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Meyer hopes to stay involved with Boks

2015-10-31 10:00
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo)

London - As far as job reviews go, it was heartfelt and convincing.

A typically impassioned Heyneke Meyer, the coach of South Africa, said his players can go home with their heads held high after finishing third in the Rugby World Cup on Friday, but "I'm always going to look back and wonder 'what could I have done better'?"

Meyer faces a review of his performance when he gets back, but hopes to stay involved in a team he believes is on the verge of greatness.

Losing the semi-final to New Zealand by two points last weekend, a result that "ripped out my heart," still gnawed at him because "I still feel in my heart that we should be playing tomorrow (in the final).

"I don't mean to be arrogant, but only a win is good enough for me and my team. If you're happy to jump up and down for third place, you shouldn't be coach of South Africa.

"Sometimes I wonder why I coach because you can never win as coach of South Africa, but I just love coaching, I love my team, and I love my country."

Beating Argentina 24-13 in the third-place playoff brought both relief and sadness for Meyer. Sadness that they didn't win the Rugby World Cup, and relief because it was a brutal year.

It started with narrow losses to Australia and New Zealand, then an historic home loss to Argentina. They restored some pride by winning the return match in Buenos Aires, and Meyer wished they had a couple of more weeks before the World Cup to allow healing players to gain fitness.

A South African court struck down a lawsuit by a political party that wanted the Springboks to not leave for the World Cup until the racial quota was met, then in their first match they were shocked by Japan. Meyer and the Springboks were lambasted and mocked.

"You shouldn't let compliments go to your head, and you shouldn't let criticism go to your heart, but I took it very personally," he said. "I really felt the pressure, not because of the criticism back home, but because I'm a proud person, because I know we're better than that. We saw every single player one on one, and we decided to stick together, and go right to the end.

"You have to be crazy to coach, I believe. The journey is a struggle, but I've still got my health and I know I can overcome anything."

He was proud of the way the team rebounded, and rebuffed injuries to leaders Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield.

He said it was tougher getting the team ready for the third-place playoff than after the Japan match because they were emotionally spent. Many players cramped on the field, and yet they went out and made 180 tackles, 80 more than Argentina, and the leading tacklers in the match were Eben Etzebeth with 20, and fellow lock Matfield, with 16.

Meyer paid tribute to Matfield, who granted Meyer's request to come out of a two-year retirement to play at this World Cup. Matfield, he said, revolutionized lineout play, and "will go down as probably the best player to play for South Africa."

Matfield, Schalk Burger, and Fourie du Preez won't play for the Springboks again, but another fellow 2007 World Cup champion, Bryan Habana, may continue. Habana failed to net a record 16th World Cup try, and said it was a performance to forget. As for his future, he added, "I'm not too sure it's the end yet."

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