Neither coach Heyneke Meyer nor captain Jean de Villiers know why the Springboks slumped to their first-ever defeat against Japan on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI in Brighton, reports.
The impossible has happened: The two-time world champions have lost to a side that is currently ranked 13th in the world.
The shock and horror was written all over the faces of the coaches and players at the Brighton Community Stadium on Saturday night. Meyer looked absolutely shattered by the result as he took his position for the post-match press conference. De Villiers wore an expression of somebody who had seen a ghost.
The Boks went into this tournament as favourites to top Pool B. However, following the 34-32 loss to lowly Japan in Brighton, that prediction will need to be adjusted. The Boks will need to fight just to qualify for the play-offs.
De Villiers battled to articulate his thoughts at the post-match press conference. There was no sign of that trademark humour. The Bok captain repeated the same line over and over, as if he couldn't wait to escape the press room.
‘It was just one of those performances,’ he said. ‘You can’t put your finger on what was the exact reason. We will take responsibility. It was a below par performance. It was unacceptable.’
The game ended in dramatic fashion, with Japan scoring a try in injury time to overtake the Boks. De Villiers said he was disappointed with his side’s game management and composure at the death.
‘We knew that we had to stay composed, but we kept letting them back in. We would score a try, then concede points at the other end. I don’t have an answer for why things went wrong.’
A pale looking Meyer slumped in his chair. He said that the Boks can still win the World Cup after losing to Japan, but the tone of this statement lacked conviction.
‘We let our country down. We knew what to expect from Japan, but we just conceded too many penalties on the day.
‘I thought that four tries would be enough to secure the win, but then our discipline let us down. We couldn’t generate any go-forward, and if you can’t get quick ball, you can’t win a game.
‘If this isn’t a wake-up call I don’t know what is,’ Meyer continued. ‘We can still win this World Cup.’
Some have asserted that the Boks played into Japan’s hands by trying to play at pace. Meyer disagreed with this view.
‘On the contrary, I think we paid them too much respect. We should have played more rugby. As it was, we got caught in a kicking duel. We conceded too many penalties, and that disrupted our momentum.
‘I won’t blame the players. The buck stops with me, because I selected those players. I had the confidence in the players who were coming back from injuries, who weren't quite there [at the top of their game].
‘I still think we can win this tournament. I will have to push some hard buttons to get the right results. There’s no point blaming individuals, because it’s a team effort. The team has to stand up.’
The Boks will play Samoa in their next pool match on 26 September.
Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images