Meyer needs big World Cup

Heyneke Meyer, like his predecessors, must be judged on a four-year cycle that culminates with the World Cup, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.

The vitriol that flowed following the Boks’ home defeat against Argentina was disgraceful.

The personal attacks on Meyer were disgusting. Accusations ranged from racism to provincialism to the Bok coach even being anti-English.

What ignorance and what an insult to a man who lives for rugby and being South African.

Meyer, regardless of whether he continues as Bok coach, is a good man and passionate about wanting only the best for the Springboks. Which doesn’t necessarily mean his selections have been the best for Springbok rugby.

The abuse, though, said more of the rugby supporter than it did of the coach.

Transformation, in Meyer’s three years, has never been trumpeted as a failing of the coach. No politician, especially the minister of sport, condemned Meyer and his Boks in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The sports minister invariably is dressed in a Bok jersey and loves to publicly tell the boys in green and gold to ‘Moer hulle’.

The Saru executive, at least publicly, hasn’t been at war with the national coach because of what they perceive to be a lack of transformation.

I have always been of the view that transformation is a way of life in South Africa, ongoing and about creating environment and opportunity. But every World Cup year it becomes a Bok black-player numbers game, especially when the Boks lose.

Who would want to coach the Springboks?

Meyer wants to and those within the Saru executive want him to continue for another four years.

This time a year ago I heard for the first time that Meyer had been offered an extension without the condition that his team has to win the World Cup. I endorsed the thinking. I thought it reflected calm and clarity.

The Boks were in good shape in terms of Meyer’s evolution as Bok coach. This was my impression a year ago.

The Boks had finally beaten the All Blacks 27-25 at Ellis Park and SA U20 captain and IRB Junior Player of the Year Handré Pollard had played two fantastic Tests (at flyhalf) against the All Blacks in Wellington and Johannesburg.

Then, in November 2014, the wheels came off in Dublin against Ireland and they have been off ever since.

A year ago, a rugby case could comfortably be made for Meyer’s contract extension. He had finally broken the All Blacks bogey, however fortuitous, and his winning record was in excess of 70%.

No coach can be judged on winning the World Cup, unless the coach asks to be excused all failings in the four-year cycle because of a said master plan to win the World Cup.

The goal of any premier rugby nation has to be a semi-final because from thereon in it’s a lottery that can be decided by inept officiating, a brain implosion from a player, a prejudiced red card, a chargedown, an intercept or one moment of madness from one’s own team; alternatively brilliance from the opposition.

Meyer had said on his appointment four years ago that he wanted the Boks to be a team that wins on Saturdays and wins as a habit between World Cups. He didn’t want a Bok team whose only focus was the potential of a World Cup win.

Meyer spoke of being ranked No 1 in the world. He spoke of not losing at home and winning consistently overseas. He said he wanted to be judged on results and not the possibility of winning a World Cup. He likened every Test to a World Cup final.

Meyer’s Boks, in four years, have not won a Rugby Championship. They’ve lost three times in Johannesburg against the All Blacks, not won in New Zealand and lost to Australia, Ireland, Wales and Argentina.

You’d struggle to make a convincing rugby case for an extension based on those results.

Meyer’s tenure still includes the World Cup and if his team makes the semi-finals, final or wins it, the rugby argument changes.

What doesn’t is the social dynamic of transformation and any Bok coach’s understanding of transformation. Equally, any professional coach in South Africa.

Meyer has done himself no favours with regard to black player representation, but it isn’t out of racism, malice or disregard for the merits of the black player.

When in doubt Meyer, like so many before him, has found comfort in what he knows – white rugby players. It’s not right and it’s not wrong, but in the context of South African rugby it’s not acceptable.

Meyer, like every one of his predecessors, including the first black Bok coach Peter de Villiers, is primarily a man whose expertise is coaching rugby. It isn’t transforming the social landscape of South Africa.

However, it is expected the Bok coach must lead transformation. It is unfair and unrealistic. He needs to understand transformation and the custodians of the game need to lead the transformation.

De Villiers, at the 2011 World Cup, failed black representation as much as Meyer has, yet De Villiers would argue, as would Meyer, that the white dominated 2011 quarter-final team was the best on merit.

South African rugby, like our nation, is complex. There is no simple solution and there never will be a quick fix.

Rugby decisions need to be challenged and there has not been enough from a rugby perspective for Meyer’s four-year tenure to be translated, unchallenged, into eight years.

Meyer’s predecessors have achieved more and been offered less in terms of continuity. Meyer needs a big World Cup to justify any continuation.

My criticism of Meyer’s Bok tenure is not that he has failed to sufficiently transform the national squad in terms of numbers, but that as a rugby coach he has failed to win a Rugby Championship in four years.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images