Boks in UK
Heyneke’s stride in player trust
Cape Town - Whether his regime is on a patient climb or a slippery slope can be debated until the cows come home, but Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer
arguably took two important personal steps last Saturday: demonstrated cool-headedness and enhanced the mutual trust between himself and his core troops.
He is astute enough to know that he is not exactly out of the woods (some would say the foliage only thickens) in terms of how the public view his first season in charge ... the Boks’ win record remains too chequered for that.
Meyer also remains under pressure to install a greater degree of vibrancy and entertainment value to the team, something promisingly demonstrated, in fairness, in patches during his maiden home series against England but less noticeable for the most part since.
Compared to the up-tempo nature of an experimental All Blacks side’s comfortable victory over Scotland, who are South Africa’s next opponents at Murrayfield, the hang-tough 16-12 victory over Ireland rated infinitely lower for sex appeal, although you just get matches like that sometimes and even the much-trumpeted New Zealanders are not averse to them.
Weaker teams, with respect, are capable of dragging worthier foes down to their level and that is possibly what occurred for significant portions of the Dublin game.
The Boks might do well to take better precautions against that happening in Edinburgh, although there is always the danger there of the elements conspiring - as they certainly did in 2010 - to create a “leveller” environment.
Meyer might also do himself and the team a major favour by introducing a potentially higher dose of X-factor to the fullback position, where Zane Kirchner’s staple chores are largely performed soundly - the coach is even less likely to drop him if a quagmire is on the cards in Scotland - but he continues to exhibit no special ability to move beyond second or third gear in an attacking capacity.
The clamour (rightful, I feel) for long-striding Jaco Taute to revert to the last line, his slot of best familiarity, and Juan de Jongh to bring his “dancing shoes” to the midfield continues.
That said, and at the considerable risk of sounding hypocritical or plain confused, I thought there were certain blessings against the Irish to Meyer sticking stubbornly to his first XV for a meaningful part of the second half - and that despite one of the more turgid “first forties” in recent Bok times, where they ominously trailed 12-3.
He has been accused of looking panicky in body language during Tests this season, with his seemingly frantic barking into a walkie-talkie (he seems to have eased back on that front?) sometimes cited as evidence.
So the temptation must have existed for him to assume his team were staring down the barrel of a near-embarrassing defeat at the break, and to raid the bench there and then in a big way.
But he didn’t, and I believe it is to his significant credit: the no-immediate-changes decision may well have been pivotal in the Boks gradually orchestrating what World Cup-winning captain John Smit labelled an “unbelievable turnaround”.
Yes, by the 55th minute he had started to alter the brew in fairly customary fashion for many coaches, by bringing off the tighthead prop (a tired and apparently niggle-affected Jannie du Plessis) for fresh legs in the scrum-time anchoring role.
But by then the established line-up, so impotent and out-smarted before the break, had already begun to turn the game well on its head - they had sneaked ahead on the scoreboard even before the veteran Du Plessis made his way a little gingerly from the battlefield.
Who knows what might have happened had Meyer rung alarm bells by making wholesale changes at half-time?
You cannot discount the possibility that the Boks might have pulled off the Houdini anyway, and perhaps even with a bit more verve. But you also have to chew on the real possibility that it would have amounted to a tangible signal of unease and uncertainty and the hitherto slightly holed ship might actually have sunk in a sea of new-face chaos.
By giving the men he’d entrusted from the first whistle a fair extension to redeem themselves, he simultaneously sent out a message of trust ... and it may only resonate more profoundly and appreciatively among the troops as the tour continues.
That is certainly not to say, let me repeat, that certain tweaks to the combination should not be strongly considered for the opportunity to avenge the 21-17 reverse at Murrayfield last time out when, in the words of the Daily Telegraph, there was “enough rain to float a battleship, and South Africa forgot to bring a rudder”.
But in keeping his wits about him in Dublin when the words “pear” and “shaped” were once in serious danger of merging, the embattled Meyer displayed a welcome nervelessness and sense of faith, whatever you may think of his selections and tactics themselves.
For that, we might just see some further rub-off on the park ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing