Durban – I always recall John Smit speaking about the nervousness around the change room before the first Test of 2004, against Ireland in Bloemfontein, when new coach Jake White told the inexperienced group that not only were they going to beat Ireland, but that in four years time they would the World Cup.
Smit later said that he wondered if White had been smoking toxic substances, notably his socks!
Yet that largely rookie group, barring the recalled veteran prop Os du Randt, not only won the Tri-Nations that year but did go on to the World Cup.
Some years on and after another Springbok coach, Peter de Villiers, a heavy emphasis on experience has given way to Heyneke Meyer attempting to forge another Springbok era – but has he really started again?
No, he hasn’t in that he has gone with new talent in the pack, but has chosen to opt for out-of-form experienced players in the backline. His second row of choice has been the fledgling combination of Juandre Kruger and Eben Etzebeth, for instance, where the Boks the previous year had almost 200 caps in Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.
At the back, he has stuck through thick and thin with Morne Steyn, even though the pivot has been crying out to be dropped, and he has gone with “Nik Nak man” Zane Kirchner at fullback when nobody can understand why he is preferred to Patrick Lambie.
Should Meyer have wiped the slate clean after last year’s world cup and started with a new crop of players, instead of sticking with the likes of Steyn?
English writer Stephen Jones summed up the sentiments of many SA rugby critics when he wrote at the weekend: “If Steyn can’t kick the goals, his primary function, then kick him out!”
In fairness, the pretender to the flyhalf throne, Johan Goosen, was injured until a fortnight or so ago and Meyer has gradually introduced him to international rugby, and he has looked brilliant with every minute he has played.
Meyer, in his defence, has tried to pick a team that can win while rebuilding and I personally think he has done a reasonably good job with selection given the cards he has been dealt. But, having said that, some of the cards have been duds and he needs to rethink his strategy.
Notably, it is time for a change at flyhalf because Steyn is out of form and is not bringing his outside backs into the game. He sits deep in the pocket on attack, and that means his centres have no chance when it comes to forging attacks.
And it is worth mentioning that when Goosen came on against the All Blacks, suddenly a player like Francois Steyn was threatening. That is because Goosen attacks the gain line and brings into play players that are otherwise under-utilised.
Against the All Blacks, centres Steyn and Jean de Villiers mostly watched aerial bombs being sent heaven-wards and chased them down when they could have been more gainfully employed linking with a fullback that had more ambition than Kirchner, who simply gave the ball back to the All Blacks.
The match cried out for the counter-attacking skills of Lambie, not the non-existent fightback from Kirchner.
It was a joke to give Lambie five minutes against the All Blacks. What, in truth, can any player achieve in that time in a position such as fullback? Why bother? - The Mercury