The Springboks paid the ultimate price for Heyneke Meyer’s poor selections as well as the senior players’ arrogance, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Give Japan some credit. That is the message coming out of the Bok camp. The Brave Blossoms deserve everyone’s respect. They were outstanding in everything they did this past Saturday. They deserved to win.
But then we didn’t need the Boks to tell us that. What we need to know is why it took 80 minutes for the Boks to reach that conclusion themselves.
The arrogance of the Boks at the Brighton Community Stadium this past Saturday was astounding. Ultimately, while Japan deserved to win, the Boks deserved to lose. They may not have learned an important lesson had they hung on for a narrow victory.
And it was some defeat: a loss to a side ranked No 13 in the world, a side that was, at least on paper, not equipped to match the might of a tier-one juggernaut.
Where was the effort? Where was the basic rugby intelligence? Where was the leadership?
We’ll explore those questions in more depth shortly. Firstly, let’s examine Meyer’s selections as well as his flawed insistence on moving away from the Boks’ traditional strengths.
Zane Kirchner at fullback. Ruan Pienaar at scrumhalf, and Pat Lambie at flyhalf. Those players are suited to a more tactical approach.
A pragmatic approach was needed to nullify Japan’s free-running strengths. What I still can’t figure out, and what players and coaches have failed to answer over the past couple of days, is why Meyer tried to use the likes of Kirchner, Pienaar and Lambie in a high-tempo, ball-in-hand, approach.
Kirchner’s decision-making on the counter-attack was poor and often momentum-killing. The Bok pack lost the battle at the collisions and breakdowns, and the halfbacks were under pressure. However, the frantic reactions of Pienaar and Lambie spoke volumes. If Pienaar and Lambie can’t deliver under pressure in a game against Japan, what chance do they have in a big quarter-final against England, Australia or Wales?
The Boks paid dearly for their arrogance. The decision to turn down a shot at goal early in the game contradicted everything Meyer had said in the lead up to the tournament. World Cups are won by goal-kicking. There aren’t many scoring opportunities, so you need to take the points on offer. Take the points, and build scoreboard pressure. And when the opposition attempt to chase the game and make mistakes, punish them.
Some might suggest that this is the reality check the Boks desperately needed. Indeed, the egos, especially those of the senior players, would have taken a hit after that loss to Japan. It would have forced them to face facts: the Boks aren’t really that good, and haven’t been for some time.
They haven’t won a title since the 2009 Tri-Nations. They need to remember that. They have no cause to be overly confident or arrogant. They need to remember where they stand in the grand scheme of things. That basic understanding should underscore everything they do. They should be constantly working to prove themselves.
After the loss to Japan, Meyer apologised and Jean de Villiers said he couldn’t explain where it all went wrong. A real act of contrition would be a revised selection policy and strategy. Meyer must show some conviction in selecting his best side and sticking to a game plan that has brought the Boks success in the past.
As for De Villiers, he need look no further than a mirror for answers. De Villiers and the leadership group were shown up badly. The poor on-field decision-making and the attitude of the senior players contributed to the defeat. The Boks never looked like they were in control.
That Meyer needs to make changes is not even up for debate. Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Damian de Allende, Handré Pollard, Fourie du Preez, Duane Vermeulen, and Willem Alberts should all make a marked difference in the starting side.
And without question, there needs to be a change in attitude. The Boks haven’t won anything for some time, and have no reason to be confident or arrogant. The coming game against Samoa represents an opportunity to get back to what they know, and regain some respect.
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