It is very easy to fire shots at the South African coach Heyneke Meyer and the style of game the Springboks are currently playing. It is equally easy (and justifiable) to criticize Eben Etzebeth and, particularly, Dean Greyling for acts of foul play in the games against the Wallabies and All Blacks. With 6 and 3 caps respectively, Etzebeth and Greyling proved that experience and calm heads are required when entering the cauldron of test rugby.
The Springboks are rebuilding and are enduring results that come with that process. The South African starting pack in Dunedin could only boast a total of 136 international caps, compared with the All Blacks total of 391 – and it showed. Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Schalk Burger and Bismarck du Plessis were sorely missed.
Meyer’s conservative game plan has been widely criticized both in South Africa and overseas. In fact some have questioned whether all the players in the team fully understand the game plan. However a team who relies so heavily on kicking doesn’t deserve to win, when they miss a total of 20 points with the boot.
However, Meyer showed his true class in his condemnation of Greyling and his cheap shot on Richie McCaw. He apologized to McCaw and said that the Springboks will deal with Greyling in-house. Prior to the game, Meyer had expressed his admiration for McCaw as “one of the best players ever”. In this age of media management and spin doctors it is refreshing to hear a coach speak honestly both in praise of an opponent and denunciation of one of his own players.
Not enough is made of the respectful and gracious manner in which South African players and coaches front the media. Regardless of what has happened in a game, they put the competition to shame with their humility and urbane comments. While Peter de Villiers may have left many scratching their heads at press conferences, the likes of Jean de Villiers, Victor Matfield, John Smit, Bryan Habana and Bismarck du Plessis are exceptional.
The Springboks got a hostile reception in New Zealand and came away second best on the scoreboard. Ill-discipline and poor goal kicking cost them dearly. A second yellow card in as many weeks opened them up to ridicule. Heyneke Meyer is one of the great coaches of the modern era and under his guidance the Springboks will continue to learn and grow. They will also become more disciplined and under Meyer’s tutelage will no doubt continue the fine traditions of humility and respect for which the South Africans are so well known.