What is Meyer thinking?

One thing has become very clear in Heyneke Meyer’s messages these last few days. His emphasis on kicking. It is sad really when one can see the potential in almost all of the players present. South African rugby fans are making a lot of noise on general team selection and it generally tends to be the same. Play the players who have that something extra in them.

Yet Meyer is ignoring these calls. He is steadfastly sticking to what he perceives he knows. I use the words perceive in this case because Meyer has done his fair bit of backtracking on stances he has taken. To highlight the most obvious one is the case of flyhalf. The country has been talking about Lambie and Jantjies a lot, and not just the last few games but for a while. Yet Meyer seems to stand fast on denying there talent. One thing I knew to be bull when he talked about it was Lambie’s perceived lack of tactical kicking. The kid has always been brilliant at it yet Meyer has come out and said that Lambie needs to work on his. What rubbish!

The kid probably has the biggest rugby brain and cool head in the entire squad. His tactical kicking has always been good, his defence has always been rock solid and his attacking acumen is probably one of the best in the country. Elton has shown the glimpses of brilliance we know he has. Has he been as steady as Pat? No but he hasn’t been up and down like a yo-yo either. Yes he had a shocker in the semis to a degree but he didn’t play that badly either. Yet Jantjies hasn’t even made the bench.

Morné Steyn has had one of those seasons that any normal person would want to forget… and quickly. He hasn’t been his metronomic best this whole season. Yet he makes the bench based on one good game for the Bulls to make the semis of the Currie Cup, yet has another shocker against the Sharks a week later. Other than his boot he offers nothing yet he gets the nod because Meyer perceives him to be a better tactical kicker. Well someone should tell Meyer that Steyn’s kicking has been so bad this season that he even made Peter Grant’s kicking out of hand look sublime.

Meyer harps on about tactical kicking and kicking to posts yet not once has he said anything about a complete game, something Lambie and Jantjies can offer. Steyn only offers kicking. Which in a way scares me when you think about what Meyer might be thinking about, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has. Meyer has made no secret about the fact that he doesn’t rate Lambie. He has put his favourite player on the bench in Morné. Does that mean Lambie will be subbed after 20 minutes? Hmm. Also by picking Morné, who has had a shocking season, above someone like Jantjies, who has had a good season, are you not psychologically telling Jantjies that you don’t rate him either?

Now on to Zane Kirchner. Captain Niknaks has been solid but other than his placement and kicking out of hand he has offered about as much as a church mouse to the church coffers. Zane’s kicking, Meyer explains, is what gives him the nod above someone like Taute. Taute can hoof a ball miles, yet he can also run and is an extremely strong tackler. Zane doesn’t offer those last two at all. When Captain Niknaks starts dancing on the spot like a jack rabbit… wait I shouldn’t liken him to the jack rabbit because the jack rabbit can actually side step. When Captain Niknaks prances on the spot like a jack-in-the-box he becomes the easiest target to tackle.

Taking Taute to 15 and bringing on Juan at 13 would have made perfect sense. You have a kid who knows the defensive lines of outside centre patrolling outside centre. Plus you bring on someone who is tenacious in his defence and someone who in the blink of an eye can actually do what a jack rabbit does, evade would be predators!

Almost the entire country bar the truly fanatical Bull supporter can see that removing Zane and Morné from the equation greatly improves our chances against the Irish, so why can’t Meyer? All I know is that if we do lose this game on the Emerald Isle, Meyer will have a lot of explaining to do, not to the South African fans only, but to a certain Mr Gwede Mantashe too.

Has Meyer Missed a Trick?

With injuries having played a massive role this year one can excuse a watered down Bok team… or can we? One thing that has been obvious during the Currie Cup is the emergence of young players. Yes it was a watered down version because a lot of the Boks were missing but in the final the Sharks were almost full strength and the “young guns” from WP pulled them through.

We have a plethora of young talent coming through and someone like Eben Etzebeth has proved that by announcing himself on the world stage even. Meyer has chosen his squad to tour Europe but I can’t but help feel he has missed a trick. He has still stuck to his “guns” as he likes to point out. I do applaud the man however for picking Rhule. The kid has been in sublime form for the Cheetahs. Yet overall I feel Meyer is still lacking in vision.

Where is Ludik, Groom, Reinach, Jordaan, Whitehead and the likes? These guys have proved themselves this season. We have had a terrible time at scrumhalf. Pienaar offers stability but after him who do we have? Yes we have Hougaard and Vermaak but they have no form to speak of. Yet Groom and Reinach have proved that they can play an all round game. Plus Reinach has clearly inherited his dad’s pace! Hougaard’s future is not at scrumhalf and will never be. If anything he will always be an impact player or wing. On this tour one could have picked both Groom and Reinach to gain some experience. So why didn’t he? Simple, he still plays favourites.

