Boks don’t have character?

September 12, 2012 in Rugby, Rugby Championship, Springboks

Why am I so unsympathetic towards Meyer? I found myself asking that question this morning, when someone said: “It’s only Meyer’s 6th game in charge, give him chance”. Am I being unfair by demanding better performances from the Springboks and not excusing poor performances?  Is it because, with the whole Peter de VIlliers saga, with him being appointed in 2008 rather than sticking to White or picking the obvious best candidate, Meyer, I simply expected far more from him?

Yes, there are many good reasons why the team might be struggling to find its feet at the moment as compared to last year when we looked well on track to play in the World Cup final. We lost a lot of players with a lot of experience. So much so, that Meyer was very tempted to bring back Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Bakkies Botha to play for the Springboks.

The following philosophy from Meyer, and the results since then, are probably the greatest sources of my discontent:

“I believe in only two kinds of rugby – the winning kind and the losing kind. We’re going to aim to play the first one using traditional South African strengths such as having great, big forwards and skillful backs.”

“Winning is our only aim. But, it would be great to see a number of youngsters exposed to what Springbok rugby is all about.”

Regarding the first quote, it is clear Meyer’s definition of what winning Rugby is, is not currently being exhibited on the field and somehow, nowhere do I see the term “Experience” in that definition of his.  The Rugby we are currently playing, is the losing kind, not the winning kind.

“Great big forwards”, yes, has been a South African strength, but “skillful backs” have not traditionally been a hallmark of SA Rugby.

Meyer does allude to experience though in his second quote, and it was also, unknowingly at the time, a forebode to youngsters that, although they would get “exposed to what Springbok Rugby is all about”, they would find it hard to make the side on a consistent basis. Thus far, Meyer has had very little choice but to expose the youngsters, due to retirements and injuries, and I personally am quite happy with playing the youngsters, since as we’ve seen, they have mostly been playing the most inspiring Rugby of the lot. Etzebeth, Coetzee, Kruger and even with the limited time Cilliers, Goosen and Lambie got, we’ve seen that the “young guns” were firing much better than the old mausers…so to speak.

The other part of Meyer’s quote though, gives one the idea that he is intent on winning, and that it is a non-negotiable. Instead though, the Springboks as per his definition, have lost 3 matches from 6 already. But it is not the losing that is the most infuriating; it’s firstly, the fact that we keep on playing the same “losing” type of Rugby instead of improving how we play, and secondly, the excuse that players are either inexperienced or do not have “character”.

Meyer said after the loss to Australia that: ““It is all about handling pressure, being mentally tough and showing character, and guys don’t make mistakes on purpose.”

Now I do find it difficult to believe that the Springboks do not have character. It will be a first for me as Springbok supporter to observe a team labelled as without character. I recall many a games where we were down and out for the count in terms of the match, but always played until the final whistle, sometimes pulling through a miraculous recovery and winning, other times walking off beaten on the scoreboard, but with some level of pride. Under de Villiers, I doubt he ever used an excuse of a team or players without character and to be honest I doubt that anyone, even Mallet, ever referred to his side as such after a loss.

On the experience excuse though, I do understand the issue, however, as we’ve said many times, experience does mean a lot, but it is not everything.  Just consider how much experience we had in the Springbok side during the world cup, and with that 836 test caps in the side, somehow no-one thought about kicking drop goals during that quarter final…except Patrick Lambie, the most inexperienced player on the park. On that day we got beaten by a side that had just managed to keep the Springboks out by every means possible and allowed by Lawrence, yet they only had 616 caps. Yes, sure, his refereeing was ludicrous, but even he would not have been able to deny a successful drop-goal attempt, of which one or two would have won the match for the Springboks.

But that has gone and passed and all we can hope is that we will learn some lessons, at least, from that. One lesson that was obviously not learnt by the current Springbok management, is that Patrick Lambie is an extremely valueble player, who may lack the experience in terms of number of tests, but has a very astute and intelligent Rugby brain, and is a player of such character that he would take on Schalk Burger, bump off his tackle, and score a try for his team.

