If we had to play a game of “Guess the coach from the quotes” and I had to write something to the effect of: ‘Our problem is not how we play or our game plan but jus the execution of it’, or: ‘We don’t need a Plan B we just need to make sure Plan A works’, or even: ‘We have proven how effective we can be in other tests’ – I wonder which Bok coach(es) will be named?
The above by the way are all quotes from our current Springbok coach, Heyneke Meyer, following yesterday’s disappointing showing against the English in a cold, wet and windy Port Elisabeth, but it was when I read them that I immediately got a feeling of dé jà vu and it did not take me long to dig up similar comments from the archives. The place was Durban, the year, 2008 – ironically another test where so-called ‘supporters’ boo’d their own team and players following a loss to Australia.
There is no getting away from how poor the Springboks were in PE yesterday and some players must surely take responsibility for their poor showing after the coach put so much faith in them even against huge public criticism, but it’s also, typically South African and something I have personally become used to.
I must say the part I find amusing at the moment is how some of the individuals in the media currently ‘defending’ the national coach were the same people that rubbished these ‘excuses’ not even 4 years ago – but that’s another story all together.
Fact is, there should not even be a situation of ‘defending’ or ‘attacking’ a coach, like all others before him, he will be judged by his results, it is viewing those results in context which seems to be an art lost amongst supporters and critics.
Context following the last 3 tests tells me the following:
- The Springboks won a test series against one of the top 5 teams in the world.
- They did it in the middle of a grueling Super Rugby competition with only a week to prepare before the first test.
- It was accomplished with quite a number of players injured before the series started and more key players getting injured during the course of the series.
- Heyneke Meyer’s record as Springbok coach currently reads; 2-0-1 (W-L-D)
The context as stated above highlights (not excuse) possible reasons for some of the performances we have seen over the last 3 weeks. These performances ranged from sublime (first half hour in Johannesburg), to average (much of the first test and second half of the second test), to downright piss-poor (Port Elisabeth).
Player selections seems to unlock the biggest criticism, and while performances of certain individuals like Morne Steyn and Francois Hougaard are rightly questioned, we easily forget those selections which inspired like Marcell Coetzee and Eben Etzebeth who made stunning debuts under Meyer.
Similarly, although we can rightly question the fact why some players seem to be selected on reputation alone like Pierre Spies, why do we not acknowledge the reputations of players like Jean de Villiers and Bryan Habana which seemed to have been enhanced under Meyer?
You are never going to get it 100% right as a coach, it is simply impossible, and down the line his faith in players are going to start wearing thin and they are going to find themselves out in the cold sooner rather than later – but it is damn unfair to expect a coach to make career-changing decisions on his troops after just 240 minutes on the park.
Personally I have no doubt we will see a number of changes for the Rugby Championship, not wholesale changes, but more educated changes as Meyer would have learned, and will continue to learn following each test.
It might not have been pretty, but it is mission accomplished for the Boks and Meyer, and with a personal rating of 6.5 out of 10 for the England series, I am looking forward to tackling the Aussies, Kiwi’s and Argies in 2 months time.