The Springboks face a depleted Ireland side in Dublin on Saturday night and what does Coach Heyneke Meyer do? He omits in-form players for the sake of continuity. He’s once again missed an opportunity to test combinations of players who are currently in such great form, they are knocking the door down for opportunities.
Meyer must win these end-of-year tour matches. The fact that he’s been cautious with selections piles on even more pressure to get results. The sad part is, I think at this stage, he’s not even selecting the team he believes will become his first choice match 23 eventually. Surely now is the time to build towards that?
Meyer currently seems to be plodding along from selection to selection, game to game, picking sides to win and maintain as much consistency as possible. No problem. But this approach has not resulted in convincing performances. So why not be a bit more radical with selections and pick the best players based on form or merit. Meyer says he doesn’t believe in a ‘ranking’ system where players in positions are rated as first choice, second choice or third. He says he picks the best player for the job at hand – ‘a horses-for-courses approach’.
No, that does not hold water with me. A good, in-form player should shine against any team in any conditions. A top tier rugby nation cannot produce anything less than 30 versatile players in all positions that are able to step up when called on under any circumstance. Okay, Meyer is still busy building a team and may get there, but under this coach it will be a slow process.
No other top tier nation thinks like this. Most often the best player in a set position is identified, given an opportunity at the highest level and then adds value to the overall game plan. We are stifling talent by not rewarding outstanding performances.
On the basis of Meyer’s selection for Saturday’s test against Ireland, I can only deduce that Meyer ranks Pat Lambie has the best fit flyhalf, Morne Steyn second best and Elton Jantjies third. Meyer thinks Steyn has found form, but I can’t see how he can accurately assess that. Jantjies on the other hand is in form, apart from missing kicks in the Currie Cup semi-final against Western Province. It’s his time now. It’s only fair to give Lambie and Jantjies the platform during this tour. Steyn has had opportunities and can find kicking form in Super Rugby. What will we learn if he comes on against Ireland towards the end and kicks or misses, a drop goal or penalty. Will Lambie and Jantjies fail the Boks? No!
Why has Juan de Jongh not been given an opportunity to start this weekend? Meyer’s assertion that Taute starts again for continuity’s sake is acceptable rationale since he clearly prefers Taute over de Jongh, but fair it is not. It’s also a poor rugby decision in my book. I’m no rugby guru, but those rugby ‘mega minds’ I’ve heard from agree that a player in de Jongh’s form should not be overlooked and needs a genuine opportunity. Does Meyer trust Taute but not de Jongh? Why?
Look, Meyer is in a difficult position as he can never please everyone. I commend him for sticking to what he believes in and that’s the only way he can go really. The coach must do what he feels is best for the team and as was his wish when he was appointed – be judged on results.
I’m cool with that, but I believe it’s fair to use this platform to highlight potential pitfalls. Of course Meyer has weighed up every selection and he’s gone into much more details than anyone surely, but I still feel decision making in the Bok camp is weighed down by a fear of failure. Meyer’s era as the Bok coach, which should last until the 2015 Rugby World Cup at least, has the potential to develop an All Blacks beating team, but only if we embrace the diversity of South African rugby.
Can Meyer ditch the idea that his game plan is infallible if executed correctly? Can we look forward to a more versatile Bok team? Can Bok management work with rare talent and take that to another level?
Those questions have unsatisfactory answers in my mind at the moment and while we will win some, we can’t match the All Blacks in terms of being able to harness skills and talents that ultimately will take the game to another level. So if we’re happy with perfecting what we already know then, carry on. Otherwise, let’s broaden our horizon, expand our arsenal and not sell ourselves short.
I know this opinion piece falls into the bracket of a ‘romanticised’ view of the game, but honestly, I am not alone.
Bok Team to face Ireland:
Backs: Zane Kirchner, JP Pietersen, Jaco Taute, Jean de Villiers (captain), Francois Hougaard, Pat Lambie, Ruan Pienaar.
Forwards: Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandré Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss (vice-captain), Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Schalk Brits, CJ van der Linde, Pat Cilliers, Flip van der Merwe, Marcell Coetzee, Morné Steyn, Juan de Jongh, Lwazi Mvovo.
My preferred selection:
Backs: Jaco Taute, JP Pietersen, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (captain), Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie, Francois Hougaard.
Forwards: Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandré Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, CJ van der Linde, Pat Cilliers, Flip van der Merwe, Marcell Coetzee, Elton Jantjies, Ruan Pienaar, Lionel Mapoe.
Wesley Petersen is the EWN Sports Editor.