At centre we have been thin this year. Jean is holding the ship together, not just in the midfield but also as captain, Frans Steyn is injured and we seem to be short on genuine inside centres. So then Why not take Someone like Whitehead or Serfontein with? They are definitely the future! Ever since the departure of Fourie we have also been lacking for a 13. Juan de Jongh has shown he has the temperament but unfortunately his size under Meyer will always count against him. Unfortunate really since he showed South Africa what he can produce on the big stage. Frans and Jean are not the answer as a centre pairing. So why not give Juan his chance and bring someone like Jordaan on tour who can only benefit from it. Why not even take someone like Catrakilis along?

At full back Ludik has been in sublime form. The kind of form that would make anyone stand up and notice… unless you are Meyer. Meyer’s blind faith in Captain Niknaks is bordering on insanity. He offers nothing from the back. Yes he is solid but his one on one defence has never been great and he has no attacking skills to speak of. His only claim to fame is kicking, which Meyer seems to prize above all else. I would play Taute there and Ludik as backup… plus if you really have to you have Lambie. Zane doesn’t even need to feature… at all… ever!

I also feel Meyer missed a trick With Deon Fourie. Our only fetcher in the group is Francois Louw, and no matter how much Meyer wishes it, Coetzee will never be in that mould. Why not then pick someone like Fourie who has been a revelation at 6? I can only think size once again… which is sad really. And what about someone like Anton Bressler or even Jaco Kriel from the Lions? Don’t get me started on the Keegan Daniel debate. The man would be a shoe-in anywhere else.

The other trick that Meyer has missed is in his player “32”. In the group we have one genuinely world class tighthead in Jannie. Pat Cilliers is still on probation. Why not pick another tighthead in the group instead of Heinke van der Merwe, another loosehead. We basically have have three looseheads, one tighthead and one all rounder in Pat Cilliers. CJ doesn’t count because he can’t scrum on his best of days!

However the biggest trick Meyer has missed is in the naming of his match day 23, and here is the team to take on the Irish:

First XV:

15 Zane Kirchner, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements:

16 Schalk Brits, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Morné Steyn, 22 Juan de Jongh, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.

Zane at 15 should not even feature in the team or bench. Taute isn’t a 13, his defence is shoddy there. Francois Hougaard has not done enough to warrant a starting berth at wing, his form is shoddy. Having CJ on the bench and not Guthro makes no sense and never ever will no matter which universe you find yourself in. Having Morné Steyn on the bench can only mean one thing… Lambie will get substituted… very soon in the game. I confess I would be very surprised if we beat the Irish with this team, especially is Lambie gets taken off.

A better combination would have been as follows:

First XV:

15 Jaco Taute, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermuelen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Eben Etzebeth, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtwarira.

Replacements:

16 Schalk Brits, 17 Guthro Steenkamp, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Juandré Kruger, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Francois Hougaard

I only pick Vermaak for lack of a better choice. There is so much potential that Meyer left at home its actually scandalous. I read that he bemoans the fact that we lose so much talent overseas but it is easy to spot why. If someone keeps on picking the talentless above the talented, then don’t expect the talented to stick around.

Heyneke Meyer – the Harvey Dent of Springbok Rugby

Well I had an interesting week and saw absolutely no rugby. Not fun! I did however read about the squad call ups and on the one hand I am happy for the players and on the other not so happy.

Why is CJ van der Linde called up? We all know it is because he can scrum on both sides of the scrum but as anyone will probably testify, he doesn’t scrum well on both sides of the scrum. When he was at the Cheetahs he looked like a shoe-in for Bok colours but then came his trips to every province out there and his game has never been the same again.

I like the fact that Jantjies and Taute have been called up. Jantjies has been playing brilliant rugby and everyone knows of the potential in Taute. But has Taute been at his best? Probably not but he will get there. This however could cause a bit of a headache for another great player in Lambie. It is clear from Meyer’s handling of Lambie that Meyer doesn’t rate him at all. He has had something like 18 minutes of test rugby this season. But now with the inclusion of Jantjies, also not a Meyer favourite but who is on form, and Taute, who is a Meyer favourite, Lambie’s days seem even more numbered than before.

Meyer has also once again reiterated that he will not drop Morné Steyn, no matter how many Bok fan heart attacks he causes. Meyer has also made the statement that he doesn’t just drop anyone from the squad because that is not who he is, he believes in the people chosen. Now that might ring true for the out-of-formers that are Steyn, Kirchner, Jacques Potgieter and Jean de Villiers, but it smacks of hypocrisy for players like Daniel, Mvovo, Engelbrecht and Lambie who are all shunted to the side or out completely, no matter their form. Also bare in mind that he dropped Bekker after one shoddy appearance but has kept faith in a man who has cost us more games than Bekker ever will.

Meyer is showing dualism, the Harvey Dent of the Springboks (Two-face in Batman). He has shown his hand and picked his favourites. What this means is that if you happen to be a very talented fullback vying for a place against Kirchner, you will never get picked, no matter how much you do right and Kirchner does wrong.

