20 Sep 2012

Stick or Twist for Heyneke Meyer?

It seems Heyneke Meyer is already facing a genuine conundrum, just 7 games into his short tenure as South African Head Coach.

Surprising draws against the Poms and the Pumas, followed by successive defeats to both Australia and New Zealand have resulted in the former Bulls supremo facing a barrage of criticism from fans and media a-like, unsatisfied with the style of his stewardship.

To many, his simple, conservative approach has been exposed as 'archaic' by SA's more dynamic rivals from the Antipodes.

Faith has not been lost in the north of the country though (the Bulls' heartland). It appears Meyer truly splits opinion in his homeland. So how much merit is there behind the criticism he is facing and why should we back him?

This week, Dumptackle Rugby Blog has a look at both sides of the coin in the discussion.

Should Meyer stick with the principles which brought him so much Super Rugby success with the Bulls or is it time for him to twist and usher in a new era of attacking South African rugby?


- Meyer has proven himself and needs time for the team to grow and mature

A 40% win ratio after 7 games doesn't make good reading for Heyneke Meyer. Especially from a public as critical as South Africa's, who believed Meyer was brought in to 'win at all costs'.

Meyer was considered a sure bet to bring success following a tumultously confused period with Peter DeVilliers at the helm. Things perhaps haven't quite panned out  as planned.

Let's not forget though that like it or not, these are the first steps taken along the long road to the World Cup in 2015. If the event was being held this November, the selection criteria for the squad may have been very different.

As it is though, this is a team which has been picked to grow as a unit, much the same as Jake White's circa 2004, which ultimately succeeded in RWC 2007. 

The current crop will therefore need to be given time to mature at test level and learn from their mistakes, which Meyer has publicly stated and implicitly understands. He himself believes that the group is 'special' but even special groups need time to develop.

Even Jake White's Boks were ruthlessly hammered 49-0 by a pretty average Wallabies outfit in the year prior to their RWC 2007 triumph. That was a team which included legends such as Smit, Matfield, DeVilliers, DuPreez and Montgomery too. White stuck to his guns though and delivered the world crown the following year, with the same conservative tactics.

Yes Meyer's conservative tactics may not be easy on the eye, but everyone knew the score when he was appointed Head Coach. It was hardly going to be Harlem Globe trotters stuff was it?

Meyer built a dynasty at the Bulls, entrenched  in that conserative style. A strong lineout, an accurate kick chase game, and a metronomical boot at flyhalf have served him well thus far and ultimately, Meyer is banking on being able to replicate that with a new generation.

Young gun Eben Etzebeth
The first step has been to select a core group of players to lead them through the next 4 years and no-one can argue that the likes of Eben Etzebeth and Marcell Coetzee won't be monsters in years to come for the Springboks. The next step is to get consistency from them.

SA need them to do the business week after week, and crucially they need their flyhalf to punish the opposition when he gets the chance. It is that clinical edge which they have lacked thus far and their gameplan relies on that to be successful.

 As for the conservative tactics, it has been South Africa's way for decades, so to expect Meyer to be able to change the mindset of the Springboks at international level, when much of the South African rugby played at Super Rugby level is ball up the jumper stuff seems a little far fetched.

We saw just how effective the Springboks conservative tactics can be at the weekend too anyway.  

Had it not been for some immaturity from Dean Greyling (who was yellow carded at a vital point in second half) and a bad day at the office from a clearly out of sorts Morne Steyn with the boot, SA could have potentially beaten the current World Champs away from home (who by the way have now won their last 14 successive tests).

Someone like Morne Steyn at flyhalf may be limited in his attacking ability but he normally produces the core skills of Meyer's game plan well.  If he can get his kicking boots back on, we may see the knives go back in the draw from the fans, as I have no doubt SA will start picking up a number of victories.

Just give Meyer and the Boks some time.


- The game has moved on, Meyer needs to adapt or risk stagnating

Meyer wasn't wrong to stick to his principles and implement the same conservative approach which won him so much silverware with the Bulls, when he was appointed Head Coach of the Springboks. 

It would have been foolish not to. 

Clearly though, the game has moved on since then, with successive bouts of law changes resulting in far less importance now placed on the lineout. New Zealand have shown that attack is now king, and we've seen the resulting waves from that shift in mentality in tournaments such as the Aviva Premiership this year.

The ultra conservative approach hasn't worked and SA need to move on or risk falling behind.

Meyer's clearly a good coach but it's time for him to show some chameleon qualities and adapt a little. I'm not talking about a monumental shift. South Africa's strengths still lie in a big bruising pack of forwards who look to dominate, but there needs to be more scope and variety outside of that.

Someone like Morne Steyn has produced before for the Springboks but let's be honest, he's struggling and could probably do with some time away from the glare of the spotlight. The booing he had to endure from his home crowd against England in June has had an obviously detrimental effect.

The Bulls flyhalf was never the flashiest operator running the backline, but at least you could rely on him to pot shots between the posts like clockwork. That side of his game is shot and with Pat Lambie and Johan Goosen waiting in the wings, why not try them?

Goosen the man at 10?
If you are talking about selecting players for the long term, Goosen at flyhalf and Lambie at full back seem to be pretty logical choices too.

They add a huge amount of footballing ability over Steyn and Kirchner and could do some real damage with a fearsome pack of forwards running off them. Goosen in particular was outstanding for the Cheetahs in this year's Super 15.

There's also nothing lost in the kicking game with them involved. Both are consistently accurate and can implement Meyer's tactics with ease but would probably have superior vision and an ability to really challenge the opposition, rather than relying on punishing mistakes.

The other main gripe is the selection of Jean DeVilliers. 

He's been a top player but is playing out of position and looks incredibly uncomfortable at 13.  The backline simply doesn't seem to function that well with him there.

Considering the quality of Francois Steyn at 12 and the unliklihood that he will be moved, perhaps it's time for Meyer to consider that DeVilliers probably needs to make way. 

It seems a misguided choice to have made him captain. DeVilliers seems to doubt himself and his leadership, as we even saw following the Stormer's exit from this year's Super 15. That confusion seems just as apparent in the green jersey. 

When you compare his leadership to that of Richie McCaw's monumental, all-action effort in the weekend's game against the All Blacks for example, there really is no contest.

It's time for Meyer to put some faith in the young guns in the backline. They may just usher in a new attacking era of Springboks rugby.

Which argument do you agree with?

Tell us your views in the comments section below


  1. Nice post. I know people are bitching about Gooses missed tackles but he does bring a new dimension to the attack.
    Morne is defensive flyhalf and Goose is flat and attacking.

  2. Nice article.

  3. Finally someone is talking about Jean DeViliers... the issues in the backs are not limited to Steyn & Kirchner... the centers are part of the problem too as they don't offer anything other than Meyers style of game.

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