Meyer's RWC plans in tatters

2015-08-09 11:23
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)

Durban - Coach Heyneke Meyer was trying desperately to keep his head while South African supporters were losing theirs after the Springboks made the worst type of history in inexplicably going down 37-25 to the Pumas in the Rugby Championship at Kings Park on Saturday.

The Springboks’ loss saw them slip to the bottom of the final Rugby Championship log with Argentina moving to third and the Wallabies taking the title after stunning the All Blacks in Sydney earlier on Saturday.

Meyer’s Rugby World Cup plans now lie in tatters after he had selected his strongest team to guarantee victory at Kings Park and he was left trying to explain away the most humiliating of defeats.

The Pumas, in contrast, spent Saturday night pinching themselves - and celebrating - after their bunch of no-hopers had made history with their first win over the Springboks in 20 Tests.

The Pumas made 11 changes to their team for Kings Park but played as if they had been together since birth; the Springboks kept changes to a minimum but were like strangers in the night. It was their fourth successive loss and the quality of their rugby in their recent narrow defeats to the Wallabies and the All Blacks is now but a distant memory.

It certainly seemed as if the Springboks had arrived at Kings Park expecting to merely rubber-stamp Meyer’s win over what was expected to be a young, ragged, revamped Pumas outfit.

The Springbok coach could then send his back-up squad, his fringe players and those returning from injury, to Buenos Aires for next Saturday evening’s friendly for a last hit-out before the World Cup.

But suddenly, chillingly, Meyer has nowhere to hide. Buenos Aires is now the final opportunity to break the depressing run of four defeats on the bounce - to four different nations - and find some momentum before the September 18 to October 31 tournament.

From the start the Springboks were a metre off the pace as the Pumas dominated the breakdown, recycling their ball quickly and slowing down or turning over Springbok possession. The Springboks could not explain why they were so flat as they prepared so well yet lacked urgency and intensity. The answer, in a nutshell, was that they were complacent and it showed in every facet of their game.

The Springbok defence, a traditional strength, was all over place as the Pumas, easy as pie, created yawning gaps with simple inside passes and scored three tries off set pieces.

And then there was the Pumas scrum, dominant and massively influential, bossing the Springboks, winning penalties, taking tightheads, setting up tries, keeping the South Africans on the backfoot and almost certainly ending tighthead Vincent Koch’s World Cup dream.

But, of course, Koch was not the only one to suffer.

The Springbok backrow were left eating the dust of their Pumas counterparts, bruising lock Eben Etzebeth was largely anonymous, fellow-lock Lood de Jager battled hard but lineouts went astray and the silly errors, the dropped passes, the numerous turnovers and the poor kicks kept coming.

It was not an evening for the Springbok backs who spent most of the night on their heels, made little headway on attack and were exposed defensively. Handre Pollard was brave but untidy at flyhalf and, to the chorus of “Lambie, Lambie” from the crowd, the Sharks flyhalf eventually replaced him in the final quarter.

Jean de Villiers, back after eight months on the sidelines, was workmanlike and no more but he did clatter into his tackles and showed no signs of discomfort apart from taking a blow to the jaw. But it was not a happy day for Jesse Kriel on the wing and the youngster had few attacking opportunities while he was caught out of position defensively on a number of occasions.

And, because the Springboks littered the first half with so many handling errors, the game kept returning to the scrum where the gleeful Pumas, sniffing blood and with the help of referee Romain Poite, were dominant.

The streetwise Pumas had done their homework, hugging the offside line in defence and attacking the Springboks’ inside channel and making a meal of the Bok scrum.

Referee Poite certainly erred, first in suddenly allowing the Pumas to play quickly from a penalty - and score a try - after one of their players had been receiving treatment and there were still four medics on the field, and then denying Bok replacement scrumhalf Cobus Reinach a try, initially allowing a quick tap penalty and then, as an afterthought, deciding it had been taken from the wrong spot.

But the Springboks, with good reason, later made little of the referee’s failings. Their own litany of mistakes was so long, the quality of their rugby so poor, that it would have been disingenuous for them to have blamed their defeat on the referee.

Meyer had hoped that a convincing victory in Durban would make for a smooth, confident build-up to the World Cup starting in six weeks, but Saturday night’s defeat has ensured that the Springbok coach and his players will have the rugby public and the media on their backs every step of the way.

Read more on:    springboks  |  rwc 2015  |  heyneke meyer  |  rugby

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