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Bok coach Meyer feels heat

2015-09-18 07:28
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo)

Brighton - Fast-greying locks are a tell-tale sign of the stress South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has suffered ahead of the Rugby World Cup Pool B opener against Japan in Brighton on Saturday.

Poor warm-up results, a horrendous injury list and allegations of racial bias toward white players have dogged the 47-year-old during the build-up to the global showcase.

A less-than-spectacular send-off from Johannesburg last weekend reflected a public hoping for the best in England, but unsure whether the Springboks can conquer the world a record third time.

Respected columnist and author Dan Retief said South Africa can win the World Cup, but probably will not.

The last few months have been deeply frustrating for Meyer, who was born in north-east city Nelspruit, a one-hour drive from the famous Kruger National Park.

He is a meticulous man and injuries to key players, including skipper and centre Jean de Villiers, scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and No 8 Duane Vermeulen, have disrupted preparations.

After narrow losses away to Australia and at home to New Zealand in the 2015 Rugby Championship, Meyer watched the Springboks suffer a stunning defeat by Argentina in Durban.

The coach opted for a dramatic change of course one week later, putting more emphasis on tactical kicking in Argentina, and a measure of respect was restored through a convincing victory.

Patrick Lambie replaced Handre Pollard at flyhalf for Buenos Aires and it is the former who will start against the Japanese 'Brave Blossoms' at the home of English second-tier football club Brighton.

Meyer created a provincial colossus out of the Pretoria-based Blue Bulls a decade ago through a predominantly kicking game and former Springbok coach Nick Mallett expects more of that from South Africa at the World Cup.

"It will be a tactical game, which is basically a kicking game," said the SuperSport TV analyst, who took the Springboks to third at the 1999 World Cup.

"Expect a conservative brand of rugby. The Springboks will play off turnovers, a great defensive system and good set-pieces."

John Smit, skipper and hooker of the 2007 World Cup-winning team, has complete confidence in Meyer.

"Heyneke has a plan and knows how he is going to achieve it. Losing to Argentina could turn out to be a good thing because it was a wake-up call."

Former Springbok flyhalf Derick Hougaard dismisses criticism of Meyer for including too many recently injured players.

"Heyneke knows what the injured players are made of and that is why he took them along. You get 20 percent more out of a player when he plays for the coach."

The time bomb of racial composition with a largely-white team representing a country with a 90 percent black population exploded when Meyer named only two black starters at home to Argentina.

While a target of five black starters agreed between the South African Rugby Union (SARU) and the government was ignored, it was one Meyer choice that stirred a storm of anger.

To accommodate fit-again De Villiers, the coach moved white centre Jesse Kriel to the right wing in place of black Cornal Hendricks.

"I do not look at colour - I look at the best players. I have a great relationship with all my players," insisted Meyer.

His argument was not helped by three-try Pumas winger Juan Imhoff brutally exposing the defensive deficiencies of Kriel.

But columnist and former Springboks management member Mark Keohane says Meyer does not act out of racism, malice or a disregard for the merits of black players.

"When in doubt, like so many (Springbok coaches) before him, he has found comfort in what he knows - white rugby players."

There have been media rumours in South Africa that the contract of Meyer, which expires after the World Cup, will be renewed for four years.

A SARU response shed no light: "It is SARU policy to only make announcements on the contractual arrangements of key employees when there is something to announce."

Peter de Villiers, the first black Springboks coach, was fired after a quarter-finals exit from the 2011 World Cup, so it would be difficult to justify Meyer carrying on unless he goes further.


South Africa:

15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Fourie du Preez, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 JP Pietersen


15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Male Sau, 12 Craig Wing, 11 Kotaro Matsushima, 10 Kosei Ono, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Hendrik Tui, 7 Michael Broadhurst, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Hitoshi Ono, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami

Substitutes: 16 Takeshi Kazu, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20. Amanaki Mafi, 21 Atsushi Hiwasa, 22 Harumichi Tatekawa, 23 Karne Hesketh

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