Heyneke Meyer's tenure as Springbok coach must end after this World Cup, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.
No other coach in the history of Springbok rugby would have survived the horror of defeat to Japan.
Heyneke Meyer lives on, once again apologetic to a nation and stumped for answers.
The nation doesn’t want an apology; some brutal honesty would do and a bonus would be two victories to take the Boks to the World Cup quarter-finals.
Jake White won a World Cup and was fired. Peter de Villiers won a Lions series and won twice in New Zealand but he was told – win or lose the 2011 World Cup – there was no interest in him again.
Nick Mallett won 16 successive Tests, but when his side lost to England at Twickenham his credentials were questioned and he never again enjoyed the unanimous support of his employers.
His Boks took third place at the 1999 World Cup, losing a brutal and brilliant semi-final to Australia in extra time and then beating the All Blacks for the bronze medal. It was not deemed good enough and there wasn’t a hint he was going to be reappointed.
His predecessor, Carel du Plessis, signed off with a record-breaking 61-22 win against the Wallabies in Pretoria. Du Plessis’s Boks had lost five in eight Tests, two of them against the All Blacks, two against the Lions and one against Australia in Australia. He too was told to go.
And so the list goes on.
Meyer, whether you like him or not as a person, has been a walking contradiction at every press conference in the last year. His selections have been as big a contradiction and the results have been awful.
Meyer’s Boks have, since November, lost to Ireland, Wales, Argentina (in South Africa), New Zealand (in Johannesburg) and Japan, a team whose only previous World Cup win was against Zimbabwe in 1991.
Meyer’s World Cup selections betrayed his rhetoric of the preceding three years. He has dabbled in the romance of veteran players who, at their peak had no equal, but in Brighton were subjected to a physical and emotional beating against a team of Neville Nobodies.
Japan, brave and brilliant, looked like the All Blacks in the final five minutes as they chased victory. And the Boks looked like the same old Boks of the past decade in how they succumbed to the onslaught.
The Boks losing to Japan can’t be excused and it will never be erased. Meyer spoke of making history at the World Cup. Well, he’s already done that – but it’s not the history any Bok coach would want on his CV.
Meyer’s been given a free ride by his administration and the South African media has treated him with generosity and with blind faith.
No other Bok coach has enjoyed this kind of support. But that joyride has ended, and so too must Meyer’s four-year tenure, regardless of how the World Cup plays out.
The Boks can still qualify for the play-offs, but only if Meyer gives the nation an apology that is an act and not meaningless post-match words.
His old men are finished. The Bok team that lost to Japan was the most experienced, by number of Test caps, in our history. But there is a difference between an experienced player and an old player.
Japan’s youthfulness, energy and vibrancy made those old daddies in the Bok set-up, notably De Villiers and Matfield, look like pensioners.
De Villiiers, a legend of the game, has done himself a disservice because of an obsession to captain the team at the World Cup. His conditioning, because of the knee ligament injury against Wales last year and the broken jaw against Argentina two months ago, is not of the necessary standard and he, as a player, is Jean de Villiers in name only. It’s not the player who was good enough to play 100 Tests.
Damian de Allande, younger, stronger and in prime condition, is the form No 12. He has to start.
Matfield’s value is not as a starting option. Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth are the form combination. They are also younger and more physical.
Pat Lambie at flyhalf doesn’t offer the line-breaking threat of Handré Pollard. Zane Kirchner is another who should never have started over Willie le Roux.
Those are just some examples of selections made by the coach and not politicians or the game’s administration.
Transformation and black player representation had nothing to do with Japan beating the Boks.
South Africa’s darkest day will continue to stay dark at this World Cup as long as Meyer keeps on his sunglasses and refuses to see the shining lights within his Bok squad.
Forget optimism and patriotism for now because Meyer’s hollow words are an insult to the South African rugby public; not a patriotic inspiration.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images