Meyer blames poor defence on inexperience
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has no doubt that his team is a work in progress and that this time next year they will be challenging the All Blacks combination that confirmed their dominance of the world game with an emphatic 32-16 Castle Rugby Championship win at Nasrec on Saturday.
The come-from-behind victory completed a clean sweep in the competition for Richie McCaw’s team, with the All Black skipper celebrating his landmark 100th victory as an international player, a new world record.
Scoring four tries to one at what was supposed to be an intimidating away venue underlined just how classy the New Zealanders are, and they are full value for the record of consecutive wins they are fast closing in on.
However, while Meyer lauded his opponents and agreed they were undeniably both the better team on the day and also the best side on the planet, he reminded suffering South African fans that a year can be a long time in rugby.
“The All Blacks are a really quality team and I have to take my hat off to them and particularly to Dan Carter for the way he controlled the game once they were ahead,” said Meyer.
“Up until halftime we played the right type of game. Against the All Blacks you have to build an innings, and before halftime we were placing them under pressure. They were tiring and being forced to run backwards.
But the turning point came when they scored that try after halftime.
Suddenly they were ahead, and we had to play catch-up, which you can’t do against the All Blacks.
“They want you to be trying to chase them as it makes you make mistakes that they feast off. They are the best in the world at exploiting and capitalising on turn-over ball, and that was what they did with devastating effect in this game. But while it is easy to make excuses, and we want to win every game, we also have to be realistic, and we have six
under-21 players in this team.
“They will learn from the experience of playing against the world champions and from what they learned from this game. If we can keep the side together for the end of year tour and give them more experience, then I am convinced we will be a much improved team next year. The All Blacks are a great team and are ahead of us at the moment, but that can change in 12 months.”
Indeed it can, and 1998 and 2004 were two Tri-Nations winning years that followed last place finishes in the Tri-Nations the previous season. There is also no denying that the Bok pack that started well before running out of puff in the second half at Soccer City has an awesome amount of potential, while the young flyhalves who have made their first starts in recent matches, with Elton Jantjies playing with composure even in a beaten team in this game, have the potential to bring the missing dimensions to the Bok game.
What was most glaringly lacking in this match though was the strong, aggressive and physical defensive game that is needed to beat the All Blacks, with far too many individual defensive errors being made while frequently from the vantage point of the Soccer City press box the defence looked disorganised. If Meyer is concerned though he did not show it at the post-match press conference, and attributed the failings to lack of experience.
“If you look at previous teams that have played for the Boks in recent years, when the defence has been a strong point, you will notice that those sides all had settled combinations and really experienced players playing for them,” said Meyer.
“Guys like Jean de Villiers and Mossie (Jaque Fourie) played more than 50 test matches together and they got to know each other really well. That makes a lot of difference to your defensive game. We have had to make a lot of changes for various reasons. Johan Goosen came in and he was new to the system, as was Jaco Taute, and then we also lost Goosen during the game and had to bring in Elton Jantjies.
“So what we ended up with was a lot of inexperience against the best backline in the world. It wasn’t that we didn’t man up in the one on one situations, it was just that there were a few soft moments. Against the All Blacks you can’t afford that and they punished us.
“They are a really quality side, the best in the world, we are second, and there is a big gap between us. But we started the season ranked fourth, so we are improving. The All Blacks have brilliant individual players who get them off the hook when they are in trouble. To beat them you have to make sure you make use of all your opportunities when they are a bit off their game, we couldn’t do that.”
The last reference was to the poor goal-kicking, that again let the Boks down in this game. Both Goosen and Jantjies, after he came on late in the first half, missed two kicks apiece.
“Had we landed our kicks we could have been eight to 10 points ahead at the break and had that been the case it might have been a different story,” Meyer said.