Heyneke Meyer and his charges should be lauded for keeping faith in their structures and team culture, writes JON CARDINELLI in Auckland.
One of the first words to come out of the Bok coach's mouth at Saturday's post-match press conference was 'sorry'. The Boks had just beaten the Wallabies at Suncorp Stadium for the first time in history. They had scored four tries and consolidated their position at the top of the Castle Rugby Championship log. They had made a statement with their brutal attitude in contact as well as the successful application of a simple, yet effective game plan.
Meyer didn't have to apologise. He had been caught on camera, celebrating wildly in the coach's box at key moments of the contest. Afterwards, he explained that emotion had got the better of him, and asked the South African public for forgiveness. It was inferred that the Boks wanted to project a magnanimous attitude in victory and not rub salt into the wounds of the Wallabies.
Again, it was an apology he didn't need to make. Meyer deserved to celebrate wildly. The magnitude of the result certainly warranted an emotional reaction.
I remember a similar scene back in 2008 when then coach Peter de Villiers hammered the desk in the coach's box in an act of elation. Ricky Januarie had scored an opportunistic try to end a 10-year drought on New Zealand soil. This past Saturday, the Boks broke their duck at Suncorp Stadium and won their first game in Australasia under Meyer. Why should the architect of one of the great Bok wins be denied a celebratory whoop or two?
There is something familiar about that moment in the coach's box, but there is also something very different about the class of 2013 when compared to that of 2008.
For starters, Meyer's charges don't boast the quality or experience of a team packed with players who had won the 2007 World Cup. And what many people forget is that it took a lucky bounce for the Boks to pull off that victory in Dunedin. At Suncorp Stadium this past Saturday, there was nothing fortuitous about the result.
At Saturday's press conference, Meyer took the opportunity to thank everybody involved for their contribution. He lauded his captain, Jean de Villiers, who had yet another outstanding game as both a leader and player. Meyer praised just about every squad member, and then proceeded to thank the management staff. The only person who didn't get a mention was the coach himself.
People should not underestimate what Meyer has accomplished with this team over the past 18 months, and indeed the goals he has for the group in the next two years.
He is often painted as a conservative who is limited in his thinking, when in reality he's been at the cutting edge of the sport ever since his days with the Bulls.
That the Boks play a simple game is down to the restrictive laws. A powerful pack, a solid defence, and a strong kicking game are prerequisites to success in the modern game. If a team gets on top of an opponent as the Boks did this past Saturday, then there will be opportunities to attack and counter-attack later in the match.
South Africans will be celebrating a famous Bok win this morning, but they should also be trumpeting a performance that was both dominant and inspiring. They should realise that the Boks haven't changed much in terms of their game plan, and that scoring tries is easier when the basics are done brilliantly.
The public should also acknowledge the influence Meyer has had on this collective. I wrote earlier this year that the showing against Samoa was the most complete under Meyer. I used the same sentence when speaking about the hammering of Argentina at Soccer City. I would reach for the same phrase again to describe the most recent triumph over the Wallabies. What makes that win in Brisbane most significant is that it was achieved in hostile conditions and at a ground where the Boks have never won before.
This team has already achieved so much over the past two months, and the encouraging thing about the recent showings is that there is still room to improve.
The Boks will be even stronger in the next 12 months when some of their key players return from injury and overseas club commitments. Much was made about Zane Kirchner's selection in the build-up to the Test in Brisbane, but it was a selection that Meyer had to make, given his limited options.
Kirchner once again proved himself a reliable if not spectacular player, and he can be counted on to fill the gap in future games when the best players aren't available.
When the likes of JP Pietersen return, however, we could see Meyer shifting Willie le Roux back to No 15. And when Frans Steyn is fit, it could be that the World Cup winner starts at fullback, with Le Roux settling on the wing.
The Boks will be full of confidence ahead of this Saturday's clash with the All Blacks. They find themselves in a win-win situation, as despite their resounding performance against the Wallabies, they will go into the contest at Eden Park as underdogs.
The Boks haven't won at this venue since 1937. What this means is that the All Blacks will be expected to win, and that pressure on the hosts will count in the Boks' favour.
Regardless of the outcome, the Boks will return to South Africa knowing that their overseas tour has been a success. They have made some big statements in what have been difficult away conditions, and while their physical performances have been impressive, their composure has been one of the real highlights.
The collective deserves praise, but so too does the man at the helm. Meyer will go down in history for what was achieved in Brisbane this past Saturday. Perhaps the most encouraging thing to note is that the best is yet to come from both coach and team in the next 12 months.
Photo: Patrick Hamilton/AFP Photo
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