Heyneke Meyer got it wrong in Brisbane with his tactical substitutions – and it cost the Springboks victory against Australia, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.
Meyer’s pre-determined substitutions, which showed a disregard for the flow of the game, weakened the Springboks.
This is one for Meyer to front because it isn’t the first time pre-determined substitutions have aided the opposition.
Meyer, in his four-year tenure, has got a lot right with the Boks. What he hasn’t quite mastered is the art of allowing the game to unfold without falling victim to the modern-day way, which is that certain players simply can’t play 80 minutes of Test rugby.
Bismarck du Plessis should never have been substituted on 49 minutes. He was colossal in everything, especially his ability to turn over ball, and he gave the Boks an additional fetcher option. He also did the basics so well. He had presence; mongrel and mostly he had discipline.
Australia could not cope with Du Plessis, and in the 49 minutes he was leading the Bok charge, the Aussies could not cope with the Bok forwards, be it at set piece or at the breakdown.
Those opening 49 minutes from the Boks were very impressive. Every quality of the Boks came to the fore. The Bok lineout, despite losing Victor Matfield through injury, was competent against an international lineout consistently among the best.
The Boks’ discipline was outstanding and the attack was world-class. The line-kicking was inconsistent but Handré Pollard’s natural desire to take the ball flat and ability to pass with such accuracy and length gives the Boks an attacking dimension that simply isn’t there when Pollard isn’t at 10.
The midfield of Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel again showed up well on attack, although De Allende’s decision-making in when to offload let him down and cost the Boks a potential try.
De Allende has every physical attribute of a world-class No 12. What he needs to hone is the subtlety and nuances that differentiate a good Test No 12 from a very good, influential and match-winning No 12.
Meyer, rightly, looked at the positives from Brisbane. He spoke of the set piece before the substitutions and of the effort of a loose trio very different to Meyer’s ideal mix – one that would include Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts.
Schalk Burger started at No 8 on Brisbane and his performance was the pick of those Boks who lasted 80 minutes.
Burger doesn’t play with the imposing physicality of a Vermeulen but outside of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw there is no loose forward whose return is as industrious.
Burger’s on-the-ball activity would be second to no Springbok. He has a natural feel for where the ball will be or where the play will breakdown, and invariably he’ll be there. He made 22 tackles against Australia and was unrelenting in his commitment. He set the tone defensively and the all-round Bok effort was world-class.
There was very little with which to take aim at the players. This was a game decided by Australia’s desire to go for a win, a bit of good fortune and Meyer’s letting Australia back into the contest through his early substitutions.
Meyer will have his reasons for making the substitutions and he will also find reasons to defend the substitutions, should that be his mindset. But in time he will be honest enough to know he failed to read the influence Du Plessis was having on denying Australia a platform from which to play.
Australia’s coaching staff got it wrong in not starting with Brumbies loose forward David Pockock and unfortunately for the Boks, Pockock’s introduction coincided with Marcel Coetzee’s departure because of injury.
Coetzee had been outstanding, as had Burger, Louw and Du Plessis The latter may wear No 2 but he plays the breakdown like the best opensiders.
He should have played the 80 minutes. How he must wish he’d get to play 80 minutes because of performance and not 50 or 60 because science says he can’t make 80 minutes.
Du Plessis was easily the Bok highlight. This was as close to the best he has played since the 2011 performance against the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth, when he was also subbed to give John Smit a final goodbye in South Africa. Du Plessis shouldn’t have made way in PE, such was the influence of his display, and he shouldn’t have been subbed in Brisbane.
There was enough in the Bok performance in Brisbane to have the hopefuls thinking this Bok team is good enough to win the World Cup but there was also enough vulnerability in the last 20 minutes to show how easily it can be lost.
Meyer missed a trick in Brisbane. Let’s hope there’s not a repeat in Johannesburg.
Photo: Luke Walker/Gallo Images