Heyneke Meyer is building a squad for the 2015 World Cup. He said as much this week, thus changing the outlook of the end-of-year tour from a win-at-all-costs mission into a peek into the future.
In a year where he has lost a dozen senior players to injury or retirement, Meyer can only gain experience now. In terms of results, 2012 has been a disappointment, but he can temper that hurt by at least showing a glimpse of what the future holds.
When Clive Woodward took over as the England Rugby Union head coach in the aftermath of the Poms being “Jannie de Beered” out of the 1999 World Cup, his mission was simple. He wanted to build a team that would lift the crown in 2003. History will not remember the drubbings he suffered against New Zealand and Australia during stages of that period between the start of the new millennium and the moment Jonny Wilkinson broke Sydney hearts with a swing of the right boot.
History will brush aside the fact that English rugby was the laughing stock at certain stages. History will note that Clive Woodward won the World Cup and duly took a bow in front of Her Majesty. He elevated English rugby to new heights, introduced players in tune with the modern game and installed structures that ensured the national team would always be in the reckoning at major tournaments.
From humble beginnings, where he was hammered by an impatient press and public, he created a legacy and made England the best in the world.
After being humbled himself on several occasions in 2012, Meyer now has the chance to pen a promising final page in a chaotic 2012 diary. He admitted that he needed to settle on certain key positions, notably at half-back, and then trust those players to develop a trust and familiarity going forward. Certainly, consistency in selection will lead to consistency on the field.
Jake White’s 2007 vintage had the balance between youth and experience just right. The likes of Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and John Smit were at the peak of their powers as international stalwarts, while exciting youngsters like Frans Steyn and JP Pietersen added a burst of creativity, exuberance that was fuelled by a desire to make a mark.
Last year, Peter de Villiers was stuck in the middle of a national debate, as he couldn’t decide between Smit’s statesman-like presence and Bismarck du Plessis’s relentless power. By the end of the World Cup, he had a bitter apprentice, a compromised captain and no job. Meyer cannot afford to be so indecisive.
First he needs to relinquish the past and focus on the next generation. His periodical pandering for the likes of Matfield, Du Preez and Bakkies Botha to come and help him out will not benefit anyone in the long-term. Those players will not be around in 2015. A great coach is defined by his ability to keep on recreating himself and his teams, building on success and not clinging on to dinosaur theories.
Indeed, he should have taken this tour as an opportunity to just play the youngsters. A crocked Jean de Villiers will not gain anything from hurrying back into action. The same could be said of Bryan Habana.
These are seasoned pros, who are certain starters when fit.
It is a travesty that senior Bok players only rest if they are lucky enough to get a long-term injury. Other nations rest their icons, aware of bigger challenges that lie in wait.
If Meyer is serious about looking to 2015, then he needs to start giving proper opportunities to players who will be in their prime by then.
By starting Jaco Taute and Juan de Jongh for a Test apiece and then letting the better performer start at Twickenham, he would gain far more insight than persisting with De Villiers.
The same applies for the likes of Raymond Rhule and Pat Lambie, who may well be wearing numbers 11 and 10 come 2015, given a proper chance to display their skills.
Meyer suggested that he was not yet convinced by the likes of De Jongh and Lambie, despite their fine form.
He said they hadn’t produced that form at international level, but one wonders how they are expected to do so during 10-minute cameos in a Test match that is already lost?
Tours such as this are the perfect chance for Meyer to give these players a fair crack at the big time.