Another lesson that was not learnt, was that experience will not guarantee you any wins, and that form should trump it in terms of selection. Heyneke’s current fixation or excuse of lack of experience is not a good enough excuse to forgive the 3 losses to date (as per his definition).

But let’s look at the stats to see just how little experience the Springboks do have compared to our greatest rivals…well, that is if you do not consider Argentina to historically be one of our greatest rivals, but that was before this year! (Teams as of Round 3 of the Rugby Championship)

 

Boks

Caps

Aus

Caps

NZ

Caps

Beast

38

Robinson

48

Woodcock

88

Strauss

15

Polota Nau

37

Mealamu

96

Jannie

36

Alexander

42

O Franks

37

Etzebeth

6

Sharpe

108

Romano

4

Kruger

4

Timani

6

Retallick

6

99

241

231

Alberts

14

Dennis

7

Vito

16

Coetzee

6

Hooper

5

McCaw

109

Vermeulen

1

Samo

19

Read

41

21

31

166

Pienaar

57

Genia

41

A Smith

6

M Steyn

40

Cooper

37

Cruden

13

Habana

80

Ioane

28

Savea

3

F Steyn

52

Barnes

44

Nonu

69

De Villiers

78

Ashley-Cooper

70

Smith

59

Hougaard

21

Shipperley

1

Jane

35

Kirchner

18

Beale

28

Dagg

18

346

249

203

Liebenberg

2

Faingaa

18

Hore

68

Cilliers

2

Slipper

26

Faumuina

1

vd Merwe

17

Higgenbotham

18

Whitelock

31

Flouw

11

Gill

2

Messam

13

Goosen

1

Harris

3

Weepu

62

Lambie

14

Phipps

4

Barret

2

Mvovo

7

Faingaa

21

B Smith

7

54

92

184

Total Caps

520

613

784

 

In terms of totals, there is really just one player difference between South Africa and Australia and that is Nathan Sharpe with 108 tests.  Ask me who I’d pick if I had to choose between him and Etzebeth, I’d pick the latter.  It really makes little difference if he plays or if someone with very little experience plays.  Other than that, things are pretty even.

The tight five is clearly outmatched in terms of experience. If we break it down, in the front row it basically comes down to Strauss, who, I have to admit, has not been the same player we’ve seen during the Super Rugby. I doubt this is due to international experience though, as he’s played against the likes of Mealamu, Polatu Nau, Moore and Hore at Super Rugby level and will know them well and he’s been one of the form Super Rugby players of the tournament. For whatever reason, he is just unable to mirror that performance for the Springboks.

While Beast has been a fantastic player over the years around the park, he seems to have lost his mojo under Meyer and the crowds’ chants of “BEAST!” is but a faded memory on the stands of Kings Park. Whether that is because he is forced to play a different game, or that he is fatigued or for some other sinister reasons, is yet to be known, but he and Jannie are well matched in terms of experienced in Australia and do enough in the scrums to maintain their positions.

At lock, I do think Etzebeth and Kruger combined better than when Bekker was on the park, and it is yet another example where “young and fast” trumps “old and slow”. Kruger with only 4 test caps is clearly a better player than Bekker at the moment, and Bekker’s play, for all the experience he has (26 caps) is “disgraceful” to quote Nick Mallet.

The only area where experience counted against us, was when Nathan Sharpe lured Etzebeth into aggression and got suspended for 2 weeks as a result, but in terms of general play, experience and character, there is nothing between the 6 locking pairs.

Even looking at our loose trio, when compared to Australia,  experience is really no excuse. The Springboks at 7 caps per loose forward and the Aussies with 10, with Radike Samo the major holder of those caps, is really not something that will cause us a loss, unless you are desperate for excuses.

