Heyneke hatches breakdown plan
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer doesn’t like talking big, and prefers the conversation to be carried out on the field, so perhaps it can be taken as a warning to the rest of the world and a positive sign for South African supporters that he made an exception to his usual rule on Monday.
Speaking at the conclusion of an onfield session at Westerford School during the second day of the national training camp in Cape Town, Meyer’s words matched a poise and confidence that was light years different from the nervous and fidgety coach we were presented with at the corresponding stage of 2012.
Meyer is into his second year with the Boks, and you just need to look at him rather than wait for him to tell you that he is more relaxed now than 12 months ago, when he came into the job as the Super Rugby season started and had to negotiate both himself and his assistant coaches out of contracts with the Bulls ahead of a tough series against England for which there was scant opportunity to prepare.
“I prefer the talking to be done on the field but I don’t think I’ve ever been as well prepared before a season as the management team is now,” said Meyer.
“This is the best ever prepared I have been for a team. I’ve done a lot of homework, I’ve done a lot of travelling, as have the assistant coaches, and we have learned a lot. This time last year the assistant coaches were still involved in Super Rugby and weren’t available to work with me, but this time we have done a lot of planning together and it’s made a huge difference.
“Now we’ve just got to put it across to the players. I feel already that the various coaches and players are sharing information better than they were before. There’s a lot to go through before our first test of the year against Italy, and it will be a case of putting everything into scoring a good win there and then feeding off that momentum.”
Meyer said that he was still looking at players outside the group that was called up for the three-day camp, but that he would be working with the initial group until the opening test of the year and then bringing in other players after that.
“Selecting a squad is always difficult. Last year when Western Province won the Currie Cup there was a big call for players from WP to be selected, and at the time the Cheetahs had ended in a position where they had to play promotion-relegation, so there wasn’t much expectation from them. Now they are doing well in Super Rugby, so suddenly the situation has changed and now the Cheetahs have expectations.
“But you can’t change much in a week or two and we don’t really have that much time together, so we have to make continuity important in selection and pick a core group. The players ended last season well on the end-of-year tour so we will be looking to build from what we did then. Any new players that can be added to the mix will be brought in for the second game.”
Meyer says his quest to take the Springboks to a point where they will consistently be the best in the world, as opposed to just winning a World Cup, which he says is always 50/50, has prompted him to do a lot of thinking.
He has identified five key areas which he intends to put a massive focus on, and the one that he is starting with, and which he has sold to the board of Saru as a necessity, is a concentration on improving the South African play at the breakdowns.
“If you want to be the best in the world, you have to be the best in a couple of key areas, and at the moment I don’t think we are the best in any of them,” said Meyer.
“In particular I think there is a huge fall-down in the breakdowns in South Africa. We used to be among the best there but we are not any more. I think defence is improving across all the franchises, and I have been impressed how the Cheetahs have got that right this year. But our attack needs work, particularly our backline attack.
“In order for that to come right though, you need your breakdown play sorted. You can’t attack with your backs if you are not getting quick ball, and that is what we need to do. If we get our play at the breakdown sorted, then our attack will improve.
“So I’ve made a breakdown presentation to the (Saru) board on a plan that I have to get it right, and they have accepted it. I may use a few consultants, but I am confident that we will get the breakdown right as the first step to playing the type of rugby we want to play and people want to see us play.”