Heyneke Meyer says Friday's win against Argentina has not eased the pain of losing to the All Blacks in their semi-final, reports JON CARDINELLI in London.
On Friday, the Springboks finished their World Cup campaign with a 24-13 win over the Pumas in the third-place play-off at the Olympic Stadium. Afterwards, Meyer declared himself satisfied with the result in isolation.
Meyer was less pleased, however, with the Boks’ overall standing in this tournament. Meyer said it was always the aim to finish the competition with a gold medal rather than a bronze.
‘I’m thankful to have some sort of medal to reflect our effort, and maybe I will look back in a few weeks and realise what we achieved. It was a hell of a fightback after the loss to Japan. But right now, I’m more sad than relieved,’ he said.
‘Part of me still believes we could have been in the World Cup final. One more penalty [against the All Blacks], and we could have been in the decider, and then it’s always a 50/50 situation. I keep thinking what more I could have done to prepare the team and get that result.
‘People misunderstood what I said after the semi-final last week. My heart had just been ripped out, and I wasn’t willing to talk about the third-place play-off. Obviously every Test is important. But if you look at the tournament overall, we came here with one goal, and that was to be the champions.
'That is the way I coach. That is also how we see things in South Africa. Nothing but the best is good enough.’
Meyer reiterated that the team had a lot to play for in the fixture against Argentina. The win ensures that they finish the 2015 Test season at third in the World Rugby rankings. It will also see the likes of Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger ending their respective Test careers on a high. Burger said after the game that he was ’99% sure that was it’ for him as a Test player.
Meyer refused to comment on his own future with the Bok side. What he did say is that a number of youngsters had come through at this tournament, and that the team will grow stronger over the next four years.
The management of several players over the course of the game against Argentina was perplexing. Meyer seemed reluctant to empty his bench until late in the match, and Rudy Paige was only deployed three minutes before the final whistle. The Bok coach explained that injuries and fatigue influenced his substitutions.
‘This week was probably tougher than the week that followed the loss to Japan,’ he said. ‘There were a lot of tired bodies. I knew that Argentina, a fresher side with so many changes, would target us in the last 20 minutes.
‘A lot of our backs started to cramp in that period. I had to take a guy like Bryan Habana off [who was searching for one more try to surpass Jonah Lomu as the most prolific try-scorer in World Cup history]. That wasn’t my call. Bryan was cramping.
‘Willie le Roux got injured, so I had to move Pat Lambie to fullback instead of giving him game time at flyhalf. When Victor left the field, I felt we needed to keep Ruan Pienaar on [to lead the side]. That is why Rudy only received a few minutes at the end.’
A few of the Boks will travel back to South Africa on Saturday evening. Others will remain in London for the World Rugby Player of the Year Awards on Sunday, and only head back home on Monday.
Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP Photo