ALL the talk of inadequate transformation in rugby in the past few weeks has left me wondering whether the government and other critics realise Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is under immense pressure to win.
Surely the coach’s main priority at this stage has to be to achieve the desired results rather than counting how many black or coloured faces there are in his team?
For those who haven’t bothered to take a glance at the team’s results this year, the Springboks won only four of their nine matches before embarking on their year-end tour - and this is poor given the high standards set by the Springboks in the past few years.
A successful tour, however, would tone down the criticism of Meyer, as three victories would sway his results to seven wins in 12 matches, which is more acceptable.
This would also ease the pressure on him, as he hasn’t even been in the hot seat for a year and already has experienced the wrath of die-hard supporters, who have called for his head.
For the record. I believe transformation is one of the key elements that needs to be addressed by the 14 provincial unions and by the South African Rugby Union to ensure true progress is achieved in the next few years.
Suggestions in the past few weeks, however, that Meyer thinks rugby is a white sport and that he is anti-transformation are ludicrous. If the likes of Bryan Habana, Tendai Mtawarira, JP Pietersen, Elton Jantjies and Juan de Jongh were not good enough to be in Meyer’s squad this year, they probably wouldn’t have been selected.
He would also not have called up Cheetahs wing Raymond Rhule to his UK touring squad if he didn’t believe the player had talent.
There is no doubt that Jantjies is a quality flyhalf, De Jongh is a quality centre and that Lwazi Mvovo is a quality wing, but it would be remiss to ignore Meyer’s reasons for overlooking them for the Ireland Test — Mvovo started on the bench though. Meyer has made no secret of the fact that he likes big physical centres, which is the reason Jean de Villiers and Frans Steyn and Jaco Taute have been his choice centres.
Size is also undoubtedly one of the reasons Zane Kirchner has been preferred at fullback over Pat Lambie.
While it is true that Jantjies is a fantastic flyhalf, those who have watched Johan Goosen work his magic cannot dispute the fact he offers more on the attack.
And in last Saturday’s Test specifically, with Lambie starting at flyhalf for the Boks for the first time in 16 months, Meyer wanted an experienced campaigner on the bench who was also familiar with his tactical kicking game, and Steyn fitted that profile.
That said, I agree with Meyer’s critics that perhaps Mvovo should have been selected over Francois Hougaard on the wing, with the latter being used as an impact player, and that hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle should have been selected on the bench over Schalk Brits. But with Brits playing in Europe, Meyer thought he could offer more - which is a valid reason.
It is a fact that the only way the likes of Jantjies, Mvovo, Ralepelle and Rhule and injured flank Siya Kolisi will be able to stake a claim for starting berths in the team in the next few years is if they get the chance to prove themselves regularly, and that is something Meyer has to be mindful of next season.
But for now it is important that he restores the faith in the Bok team and builds trust in his abilities, and this requires selecting his best match 23 every week.
After all, there were people who suggested the Boks would thump Ireland, but instead they were 12-3 down at the break and had to produce a top-class second-half showing to win the match 16-12.
Scotland may be struggling this year, which means Meyer could have taken more risks with his team selection, but they proved in 2010 that they should not be taken lightly, and neither should England.