It wasn’t really the result of last week’s Test match in Mendoza that was so disturbing, for the Puma ability to push big teams at home should not be underestimated, but rather the reaction to the abjectly below-par performance from first the coach and then later the captain.
The captain, Jean de Villiers, said in the media this week that there was no problem with the gameplan of Heyneke Meyer, the failure to fire against Argentina was just down to poor execution.
Heard that one before?
It was what the Bok leadership said over and over again when they went into the 2010 Tri-Nations without Fourie du Preez and one or two key forwards and then continued to try and play as if they were there and ended up coming stone last.
The problem is that Du Preez is not there any more, the forwards aren’t as dominant as they used to be when they had a raft of legendary players making up the pack.
If we collected a 50 cent piece for every time Meyer speaks about the need for toughness and greater physicality, we would surely be quickly in the market for at the very least a small ostrich farm somewhere in the Klein Karoo.
When Meyer talks about these things it appears to confirm the biggest reservation I had about him taking up the job – the years he spent away from coaching at the highest level may have introduced a time-warp effect.
He still seems to be stuck in the era when his Bulls team had so many intimidating big men that they just bullied every opponent into submission. His game depends so much on forward domination and the Boks getting the better of their opponents physically and in a way the reaction of the media and the public to the performances of the halfbacks these past Saturdays sums up the problem.
In Cape Town the Bok pack had the ascendancy and everyone was writing and saying that Morné Steyn and Francois Hougaard had answered their critics.
But then when the forward advantage wasn’t so marked last week, and it was the opposition rather than the Bok forwards that were doing the bossing, all the old question marks resurfaced.
It was a case of lose the battle for complete physical domination and you effectively go up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
It was reminiscent of a stage of the Peter de Villiers era.
It will be recalled how completely dominant the Boks were with their strategy of strangle and suffocate in the 2009 Tri-Nations, but then when the Boks were fronted physically and played at their own game, such as in the Brisbane Test of that year and then later against France and Ireland, it was as if they just had nothing to give.
For me, that Steyn seems to be judged by some critics almost exclusively on his ability to kick goals is a problem in itself.
Just like a captain should be good enough to be part of the team, so a goalkicker needs to be able to contribute in his all-round game.
It’s been said over and over again, but was never more evident than last week – Steyn just lines up way too deep to be a factor on attack and one of the most marked differences between the Bok team under Meyer and the one that played in the World Cup last year relates to the influence of Steyn’s namesake, Frans.
Whereas the Boks had their problems on attack earlier in the De Villiers era, the arrival of Rassie Erasmus as technical adviser last season contributed to a much better rounded game from the Boks.
Morné Steyn improved his attacking game considerably and played a lot closer to the gainline.
This brought Frans Steyn into his own as a ball carrier and decision maker alongside him, and it proved key to the Boks for once being able to find the right balance between defence and attack.
But this year we haven’t seen Frans deployed in a similar role to last year, and when he gets the ball he is too far from the gainline and frequently is in a situation where he has little option but to kick it.
If Meyer wants to be successful in Australia and New Zealand over the next two weeks he is going to have to make the innovations needed for (Frans) Steyn to rediscover his attacking mojo.
Is he up to it?
Only time will tell, but so far there hasn’t been any indication that he has any inclination towards moving away from his rigid adherence to what he knows and trusts.
Unfortunately from day one he has been determined to surround himself with like minds rather than people who might challenge him, and with Erasmus no longer alongside him in the coaching box I have less faith than I had during the England series. – Weekend Argus