I have asked Meyer to explain this duality in his Q&A session on Supersport. If he answers it will be interesting to see his response.

So in light of the squad and Meyer’s unwavering belief in his favourites here is the match day 22 he will pick in my opinion:

First XV:

15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13, Jean de Villiers, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermuelen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etsebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtwarira.

Reserves:

16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Johan Goosen, 21 Jaco Taute, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.

On a side note, because there is doubt over Frans Steyn’s availability I think that if he is sidelined, the centre pairing will probably be Jean at 12 with de Jongh at 13. The only reason being that de Jongh has more test exposure than Taute. This also might be a slight blessing as Jean performs better at 12.

Anyway let’s see how right I am. Bar a few selections I feel I might be pretty spot on.

What is the cause of the Springbok rot?

Well it has been one of those weeks for me. One you want to forget and never ever remember again. Our family lost a dear friend this week past and it hit us quite hard. So because of this I have been loathe to write anything about the Boks loss to New Zealand. However now that the grieving process is over I feel I shall return to my comments on the game I love.

What I cannot and probably will never understand is how, with a dominant pack, we still lost. It’s easy to point at certain players and say they had shockers. It’s the simplest way to point out problems. But is it sorting out the overall problem that is obvious throughout the team? No.

Zane Kirchner has proved now that when it comes to attacking rugby he has no clue as to what to do with the ball. I have played the game and one thing I could never really understand from our provincial players is how they cannot pass the ball into the arms of the person next to them. You don’t have to be particularly skilful to achieve this seemingly easy feat. Zane proved me wrong. Apparently you have to be the most skilful rugby player ever to find a flying Bryan Habana. Or maybe it is Habana’s fault for being just too quick for Zane’s slow brain. It is ridiculous in the professional era to not be able to complete the most basic of rugby tasks, the pass! It’s plain criminal actually!

Ruan Pienaar had a shocker. He looked pedantic and useless. It was like his body was moving to fast for his brain. He was always four or five moves behind in his head. This in turn didn’t help Morné find the form he so desires.

Speaking of Morné, the man should be posted back to Currie Cup duty so that he can work on his game. You cannot and should not expect him to find his form in a green-and-gold jersey. It is a slap in the face to the players who actually do have form. Being a Springbok doesn’t require coaching back into form, it means you should already have the form to call yourself a Springbok. I know Meyer likes to point at Habana but the obvious truth is that Habana was already busy rediscovering his form at the Stormers, so when he played his first game against England he was back to his brilliant best. If you follow Meyer’s logic and believe in the fact that he coached Bryan better then why did it take him less than one game to prove his credentials and it is taking Morné 7 or 8 and still not rediscovering his radar?

If Meyer wants to coach players to become better players then he should go back to coaching at a provincial level. The job of the senior coach is to take the talented and in form players and make them gel. Use their skills as they are because it is with those skills that they impressed you in the first place.

That is what is scaring me about Goosen. We all know he can play and that he has the potential to become the world’s best flyhalf, but what will happen to him under Meyer? Meyer has made no bones about his kicking plan. It is the game he will force on players even if it means his death. Won’t that game pattern stifle Goosen’s natural ability? Goosen is the kind of player who can do anything, kick, run, pass and step, but what if Meyer only ever forces him to kick (which is likely) and the rest of his game turns south? It happened to Morné. He was known as an attacking flyhalf at the Bulls, someone who could run and take on the defensive line. Not any more. Under Meyer’s guidance before he left, that part of Morné’s game has been in steady decline and carried on declining even after Meyer’s departure because the Bulls don’t coach any other way but Meyer’s way. It is now at the point where it is useless to use his attacking skills for there are none.

To give you an idea of how things change in today’s game then let’s have a look at the current table propping Bulls team. They have a kicking flyhalf and recently lost to Griquas. Griquas have bought a Bulls throw away in Francois Brummer. His game at the Bulls was below par. He was made into a kicking flyhalf and it obviously didn’t work for him. At Griquas he is blooming into a very capable flyhalf who can not only kick but attack as well.

Look at all the talent the Bulls have bought over the years, and even with that talent they can not play winning rugby this year. They bought players with huge promise in Sadie, Venter, Engelbrecht, Visser and a few others. Yet those players are not living up to that promise. The things that made them great, their vision and adventurous spirit are being stifled by a kick-and-chase approach.

Hougaard is a player that thrives on ball. He can make things happen. He wasn’t given the opportunities to showcase his talent because he had to play against his natural abilities, not use them. As soon as you turn anyone against their nature how can you expect them to thrive? What you have effectively done is make the person in question fight against himself before worrying about fighting against the opposition. He will be more worried about implementing the game plan than playing the situation.

I know Meyer said the team only needs a few tweaks. He is right, but I bet you he will tweak the wrong things because he will not tweak the cause of the problems, namely the game plan.

And from what I have read between the lines regarding Morné and Zane, he won’t drop the second cause of our problems either.