When results don’t go your way it is very easy to focus on the negative, but like any team, or in the beginning of any era, it is essentially what you are building towards what counts.
I have written enough about the obvious challenges Heyneke faced when he was appointed such as the time that he had to prepare himself and the team (timing of the appointment) and who he had available to assist him in his role (assistant coaches).
Another obvious challenge he faced was the loss of experienced players, and there has been quite a few either through retirement or injury.
Some of the more obvious names that have moved on include John Smit, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Fourie du Preez and Jaques Fourie and while the first 2 or 3 players may be past their prime, Du Preez and Fourie are still very much in a position to have contributed to Springbok rugby if only for their current age.
Other players earmarked by Meyer as individuals that he would like to play a part in his squad but also found themselves sidelined through injury include Schalk Burger and Juan Smith, and of course injuries during the international season to Chiliboy, Andries Bekker, Bismarck du Plessis, Duane Vermeulen, Coenie Oosthuizen, JP Pietersen and Pierre Spies did not help either.
While some might argue these names, or some of these names, no longer belong in a Springbok setup they are missing the point. If you have to replace 9 or 10 players that formed the core of any team for such a long period, it presents a very real and very unique challenge.
But that is part of rugby, or as they say, shit happens – the coach needs to make a plan.
Well part of that plan would be to look at who he has brought through and how successful they have been.
In 7 tests, Meyer capped 10 players, quite a lot one might think but given the names listed above as those unavailable, not surprising.
The new caps include locks Eben Etzebeth and Juandre Kruger, props Coenie Oosthuizen and Pat Cilliers, loosies Duane Vermeulen, Marcell Coetzee and Jacques Potgieter, Tiaan Liebenberg, Johan Goosen and JJ Engelbrecht.
I also like to look at new caps as choices being forced onto a coach through mainly injury, and those identified as future stars or part of a plan. Out of the lot I can only really identify Tiaan Liebenberg as an injury enforced cap given the unavailability of Chiliboy and Bismarck du Plessis. Further, caps that ‘did not quite work out’ for Meyer can only really be identified as those of Jacques Potgieter and JJ Engelbrecht.
That means that 7 individuals Heyneke Meyer has introduced in 7 tests either carry the favour of the rugby public, or have exceeded expectations in their debut season – that is almost half a rugby team.
Meyer may well be copping some legitimate flack for certain selections and a questionable game plan, but no rugby coach has a magic wand. One thing Meyer cannot be accused of is lack of trying things after losing 14 very experienced and key players either permanently or through injuries at various stages.
In fact, he seems to score more hits than misses in identifying a new core group of players to take South African rugby into a new, and hopefully very dominant era.