ability to play with width, keep the ball and be effective on the attack.
But the overriding sense when watching the Boks is of a conservatism that fears mistakes, fears getting it wrong and doesn’t want to contemplate defeat. The All Blacks, as they did in South Africa, would have punished the hesitancy we saw in Dublin. The context is it wasn’t an impressive rugby performance from the Boks, but it isn’t down to a lack of coaching, game plan or limited player pedigree.
The pack selections are a reflection of the best available but playing Jaco Taute at outside centre and Zane Kirchner at fullback is to limit mistakes and not create opportunity.
Taute at fullback in the place of Kirchner, and introduce the flair of Juan de Jongh, and the backline would be transformed.
The rugby isn’t hard to get right, but it’s the mindset from within that isn’t proving as easy.
The Boks will develop into a very good team, but they’ll get there quicker if the management and by extension the players accept that the stumbles are part of the adventure and not the curse of the adventure.
Meyer, in his first meeting with Bryan Habana this year, told him to find his smile again and he would find his international form.
Where others viewed complexity Meyer recognised the simplicity in the equation.
Smile, Heyneke. It could just be what transforms fractured performances into fluid ones.