Mind Games: Make the Springboks coach anyone you like, but problems will remain

2015-09-27 15:57

In the blame game that is top-class sport, Heyneke Meyer has gone from the good guy to the villain. 

A few weeks ago it was rumoured Meyer would be offered an extension of his contract by the SA Rugby Union (Saru). 

It was said that just one or two clauses needed to be ironed out in his new contract, and the job would remain his. 

I was so convinced that Meyer would be staying on that I questioned in this column whether it should not have been done sooner; whether he would have done things differently had he known he would be staying on after the World Cup. 

But the defeats kept on mounting. The World Cup squad was named to general dissatisfaction – of the rugby kind as well as the political kind that was fodder for trade unions, politicians and the intelligentsia. 

Many of his critics had little knowledge of the workings of rugby, but the groundswell of criticism was enough to convince most that Meyer could not stay on as coach. 

If that happens, it will yet again be a case of the coach bearing the brunt of a faulty system; of the symptom being medicated rather than the cause. 

One of Meyer’s most strident critics has been his predecessor, Peter de Villiers. 

In the space of four years, De Villiers seems to have forgotten – even as South African rugby’s first black national coach – he too could not make a significant impact on transformation. 

De Villiers, too, was overcome by the expectation that the Springboks had to win test matches and, in fact, ended up being dominated by senior players such as John Smit and Victor Matfield. 

Meyer is a decent man who suddenly finds himself horribly disliked. 

It may even be his choice to step out of the spotlight. Some other poor soul will agree to accept the poisoned chalice for, as contradictory as it may sound, being coach of the Springboks is an irresistible challenge to a South African rugby man. 

Sadly, the next man is also likely to fail, because the system is not geared towards eradicating the obstacles that always trip up both the Springboks and their coach. 

Before Meyer, De Villiers, Jake White, Rudolf Straeuli, Harry Viljoen, Nick Mallett and Andre Markgraaff, those who went before had the same problems. 

Unlike New Zealand, for instance, where the head coach simply has to pick his best team, South African rugby’s problem is more complex. 

On the one hand, the Springboks have to be kept competitive as one of the leading teams. On the other, the lack of transformation, which always gains extra impetus at World Cup time, has to be addressed. 

South African rugby at all levels, from schools to the Super Rugby competition, is extremely spirited. But there is no help for the national coach, because he has no say in how the country’s other teams are picked or what style of play they adopt. 

He can’t control fitness programmes and can’t insist on rest, as the All Blacks coach can, of key men. 

He often does not get to see his chosen squad until a week before the first test, and therefore can have little influence, and his plans at national camps are at odds with what the players have been doing at their provinces. 

In terms of selecting black players, he is up the creek without a paddle because he has to pick from those playing for the franchises. 

His best team, picked sincerely, may be too white, and, once more, the howls of protest will break out. 

So it’s unlikely that the candidates for coach already being pushed – Johan Ackermann, Allister Coetzee, Rassie Erasmus – will do any better. 

The quota hasn’t worked and the goal for South African rugby must be to come up with a creative system that ensures the problems that have adversely affected the team this year are eradicated by the next World Cup in 2019. 

Follow me on Twitter @retiefdan 

Read more on:    dan retief  |  mind games

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