Defending Meyer: The Bok stops here
There's a Twitter account that I follow called @avoidcomments.
Its sole purpose is to warn people of the dangers of reading the comments section of, basically anything, and features glorious tweets such as "When I come across a pile of excrement I usually try to step around it, but no, by all means, go wading into the comments section. Have fun." Or "You have time to create something beautiful. You have time to read the comments section. You do not have time to do both". It's perfectly apt of course. The comments section is a cesspit of stupidity, where even a simple statement like "I love dogs" will be accused of carrying with it traces of sexism and racism. And more.
That said, I struggle to stay away from the comments section in the aftermath of a Springbok rugby match. There are few bigger sporting spectacles that get South Africans as riled up as watching our boys in the green and gold do battle, and there's no bigger platform for them to vent their frustration than the internet. And they vent. In their thousands.
Despite my severe cynicism, and low levels of expectation, even I was surprised by the vitriol spewed by the masses following the Boks' narrow victory over Argentina in Salta. Granted, it was a horrible performance and one that deserved plenty of criticism, but some of the suggestions bordered on madness.
The harshest of which were the calls for Heyneke Meyer's head. This after a victory. Not a pretty victory, but a victory nonetheless. In fact, the victory was the 22nd of Meyer's Springbok career, the amount being just seven less than the total number of Tests he's been at the helm for. That gives him a winning percentage of just over 75% - statistically making him the second most successful Bok coach post-isolation, behind only the late Kitch Christie, who famously never lost a Test while in charge.
Meyer's Springboks have lost on five occasions, but, remove the current world champions from the equation, and that number is whittled down to just one - a narrow 19-26 defeat to the Wallabies in Perth.
His record against the All Blacks is a wrong he'll desperately want to right, but there's no disgrace in losing to a team that last tasted defeat in December 2012, and has consistently been the planet's number one side since 2010.
So, since taking over the job, the man vilified for the Boks' shambolic victory over Argentina, has seen his side lose to just two teams, draw to two others in England and Argentina, and never lose to Northern Hemisphere opposition. I'll repeat. Two years ago, they drew in Argentina, meaning that things have actually improved. It's a record that would be the envy of most coaches, but as South Africans, we demand perfection.
Perfection, of course, supposedly comes in black and wears a silver fern, but as the All Blacks proved in the Rugby Championship opener against the Wallabies, they aren't there, yet. A better side would have made them pay for an abysmal performance, but the Australians couldn't capitalise, and instead suffered the consequences a week later at Eden Park, where the New Zealanders did indeed put in what was as close to perfection as is humanly possible for fifteen men to produce.
Therein lies the crux. The Boks were as ordinary in their opener, at home, as they were in Salta. Yes, the weather played a massive role, but history shows that they've always dominated the Argentines on home soil, yet struggled in South America. The public seemed to be more content with what took place at Loftus, than what was produced in Argentina, and I believe it had less to do with conditions, and more to do with chronology. Our first match of the tournament followed that instantly forgettable spectacle in Sydney, and in comparison to the All Blacks and Wallabies, the Boks looked pretty good. Fast forward a week later, and suddenly a comparison with the day's earlier match produced nothing but shock and awe.
Yes, the All Blacks were brilliant, but most times they would be against a team that keeps all its firepower stored at the back. The Wallabies pack continues to be their Achilles heel, and Meyer's men will target that soft underbelly when the sides face off in Perth.
To do so, Meyer will first need to target his own pack, as a massive overhaul is needed when it comes to scrums. Perhaps not necessarily to the personnel, but rather to the practice.
The game of rugby union has evolved tremendously over recent times, particularly since the advent of professionalism, but very little has changed when it comes to the scrum. South Africa has always been one of the strongest exponents of the set piece, but largely because our players are so large, as they've relied more on power and strength than technique. Against lesser sides it will always work, but against a team like Argentina, who created a scrumming revolution when they gave birth to the Bajada, it's a dangerous game to play.
The Bajada, in theory, is simple. The entire scrum operates as one unit, with the tight five and loose trio pushing in perfect unison, putting pressure on the spine of the formation, namely the hooker and eighth man. Of course it limits the mobility of the flankers once the ball is out, but if a team is able to destroy their opponents as convincingly as Argentina destroyed the Boks, it hardly matters. The Boks need not reinvent the wheel, but a little innovation has never hurt anyone, and something is broke and needs to be fixed.
It's still early days in the Rugby Championship, and regardless of how poorly the Boks played in their first two matches, they're undefeated and top the table. Now _that's _worth commenting on.
Derek Alberts is a sports anchor at Eyewitness News . Follow him on Twitter: @derekalberts1
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