Now, looking at the backs, it is hard to even fathom how “experience” can be used as an excuse. Our halfback pairing has 19 caps more than their Australian counterparts, our centres 16, and our outside backs 62 more.

Are we really then saying that, despite having a backline superior in all positions in terms of experience against Australia (except at full back, but thank God for Beale’s woeful performance!), we cannot get the ball to our most experienced player, Habana?  That we didn’t know how to make the best of so-called poor ball from the forwards? That we do not know we should let the ball go through the hands on 4 on 1 overlaps?

Is Meyer blaming the tight five who have only 99 caps as opposed to Australia who had 241 caps, 108 of which belong to Nathan Sharpe who is on the brink of retirement and is hardly a game changer? Exclude Sharpe, and Australia have but 4 caps per player advantage, but Etzebeth and Kruger, the least experienced, totally outperformed their experienced team mates. Is experience really the problem here?

Compared to the All Blacks, however, the forwards with 397 test caps by far outweighs the Springboks 120 caps, and in key areas, the front row and the loose forwards.

If experience was the reason for the loss against Australia, then we have all sorts of hell coming at us in the form of an All Black juggernaut.  Their loose trio is extremely strong with the experienced McCaw and Read and keeping possession will be as hard as stealing possession. We have Flouw to counter it, but he has only 11 caps himself.

And although we have a vastly more experienced back line, (the All Blacks are even less experienced than the Aussies) most notably in the halfback positions, the forwards are most unlikely to win them any quality possession…and the quality possession they do manage to get, will be used to kick at the All Black back three, who, except for Habana, has more experience and much more class than ours.  And with almost 20 caps a player more in the backline in the Bok squad than in the All Black squad, we still won’t know how to spread the ball and score tries. We still won’t know how to keep quality posession and we still won’t know how to handle poor ball from the forwards.

But the advantage the All Blacks have over us in terms of experience, is about what the Springboks had over Australia in that quarter final…so with some luck, relentless and clever play, we could by some stretch of the imagination and with the stroke of individual genius, beat the All Blacks, although, its hard to spot any individual genius close to the ball at the moment, they’re out wide and on the bench, and have to dig in rucks for the ball to get their hands on it.

I doubt strongly that lack of experience was really the issue against Australia. It will be an issue against the New Zealand back three, but with proper coaching and planning even the invisible McCaw can be countered.

And if it wasn’t experience, and the game plan is perfect, then, well, it has to be character. And this will be the first time ever to my knowledge,  that one can deduct that the Springboks lacked character during a test. Its simply unheard of and inexcusable. One can do something about lack of experience, you cannot do anything about lack of character.

Will the All Blacks match be a disaster because of our coach’s excuse that we are too inexperienced to win, and are therefore “underdogs”? Or will the Springboks show some character, play to their strengths, and give us something to be proud of again?

 

Lack of character, or flawed plan?

8 responses to Boks don’t have character?

  1. Good post its more like the Uysh of old. In fairness we have to consider that in a team with caps over 800, 200 of them were made up from two players.

  2. What I still dont get is the fact that Heyneke removes Habana when he never receives the ball in a game in the last quater or he removes Habana when Habana is on fire and actually getting good ball.

    This guy is doing some unorthodox bullsh!t.

  3. Kyk hoe mis hulle vir Keegan die naweek.

    • doubt it? Ons het reeds twee senters wat nie perform nie, nog een gaan ons niks help nie

  4. If we get out scrummed as I expect we will struggle for possession and if we kick what we have away it will be a long day at the office

  5. cool post, I doubt experience can be blamed, as Beast(who is relatively experienced) also got involved in ‘off the ball’ bullshit that resulted in a card. For me Etzebeth was our best forward, while some feel Strauss wasn’t bad either, I also felt Vermeulen(taking into account his lack of match fitness) was pretty impressive. – these three players are among our most inexperienced forwards. The players not performing are actually the guys with the huge number of caps behind their names(excluding Habana, who has been on fire)