The Springboks trumpeted naming their most experienced Test side in history prior to their defeat to Japan. That experience was exposed as lacking any substance, writes RYAN VREDE.
I've supported Heyneke Meyer's belief in most of the veterans, especially the retention of Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield. I understood his reasoning and gave him the benefit of the doubt on the basis of him sharing his perspective elaborately in informal private conversations. That's not to say I didn't have reservations, all of which have manifest themselves this year. In hindsight, the signs have been there for a little longer than that.
In 2011 I strongly criticised John Smit's retention as a starting hooker on the basis of his experience. Four years later that same criticism rings true for another group of fading stars whose reputations have endured, despite the absence of the requisite level of competence required to contribute significantly beating even minnows Japan.
In Brighton, there was no sign of the Matfield that used to be the potent ruler of the air. Jannie du Plessis, once a powerful scrummager and important cog in the machine in general play, has been flogged to the point where he is a liability. JP Pietersen's woeful form endures. The winger has scored two tries in his last 10 Tests and a meager 18 in 61 Tests, hardly a return that demands his ongoing selection. Understandably, De Villiers's conditioning isn't good after a lengthy injury lay off. The World Cup is hardly the place to improve that and his ongoing value as a starter needs to be seriously assessed.
I've shone the spotlight on four players. There are others who are not better than some of their competition in the squad. This of course is Meyer's failing and it is imperative that he is held to account. Worrying, Meyer and De Villiers could not explain why they lost to Japan. They're too close to the situation to acknowledge that selections were deeply flawed and need to be adjusted to include players who are better. Note, better, not younger. I've maintained that performance should dictate selection. If veterans are making consistently positive contributions they should be retained until such time that they no longer do.
Incidentally the Boks' diabolical performance and defeat comes in the same week as the All Blacks named their most experienced match-day squad ever. Yet the difference between the two sides in the context of what the world champions' veterans offered them in a tight contest with Argentina couldn't be more stark. The Pumas huffed and puffed but it's occupants ensured the house never fell down. Despite trailing the Pumas going into the final quarter, the Blacks always looked composed, sure of their ability to break their opponents' stubborn resistance. While many of the Boks' veterans were dwarfed by the pressure against Japan, their Blacks counterparts grew in stature and influence in the face of a spirited effort from Argentina.
The Blacks exhibited a truism the Springboks haven't grasped: Experience counts for nothing if not accompanied by high levels of physical, technical and mental competency.
The rhetoric doing the rounds is that Meyer has to be brave going forward into the tournament by starting the likes of Damian de Allende, Handré Pollard, Jesse Kriel and Pieter-Steph du Toit (as a lock). These aren't brave decisions at all, they're logical ones against which no case can be mounted.
Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images