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
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."