Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Springbok coach defies conservative image

Heyneke Meyer.
Heyneke Meyer.

Wild gesticulations from Heyneke Meyer in the Springbok coaches' box contradict descriptions of him as a conservative leader.

There's almost a Gallic streak about his emotions which flare with regular intensity as he rides the action unfolding down on the pitch. His reactions are at odds with his selection and playing strategies.

Meyer's conventional upbringing led into coaching the conservative Bulls rugby patterns which have been at the core of the game on the Highveld. It's a style he finds hard to discard as he sifts methods to best manage the Springbok game.

Spectators' emotions ignited during the All Blacks' thrilling 38-27 victory last year at Ellis Park as the visitors ran down the Boks with their skill and fitness. A chorus grew about the Boks developing that style.

Meyer may have been tempted for a nano-second but he knew his cattle. They could deliver strands of that all-action game but the Springboks' psyche revolved around confrontation and territory.

It suited their character and their athletes.

The Boks were exposed by the Pumas in dreadful weather in the opening round of the Rugby Championship and then in Salta with their high quality set-piece work. The Boks limped to the series lead but with all sorts of repair work needed.

Their lineout wobbled without Victor Matfield, their scrum sagged and battled cohesion and there was a scratchy look to their backline.

More of that and the Wallabies will believe they can recover from their last shellacking to win next weekend in Perth. The Boks have to revert to their traditional formula which covers most of the bases for test rugby - physical, direct and aggressive. They had an issue with that against the Pumas when they were dusted in the confrontations and lacked a few key players.

Morne Steyn's injection in the final quarter helped channel the game and nail vital goal-kicking points, Bryan Habana claimed a thief in the night try and substitute Bakkies Botha brought some late clout.

They will need much more for the Wallabies in Perth before their attempt to derail the All Blacks on September 14 in Wellington. It will be a day short of five years since the All Blacks were last beaten at home when the Boks felled them 32-19 at Waikato Stadium.

Habitual Springbok platforms of abrasive defence and tactical kicking assisted that piece of history. Matfield, Botha, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira, Steyn, Habana and captain Jean de Villiers are survivors from that clash, a dwindling group of men who are still playing and have beaten the All Blacks at home.

If de Villiers survives Perth, he will play his 100th test in Wellington and become his nation's fifth player to reach that milestone after the 37-year-old Matfield, John Smit, Percy Montgomery and Habana next weekend.

Since their 2009 defeat, the men in black have churned through an unbeaten domestic sequence of 34 victories.

Matfield and abrasive loosie Willem Alberts have emerged from the Boks rehab clinic to bolster the pack on this tour as coach Meyer adjusts his game-plans and selections.

Perth next Saturday will reveal a lot about the Springboks' intent.

- NZ Herald

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