City Press

Mind Games: Hero or zero? It’s a fine line for Heyneke Meyer

2015-09-20 15:00

At last, the rugby World Cup is up and running; and scrumming, mauling, jumping, kicking, cursing and whistling. 

The games have begun and the preoccupation for at least the past two years has shifted to something more concrete – no more speculation, but real contests to cogitate over. 

There will be heroes and villains aplenty, and the coaches will always be in the firing line. 

Having been a close observer and frequent critic of Heyneke Meyer since he accepted the job, which on a scale of difficulty is like taking over Eskom, about three and a half years ago, I have often wondered what really goes on inside his head. 

Meyer may go ape inside the coaches’ box at games, but most times he wears an inscrutable smile – the expression of someone who knows something you do not. 

I have wondered whether, in fact, he does possess intelligence we do not. Could all the dispatches about serious injuries be a smokescreen; are the convalescents fitter than we think? 

Have the Boks been hiding something? Did they sacrifice the Rugby Championship and lose to Argentina to lead other teams up the garden path? 

I certainly hope so, because the fall from grace for sports coaches can be precipitous. 

The line between glory and infamy is a fine one and, adding to the gist of Mind Games a week ago, the difference can often be nothing more than good fortune. 

I thought of this while studying past World Cup performances and the miracle of 1995 when, with the help of Madiba magic and what some thought to be divine intervention, the Springboks pulled off an unlikely victory. 

Coach Kitch Christie, the man who said he was coming in to do an “ambulance job” for the team, was lauded as the master architect, but it could have gone wrong; the risks he took could just as easily have failed and the genius would have been called a dunce. 

Going into the tournament, Christie was also unsure of who to play at fly half. He favoured Hennie le Roux, but shortly before the opening game against Australia decided to go with Joel Stransky, with Le Roux at inside centre. 

How it worked! Christie wanted the insurance of Stransky’s goal-kicking and got his drop-kicking into the bargain. And we know what that meant. 

But by far Christie’s biggest gamble came before the semifinal against France. Having noticed that the Tricolores did a lot of moves off their tall loose forwards at the back of the line-out, he decided to play lock Mark Andrews at No 8 to counter the long ball to the back. 

Andrews had not played as a loose forward since his primary school days, but his presence sufficiently disrupted the French and, in Durban’s monsoon, the Boks won. 

Then Christie’s scheming brain came up with another flash of inspiration for the final against the All Blacks. 

The New Zealanders had short loose forwards and seldom played deep in the line-outs. Thus, instead of Andrews being a counter, as he had been against the French, he could provide the Boks with a key advantage. On Ellis Park’s fast field and against the speedy All Blacks, it was a huge risk to take, but it worked … the Boks won the World Cup and Christie was hailed as a visionary. 

He was, but if it had gone wrong, he would have been denigrated for making harebrained decisions. 

And so it is for Meyer. He has laid his cards on the table; some are old and scuffed, and his game plan will be old-fashioned and conservative. 

If it works, there will be confetti fluttering upon his head, but if not, he will soon find that hero rhymes with zero. 

Follow me on Twitter @retiefdan

Read more on:    rwc 2015  |  mind games

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