The South African rugby public are not a forgiving lot ... and as much as the majority of them wanted Heyneke Meyer to coach the Springboks, so they will also be calling for his head if the side doesn’t win more regularly.
Whether he likes it or not and whether it’s justified or not – because he has to work with a squad shorn of several stars – Meyer is under enormous pressure to win all three Tests in Europe this month.
The reality though is Meyer took over the Bok team in a season where Test rugby was not first and foremost on anyone’s mind – 2012 has been about the expanded Super Rugby competition – and in a sense one has to feel for the national coach. Not only has the crazy schedule resulted in several key Boks being ruled out because of injury, he’s also been robbed of the services of several others like Fourie du Preez, Ryan Kankowski and Jaque Fourie, who play their rugby in Japan and aren’t available.
On top of this, Meyer will take a young group to Ireland, Scotland and England tomorrow, a squad who will be eager to impress but who really will be tired after the rigours of 2012.
Also, Meyer will be testing new combinations in certain areas and without a settled side, winning becomes so much more difficult, especially in conditions unfamiliar to many of the tourists.
The only positive for Meyer is that he’ll be able to call on four Europe-based players in the next month – Ruan Pienaar, Schalk Brits, Gurthro Steenkamp and Francois Louw (and possibly lock Marco Wentzel) – players who know the conditions well and possibly will also be able to assist their teammates in sharing knowledge of their opponents.
Meyer admitted this week that it’s frustrating he can’t have more control over the amount of rugby the Boks play each year. “Coaching the national team is more a managerial job, which is frustrating sometimes because my stance has always been to change or look at the system.
“The one team that gets it right in the world is the All Blacks. If you look at their squad now for their tour, they’ve blooded one or two youngsters, and they are taking 34 players. Those guys play with experienced players, and that’s how it should be.”
The New Zealand Rugby Union is in charge of the country’s best players, with the All Blacks.
SA players “belong” to the unions and it is they who say when and how the players should be used – in Super Rugby and the Currie Cup.
For instance, coach Meyer would never be allowed to tell Schalk Burger, Bryan Habana or JP Pietersen to take a six-month sabbatical, as the NZRU did to Richie McCaw.
According to Meyer, if this country’s best players aren’t better looked after, the Boks will struggle to become the world’s best team. “I always knew that the first year was going to be tough, trying to put my stamp on things and trying to change systems, which is very difficult. But we have to look at that, otherwise we will never be the best in the world. I think everyone needs to go out there and look at it, because it is a lose-lose (situation) for everyone. Players can’t play Super Rugby, Currie Cup and Test rugby.
Meyer heads to Europe without 15 first choice players, but the inclusion in his 31-man squad of promising youngsters such as Raymond Rhule, Elton Jantjies, Pat Lambie, Juan de Jongh, Jaco Taute, Marcell Coetzee, Francois Hougaard and the selection of some overseas-based players will allow Meyer to broaden his pool from which he can select a team going forward, to the World Cup in 2015.
More than anything though, Meyer needs to win all three of the matches. If he doesn’t he’ll head into 2013 with an axe hovering over his head, justifiably or not.
Heyneke Meyer’s record as SA coach
Beat England 22-17 (h)
Beat England 36-27 (h)
Draw England 14-14 (h)
Beat Argentina 27-6 (h)
Draw Argentina 16-16 (a)
Lose Australia 19-26 (a)
Lose New Zealand 11-21 (a)
Beat Australia 31-8 (h)
Lose New Zealand 16-32 (h)