Having crashed out at the semi-final stage against New Zealand, the bottom line is that South Africa’s Rugby World Cup campaign was unsuccessful.
However, the failure in England was not down to the playing talent at our disposal, but rather the coaching deficiencies which were brutally exposed.
In terms of Heyneke Meyer, there has been an issue with accountability and a suggestion that he has misused his power. With all the power Meyer was given, he was never qualified to use it correctly and he was always going to make mistakes. And when Meyer ran out of ideas and things went wrong he became a control freak and started to over-coach the players. For example, Schalk Burger is a talented player with a broad skill-set, who passes well, but he’s bashing it up like Willem Alberts.
Heyneke has made a collection of mistakes over his four-year national coaching tenure, and his faith in the older players came back to bite him because it simply wasn’t their World Cup to win.
However, the biggest problem is that Meyer has never had a strong support team beneath him and could have been better assisted. I promise you his assistants - Johann van Graan, John McFarland, Chean Roux and Ricardo Loubscher - won’t tell him, “Heyneke, you are making a mistake.”
Vigorous discussion is important to achieve a common goal and, over time, almost every successful team has boasted assistant coaches who challenge the head coach in terms of strategy and selection and are able to offer solutions. It would greatly benefit the national team to have assistants who are strong-willed individuals, independent thinkers and men who would fight for what they believe in.
South African rugby is currently at a crossroads and we definitely need to change our style.
The first option is to retain Meyer for another four years and then cherry-pick his new assistants in an effort to freshen up the coaching team and in order to infuse a more well-rounded approach. I believe we need to create a platform whereby former Springboks are coaching Springboks and the youngsters who are coming through, instead of coaches who’ve done a few courses here and there.
The second option is to cut the entire Springbok coaching staff loose after the 2015 World Cup and embark on a brave new direction. I would advocate a foreigner taking charge of the head coaching position. Someone with the profile of a John Mitchell, Warren Gatland, Joe Schmidt or Eddie Jones would serve the Springboks well as head coach for four years until the next World Cup. They would occupy the hot seat without any allegiance to a certain province and would groom their successor.
During the same process, if I was calling the shots at SARU, I would handpick six serious assistant coaches, one of which would take over from the head coach if they don’t exercise the option to stay on beyond their four-year term. The likes of Johan Ackermann, Allister Coetzee, Gert Smal, Brendan Venter, Rassie Erasmus and Pieter de Villiers would all be in the mix, and maybe Heyneke would even humble himself to take a step back and become an assistant coach.
It is also important for SARU to appoint specialist mentors who are ex-Springbok internationals and can take care of the scrums, the lineouts etc. and then ask them to pick five players in their respective positions and see how we can develop them. I believe it would create an incredibly strong system of coaches, talent-spotters and developers. We need a core group of dynamic selectors who are current and know the new style for the good of South African rugby.
We are desperately in need of something new because the old system is clearly not working for us. We need to unlock our deep pool of playing talent. And once we have the fundamentals of scrummaging, the breakdown and defence down to an exact science, we can then play a wide game, a narrow game, a kicking game and forward-dominated game.
In terms of Friday’s third-place playoff between South Africa and Argentina, if I was in Meyer’s shoes I would have gone a different route and given all the reserves full game time. The message to the players should be, “Go out there and express yourselves and play with a sense of freedom.”
It will prove a difficult Test for South Africa because they don’t boast Australia’s ability to score many first-phase tries and use the width. While they won’t be able to get that right in a week, the Boks are definitely the favourites having easily beaten Los Pumas in the side’s last meeting in Buenos Aires.
Le Roux represented South Africa in 54 Tests, from 1994 until 2002, and played at the 1999 Rugby World Cup. He featured in six RWC matches and enjoyed an 83 percent win record.
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