Cyclic patterns are prevalent in the weather, in economy, in markets, in life in general and in Sport. Old Joseph in the bible secured himself a position of status and wealth by explaining this concept to the Faro. South Africans rugby has just completed one of those cyclic patterns with players like Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Fourie du Preez, John Smith, Percy Montgomery and so forth. These players carried South Africa for longer than a decade.
The saddest thing for me was when these players were at the top of their game SARU in their wisdom negated all that experience and talent by selecting a puppet as a coach.
I blame PdV and SARU for last year’s disastrous RWC results. When we were at the top of our cyclic pattern we nullified that moment by selecting the wrong coach. A significant part of our downfall was of course the fact that the game changed halfway through PdV tenure and he just did not have the stature and strength of will to change the way we play. The senior players started to run the show and what was needed was somebody like Fred Allan who had vision and who was prepared to sack the Matfield and John Smit’s in order to enforce a change in style.
Like in 1965 we are now at the bottom of the next cycle. We need to rebuilt and bring some new players through but the challenge is harder than before because the game has changed and we are still suffering from having had a puppet and not a visionary as a coach for the previous 5 years.
It is the national team that set the pace in how the game develops. The S15 franchises need to work in alliance with the national coach to set and develop a certain style of play.
That just did not happen during PdV tenure so we not only wasted players at the peak of their careers we also wasted opportunity to develop the game in South Africa.
We proceeded with the ‘Skop en Hoop’ (kick and hope) pattern and saw no development in backline play or with regard to rucking at the trenches. The lack of vision in SARU and among SA top coaches is shocking. The Stormers scored the least amount of tries in the S15 and based their whole game around defence. Their backline play was non-existent even though they fielded some of best backs in the country.
The Bulls persisted with the ‘skop en hoop’ game plan while player power saw the end of Mitchell at the Lions. Shockingly some of the top coaches are now suggesting that SA players don’t have the skill to play differently. All the while the other New Zealand coach in SA namely John Plumtree took the Sharks against all odds to the final of the S15 by playing a brand of rugby that is pretty close to latest developments in the game.
Everyone (including me) has been pretty critical of Heynecke Meyer over the last few weeks for good reason. Meyer seems hell bent on staying with the old ‘skop en hoop’ and ‘stamkar’ style of play. His player selections (even though some selections was forced on him through injury) indicates a certain rigidness in thinking and a unwillingness to change.
Personally I would have preferred John Mitchell or John Plumtree as Springbok coach. Even Naka Droske might have been a better option as the Cheetahs are the only other team in SA that does play an entertaining style of rugby.
That is all down the drain now as we sit with Heynecke. I am, however, still hopeful that old Heneycke might get it right. The boks have kicked less than in previous years and at least they did take the ball to the wings in all 5 test matches so far with him as coach.
South Africa does need to play to its strengths and set piece and size is one of our strengths so it is important that we get that right and Heynecke is the man to do make certain that our next cycle of players does not start to totally disregard our traditional strengths. The All Blacks still honour the scrum and lineout and still play to their strengths namely midfield dominance with strong centers who can offload and loose forwards who can dominate in the trenches with solid tackling and superior rucking skills.
Firstly, he needs to pull an Aussie league coach (or Edie Jones) into his coaching set-up to learn the backline to run with the ball. He and his backline coach also need to go and make an intense study of how the New Zealand teams create space in the backline from set piece.
Second, and very closely linked to that he need to put in some really serious effort to sort our rucking skills. Break it down into step by step process and work at it at walking pace until its perfect and then sped it up. Pull an ex-New Zealand player or coach into the frame to help with this and then make the rucking drills part of fitness training.
Lastly he needs to select the right players to be effective at the tackle ball. Players who can actually play the fast pace flat on the defensive line game. His loose forwards combo is crucial as well as his No9 and 10. Our halfback combo at the moment is by far the least suited to play the fast pace, flat on the defensive line modern game of all the top nations (England, Wales, Australia, New Zealand and France).
Our props and locks are also not as effective and industrious at the breakdown as for instance the New Zealand props.
Meyer is starting a new cycle with new faces and he need to make sure he take the game in the right direction as that will determine his selections. He need to make sure he does not push players that can play the modern game to Europe because that will be detrimental to how the game grow and develop at National, Super15 and Curry Cup level. The right players need to stay in the country so that the game can grow and evolve in the right direction.
Meyer need to set the tone in who is going to be tomorrow stars and how the game is going to be played in South Africa. The players with flair and ability to play the expansive fast pace game will be in high demand at European clubs and Meyer need to make sure they stay in the country.