The careers of rugby players and coaches are often characterized by one incident/match or remark. A defining moment so to speak; an occurrence by which a player, team or coach are remembered.
Kamp Staaldraad was Rudolph Straeuli’s defining moment.
Harry Viljoen had his defining moment in his first match as Springbok coach when on November 12, 2000 he instructed the Springboks not to kick the ball in a test match against the Pumas. The Springboks scraped a 37-33 win on that day and Harry Viljoen started his career with a label of being a lunatic and not entirely clear headed. He proceeded to coach for another 14 test matches but the Springbok supporters had no more faith in him and were effectively waiting for him to resign.
Nick Mallet’s defining moment came when he first sacked Gary Teichmann as captain in July 1999 and then selected an injured Bobby Skinstad for the 1999 RWC squad two months later. When the fans complained about this Mallet responded by saying South African rugby supporters don’t know much about rugby anyway so he is not concerned at all about their opinions.
Craven had his defining moment as coach after the loss against Canterbury in 1956 and the South African Newspapers started to keep score of all his excuses. That was effectively his last season as Springbok coach (read here).
The defining moment of the 1956 tour from an All Black perspective was when the selectors picked Kevin Skinner, Peter Jones and Don Clarke for the 3rd test of that series. Similarly the defining moment of the 1976 tour was when the Springbok selectors got it right and selected Johan Strauss and Kevin de Klerk for the third test of that series (read here).
Sometimes what you think is a defining moment becomes a launching pad for greatness. I remember for instance the day in 1999 when Percy Montgomery got booed at Loftus after knocking on a pass. The Springboks were playing horribly and the All Blacks were leading with an unassailable lead after about 30 minutes in the first half. The crowd was getting increasing disillusioned and were already ‘gatvol’ with Percy after a string of below par performances in the Springbok jumper when he knocked a pass that an under 11 player would have no difficulty in catching. That was it with regard to Percy. The crowd had enough and vehemently booed old Percy every time he got within touching distance to the ball. Percy was dropped soon after that and played rugby in the UK for almost 5 years before Jake White brought him back. Percy was a changed man, he simplified his game and had a dead eye two-step place kick that made him an certainty for the bok team to the extent that he become the first Springbok in history to win 100 test caps.
I believe that last weekend’s test match against the Pumas was Heynecke Meyer’s defining moment. In contrast to Percy I don’t think it will be a launching pad for him but the start of a downward spiral into dishonourable discharge. I base this view on his response on the mediocre performance of his team against the Pumas.
On question whether he is going to make changes to the team Meyer responded that he is not a ‘picker’ but a coach.
His job according to him is to coach players how to be better and not to reject them and pick other players.
In effect he is saying I am not going to be manipulated to pick players that are in form and belong in the team. I will pick players that can play my way. He is saying he will prove that he can win with an outdated and flawed game plan and with mediocre players because he can turn mud pies into meat pies.
Meyer will be remembered for this as this will ultimately prove to be his downfall. We better prepare ourselves for some massive and humiliating defeats against the All Blacks and the Aussies in the next few weeks. Wrong players and wrong game plan has disaster written all over Meyer tenure as Springbok coach.