Cape Town – It’s becoming more and more apparent: experience
will trump youth, though not completely throttle it, in Springbok coach Heyneke
Meyer’s meticulous planning for the 2015 World Cup challenge in England.
Meyer will continue to stubbornly ignore the incredulous
critics and wags who say “why not bring back Frik du Preez and Mannetjies Roux
too?” whenever he pins his faith in various thirty-somethings over the course
of the next 15-16 months.
Jean de Villiers, Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez, Bakkies
Botha, Bryan Habana, Jannie du Plessis, Schalk Burger, Jaque Fourie, quite
feasibly also Juan Smith ... fitness permitting, anticipate the vast majority
of these stalwarts being on the plane to the UK in the English autumn of 2015.
It doesn’t mean they will all feature continuously at the
RWC: far from it.
But come the business end of the competition – touch wood,
the traditionally competitive Boks will get that far – their wisdom and
temperament are likely to be tapped into to an increasing degree.
Nor ought the Boks be alone if that becomes the essential formula
when the going gets tough: there are strong smoke signals from New Zealand that
the defending champions will go that route as well, with prominent media pundit
and long-serving scrumhalf Justin Marshall this week backing such a likelihood
to the hilt.
Meyer has reiterated in an interview with Sport24 that he is
comfortable with a battery of veterans on board.
“Look, a lot of people may not like what I say, but finals
(of major competitions) are not about how well you play rugby; the World Cup
final - and most others - is foremost about how you cope with the pressure.
“If you look at all the World Cup finals, with due respect,
I think the first one (1987) had four tries but the next five finals a combined
total of about five tries, and you don’t often find your intended game-breaking
individuals winning those types of matches.
“Super Rugby, the Rugby Championship ... they’re different.
They are tournaments, there are bonus points, you want to get tries, and they
definitely showcase flair a lot more.
“In quarters, semis and onward at World Cups there are no
bonus points and it all comes down to the pressure: you can’t tell someone to
stay calm, you can’t tell someone to have experience, confidence.
“You get those things by being in that situation a number of
times. Go through World Cups and you can see that they are won by guys who have
played a lot of Tests, been there before ... and also, a lot of them have lost (crunch
games) on previous occasions which is a learning experience in itself.
“You simply can’t go in with too many guys who haven’t been
The Bok coach cited the example of Martin Johnson’s
RWC-winning outfit of 2003 – “a lot of those guys were 34” -- who had been a
united bunch for several seasons.
“Of course you must get the balance right: it doesn’t always
matter how old you are when it comes to handling pressure. Some guys are young,
like Eben Etzebeth, but will have played 30-odd games (by the time the World
Cup comes) and know about handling pressure.”
Meanwhile Marshall, in a tone notably echoing Bok mastermind
Meyer, wrote earlier this week in the New Zealand Herald: “What I will argue
against is the idea that the games of Richie McCaw, and fellow veterans like
Cory Jane, Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and even Dan Carter will have
deteriorated to the point where the All Blacks should consider moving them on
before next year’s World Cup.
“There seems to be a groundswell of opinion that the All
Blacks should turn to youthful enthusiasm: I come from the polar opposite of
“We need these guys more than we need youth and enthusiasm
... they will have a calming influence that could prove priceless, just as it
was when England won in Australia in 2003.
“The games (at RWC 2015) will be tighter and slower than
these Tests (the current home series against England) have been.
“With so much at stake at the World Cup, teams tend to be
more insular and conservative.
“At the business end, results usually hinge on one or two pivotal
moments: that’s when you need the wise heads who have seen all these scenarios
The All Blacks and Springboks, likely to each be very highly
touted at the tournament, should be singing from a pretty similar song-sheet
when it comes to team composition at the knockout phase of RWC 2015.
And never mind the jokes about lugging a Colin Meads or a Moaner
van Heerden out of their lengthy retirements ...
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