Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Kicking five-eighths embodies lack of progress

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Pat Lambie and Zane Kirchner lament the Perth loss.  Photo / Getty Images
Pat Lambie and Zane Kirchner lament the Perth loss. Photo / Getty Images

Staff are probably still clearing the froth and spittle from the Springboks' coaching intercom.

Heyneke Meyer filled the system with invective and phlegm last week as he surged through a tirade of instructions about what he demanded from his side.

Forget the ideas about coaches being like ducks, unruffled on the surface but furiously churning underneath.

The 44-year-old was in full flap in the coaches' box in Perth as he watched his side mess up the test with the Wallabies.

It would not have been surprising to see his colleagues quietly exit as Meyer continued his hammerlock hold on the intercom.

It was not a poster display for Meyer's psychology degree; there was no keep-calm-in-a-crisis theory in play.

What are the signs, though, for Meyer and the Springboks?

This is the coach who was expected to take over in 2008, but got the huff when Peter de Villiers was handed the employment slip.

He got the pip again with rugby in Britain and returned home to eventually get the Springbok role.

The former Bulls supremo appears to have taken that template from his seven-year stint and rubber-stamped it as a Bok method too.

There is growing agitation about this in South Africa and concern that Meyer has not found his way clear of the methods he last used extensively in the Republic in 2007.

At the centre of the tension is Meyer's gameplan and reliance on Morne Steyn as his first five-eighths.

The pair go back some way and Meyer knows what Steyn can bring to a side, while many senior players appreciate their colleague's test-match attributes.

But they are traits of yesteryear, even in South Africa where howitzer up-and-unders have been king. There are younger men - such as Johan Goosen or Patrick Lambie, who are with the side, and Elton Jantjies - who have brought much more enterprise.

Out wide there is plenty of pace and skill in South Africa but getting the ball to them to display those merits has been the issue. Possession gets stifled or kicked away, the outside backs become chasers.

Just imagine what the Springboks could do with the coaching intent and detail from Steve Hansen or Graham ("I'm for hire") Henry.

Steyn is of value but his game has stagnated; he is predictable and that suits defenders. When the squeeze goes on, Steyn retreats deeper into the pocket, limiting what he can do with the ball.

Outside him men like Frans Steyn and Bryan Habana grit their teeth wondering if one day, somehow, they will get a decent run. All nations have their patterns and favoured ways of playing but the art of coaching involves inventive subtlety.

For South Africans, the slide from an opening win in the Rugby Championship to a draw, then defeat - and the manner of those results - are signs of stalled progress rather than a brave new world under Meyer.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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