Recognising what went wrong

The All Blacks' recent success is a result of the honest review that followed their 2007 World Cup failure, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.

Richie McCaw, in his life story, writes that the All Blacks couldn’t simply blame Wayne Barnes and shocking officiating for their 2007 World Cup quarter-final defeat to France. He said the squad, player for player, coach for coach and the administration that made all the appointments, had to look inward.

The debate was robust, the review (private and public) intense and the honesty brutal. McCaw, as captain, said he had failed in his leadership. He added the coaching staff had similarly failed.

The composure wasn’t there on the field – and it wasn’t there among the coaches. He admitted to an arrogance that was the All Blacks' undoing. The leadership within the team had never planned to play differently, never planned to win a play-off game with a drop goal.

The All Blacks of 2007, so supremely gifted as individual talents, didn’t believe in winning ugly. They believed in an expansive game and in tries – and they didn’t have respect for or an appreciation for knockout rugby.

Barnes was too young and inexperienced and froze, wrote McCaw. It wasn’t so much that he cheated the All Blacks, but that he refused to make a decision in the last 40 minutes. Reviews showed the penalty count favouring the All Blacks should have been in double figures. Then there was the forward pass that was missed in the one French try … and … and …

But nothing was going to change the history books, wrote McCaw. The All Blacks, to a man, had to change if they were to ever produce their best in World Cups.

And that’s exactly what McCaw’s All Blacks have done since then. It wasn’t without hiccup. The Springboks dominated the All Blacks 3-0 in 2009 but the All Blacks in 2010 balanced that with a three-Tests-to-nil victory.

McCaw’s All Blacks that started the 2011 World Cup are without dispute the greatest international professional rugby team. They’ve lost just three from 54 Tests (more than half of them played away from home) and they’ve won Grand Slam tours, in France, in Australia, in South Africa and claimed two World Cups, three Rugby Championships and four Bledisloe Cups.

They’ve smashed every team and individual record along the way and the McCaw/Dan Carter All Blacks era ended at Twickenham with an emphatic win against the Wallabies and with Carter winning his 99th Test, with one draw in the other 13.

McCaw enjoyed his 110th win as All Blacks captain, his 131st win as an All Black in 148 Tests, in which two were drawn and just 15 lost.

The greatness of these All Blacks is a result of the damning honesty within the group that failed so spectacularly in 2007.

It’s that honesty that continues to fail the Springboks and the administration within the South African Rugby Union.

Heyneke Meyer has been defiant about the state of the Boks in the last year. His Boks have lost nine from 18 but Meyer has been bullish about the potential of a Bok squad he proclaimed could become invincible.

Meyer spoke of the youthfulness of a squad that had ended third at the World Cup, but just 24 hours later the All Blacks won the World Cup for a second successive time with a match 23 every bit as youthful as those potentially invincible Boks.

The All Blacks who won the 2011 World Cup final averaged 28 years per man. The match squad successful at Twickenham averaged 28 years per man. Only six of the 2011 World Cup-winning starting XV started in the 2015 final.

The succession plan for those All Blacks centurions who finished their Test careers at Twickenham has been in a place for the past four years.

South Africa will be no younger than the All Blacks in 2016 or at the next World Cup. Don’t be fooled by the hollow words of potential and promise.

Meyer says he wants to serve Bok rugby but also says he won’t go anywhere out of free will because he believes he is the best person to coach the Boks. He says he got his World Cup selections right, that he has no regrets and that his Bok team represents transformation.

But nine wins from his last 18, which included defeats to Japan, Argentina, Wales, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand suggest he didn’t get his selections right.

No Rugby Championship titles in four years tells its own story and his starting XV for the World Cup play-offs included two veteran black wingers and a Zimbabwean-born and schooled prop.

Where’s the honesty within our rugby? Where’s the discussion, the debate and the acknowledgement of what went wrong and where it went wrong.

The critique of Meyer is professional. It’s never been personal.

To fix something there has to be recognition it is wrong. The crime is not in asking questions but in Meyer and Saru’s refusal to even entertain questions around the failures.

Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images