Boks caught in Heyneke manoeuvre

One of the worst-kept secrets in South African rugby was that Eddie Jones had signed on as coach of the Stormers for the 2016 season. If there was ever any reason for the franchise to keep it a secret, it was because the decision to employ Jones was not unanimous at boardroom level. All that changed on Saturday, when Jones coached Japan to a famous win over the Springboks. Suddenly, the Stormers had their hands on a hot property and they rushed to the press on Monday to announce the appointment of Jones.

It is all about perception. Before this World Cup, Stormers fans would have turned up their noses at Jones, perhaps suggesting that coaching Japan (and, before the national side, club Suntory Goliath) was no kind of recommendation for taking the reins of a major Super Rugby team. More than a decade had passed since his coaching career with Australia ended somewhat acrimoniously, also counting against him.

No more. Since Saturday, Jones has morphed into a coaching superhero, faster than Tokyo’s speeding bullet train and able to leap tall Springboks in a single bound. And while Jones’s stocks have soared, Heyneke Meyer’s have plummeted. This is ironic, since at the same time as the Stormers were refusing to divulge the Jones deal, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) was keeping mum about the Springbok coach being appointed for a second four-year term. Now Meyer may not last the week.

It is not unprecedented for teams to shed a coach during a World Cup. France did just that in 2011 when, following the side’s pool stage loss to Tonga, the players ejected coach Marc Lièvremont from their training sessions. In 2007 something similar happened to England coach Brian Ashton after his team’s 36-0 defeat to South Africa. On both occasions, player power propelled the teams to the final.

Is there a template for South Africa here? Rumour has it that there was already a disconnect between Meyer and his players during the Japan defeat.

Meyer, it is claimed, wanted more driving mauls and fewer aimless kicks in the second half, but his increasingly strident advice through the headphones was ignored. It sounds awfully like an attempt to rewrite history, bearing the hallmarks of an orchestrated campaign to protect the status quo.

However, Meyer’s selection for the Samoa game reveals the pressure he is under. There are 10 changes to the squad that lost against Japan, the most controversial of which are the retention of Jean de Villiers and the omission of Bismarck du Plessis. De Villiers moves to outside centre to accommodate Damian de Allende who, alongside Willie le Roux, was the most bizarre of the exclusions from the Japan game.

The fallout from that defeat sees the can being carried by Zane Kirchner, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Coenie Oosthuizen and Du Plessis. It is hard not to feel sorry for Du Toit. When Willem Alberts pulled up lame at last Friday’s captain’s run, Meyer chose to pick the lock out of position, rather than promote Siya Kolisi to the starting line-up.

Accident waiting to happen
Incidentally, Alberts was not fit for selection again and, given that he has been out injured for most of the season, this was an accident waiting to happen. He was included in the squad at the expense of Oupa Mohoje.

As for Oosthuizen, the first thing he did after coming off the bench was to enter at the side of a ruck and give away a penalty. It was one of three penalties the Free Stater conceded in his brief time on the field, the final one of which sent him to the sin bin and scuppered Bok hopes. Incredibly, Oosthuizen was not penalised for illegal scrumming, when twice he was forced into a kneeling position by his more agile opponent.

Once again, we have a player who has been injured most of the season, failing to cope with the unique pressures of international rugby because of a lack of game time. Having had a neck operation this year, he should never have made the squad. This week it is Duane Vermeulen who is being asked to return after a neck operation and play as though he has never been gone.

This is coaching gone mad and it is not an isolated case. In the final breathless five minutes in Brighton there was the astonishing sight of the Springboks not contesting the Japanese line-out, so intent were they on stopping the inevitable driving maul. It raises the question: If you are not going to contest the lineout, what is Victor Matfield doing on the field?

This week, the vital need for the 38-year-old has forced Lood de Jager – one of the few to play well last week – on to the bench. In fact the bench is where both De Villers and Matfield belong right now, but it seems that was a bridge too far for the coach.

On Saturday the Springboks have to beat Samoa to stay in the competition. At North Harbour in 2011 they led 13-0 at half time against the same opponents before a second-half implosion left them hanging on grimly, with players dropping like flies in an intense physical battle. Will it benefit the coach to remember that Samoan players enjoy a robust contest? Probably not.

The lesson of the Japan defeat is that it is not about the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. It needs reiterating that there is enough talent in this squad to win the title; the elephant in the room is called desire.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Meet the doctor leading Africa’s fight to contain the coronavirus...

Dr Matshidiso Moeti’s father helped to eliminate smallpox. Now she’s leading Africa’s efforts against the coronavirus

Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world