SALTA, Argentina – Not once as Springbok coach has Heyneke Meyer been able to pick the same match-day squad from one week to the next.
Since taking over as national coach in June 2012, Meyer has named 29 Test squads and not once has the same group of players run out to represent the Boks.
“I’ve always prided myself on good planning and keeping things as consistent as possible, but what I’ve learned as Bok coach is that there’s hardly ever consistency,” he said in the build-up to today’s Rugby Championship Test against Argentina here.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time and know there are challenges, but what frustrates me is that you just can’t plan long-term.”
Meyer can certainly feel he’s up against the odds. If he’s not missing players through injury, he’s unable to select some who play abroad.
Also, with the rugby seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres at different times, Meyer is employing players who’re often either at the end of the season, meaning they’re tired, or at the beginning, meaning they’re not fully fit and up to speed.
In June this year, for the last Test of the window against Scotland, Meyer was unable to pick a crop of players because their overseas clubs didn’t allow it, while for the biggest part of the Rugby Championship, the players based in Japan are unavailable – here one thinks of JP Pietersen and Schalk Burger.
For today’s match in Salta, the Boks will have two young locks in Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, both in their early 20s, Handré Pollard at flyhalf and a new midfield combination with Damian de Allende in just his second Test. Cornal Hendricks, on the wing, has also only played four Tests.
“I really didn’t want to experiment in my third year (of a four-year cycle) – I don’t think any coach does – but that is what’s happening,” said Meyer.
“A year out from the World Cup, you’d ideally want your team to be as settled as possible and not be trying too much, with selections and the game you’re playing ... you also want the team to play together as often as possible.”
The Boks only have a handful of Tests left before going to England next year for the World Cup, something Meyer is extremely concerned about.
“When we’re done with the Rugby Championship, I’ll see the guys in November and then only 21 weeks later, for next year’s Rugby Championship.”
There’s no June incoming series next year, just four Tests against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina in a shortened competition.
“It’s going to be tough. The June series is good because it gives a team a chance to ease back into action having been apart for so many weeks and months. But next year I’m not going to have that,” said Meyer.
“You sometimes feel you are just never able to move forward, that it’s a stop-start game. There are always guys who’re injured and new guys coming in. With the same group of players you can actually build a team and create momentum, but it’s not possible when there’s no consistency.”
While Meyer has full confidence in everyone who runs out for the Boks, he admits he’s never been able to pick his best side and doubts it will ever happen.
“Maybe at a World Cup, but then you still have to consider who might be injured, and then often your selections are combination-based ... it’s a tough job.
“I still have a dream that I’ll get my best XV on the field at some time.” - Saturday Star