Heyneke Meyer loves South Africa, he loves rugby and was pasionate about the Springboks when in charge of them and probably is still extremely passionate about them now. HM cared, he showed emotion, he sang the anthem with more passion than any of the players did. He wanted success so much, he wanted the Springboks to become the number one team in world rugby, he wanted the Springboks to win the RWC. He is a good bloke with all the best intentions.
In my top ten of Domkrag coaches if I am honest I at times have enjoyed the criticism I have heaped onto these coaches but it is not about a witch hunt or trying to expose their every flaw. These coaches have all been guys that love their sport so much that their whole life becomes that sport and everything they do is to try and make that team a success. Every coach I have named brings expertise to the job. So why have I put them in this list of ‘Domkrag’ coaches? Because that is what they are. They lack understanding of the overall picture but still want to take charge and implement their systems. Their systems are almost exact replicas of previous coaches that have been before. They make the same mistakes.
Heyneke Meyer has been involved in coaching for a long time. He began as a player coach at Tukkies (University of Pretoria) back in 1988. He rose through the ranks being an assistant coach at provincial level and then head coach (S.W.D) then assistant at franchise level to Alan Solomons at the Stormers. He was made head coach of the Bulls for the 2000 Super 12 season.
His first season as Bulls coach was a disaster for the Pretoria based team. They finished second last with only one win in the Superugby season. He was retained in Pretoria but demoted to coach the Blue Bulls Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup teams. In 2002 he was given another crack at coaching the Bulls and again was dismissed after failing to win any games and finishing last.
Coaching at a level just below Superugby and where the Blue Bulls face only South African teams HM proved very successful winning 3 Currie Cup finals on the bounce in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Again, now for the third time, the Bulls administration appointed HM as coach of the Bulls for Superrugby. This proved to be a successful run. In 2005 and 2006 the Bulls reached the semi-final stage and in 2007 they won the Super 14 beating the Sharks in the final to become the first South African team to win a Superugby trophy.
After Jake White left the Springbok coaching job, South African fans were crying out for HM to be appointed only to be disappointed when Peter de Villiers was made coach of South Africa.
HM came highly rated and and on 30 June 2008 was appointed head coach of Leicester Tigers in England but after only half a year in the job he returned to South Africa on compassionate grounds as his wifes parents were ill. I do wonder if this was not some masterful and shrewd PR work by Leicester Tigers after they realised this guru they hired was trying to implement Domkrag rugby. I remember being unsure on how to feel after an interview with Toby Flood about HM where Flood said “He is very South African.”
HM finally got the job as head coach of South Africa. It wasn’t all bad there were some fantastic tests against the All Blacks but as usual South Africa focus on the ‘big’ games and don’t pay attention to every game. An example of this was before the end of year tour in 2014 they spoke of targetting the England game which they won but unfortunately they couldn’t have been concentrating on Ireland and Wales because they lost to them. In the 2015 RWC they were talking about what was going to happen after the pool stages only to lose their first game against Japan.
I was at an English speaking high school in Johannesburg and we were due to play an Afrikaans high school. There is a divide between the two communities and sometimes this could get ugly but most of the time like with rugby around the world it was competitive on the field but friendly off of it. One of our coaches was an ex scholar and had a legendary status of being a hard nut. He spoke to us about the game coming up as we were all a bit nervous having played them before we were much smaller than them physically and we were intimidated. He said to us that if you let these guys run at you they will be like machines and they will run all over you all day but if you set out your stall early and smash them in the tackles they won’t know where they are at and they will panic and make mistakes because they rely on that physical dominance. As it turned out we played the game tried our best to stand up to them but we got smashed but I never forgot what my coach had said.
First up for HM in charge of the Boks was a 3 test series against England. A highly motivated and extremely physical Bok team won the first two tests and drew the third. I remember watching these tests in my living room with my brother. While he was dancing around the room with glee at the Boks victories, I was very concerned because those victories were built on the ability to dominate the collisions and very little else. It was just big men coming around the corner over and over again. There was very little width to the game, there was no imagination. It was Domkrag rugby at it’s purest. I remember seeing Brad Barritt the Durban born England inside centre coming off the pitch with such swollen bruises on his face that it looked like he had come out of a boxing ring rather than off a rugby field. I knew that if you could stop the South African big runners in their tracks then they would have nothing else to offer.
England worked on tackle height and technique coupled with trying to make double tackles and by the third test England had worked out how to stop the Bok machine. They drew 14-14 in Port Elizabeth. In the first two tests the scores were actually quite close even though the Boks had dominated the game so emphatically. I as a Bok fan was worried.
Later that year South Africa were lucky to get a draw away to Argentina before losing to Australia in Perth and New Zealand in Dunedin then another loss to New Zealand in Soweto. The ship was steadied with a good tour of Ireland, Scotland and England which settled the nerves and it was felt that the Boks were headed in the right direction. Not by me though I still felt it was Domkrag rugby.
The year 2013 started off as a good one for Springbok rugby. South Africa gave Argentina a hiding in Soweto 73-13 followed up by beating Australia in Brisbane a city they hadn’t beaten Australia in since 1971. Willie le Roux probably played his finest rugby in a test match in this game. They lost home and away to New Zealand but ended the year with a good tour of Wales, Scotland and France winning all three tests.
New Zealand becomes an obsession with South Africans and all your sins seem to be forgotten if you can beat the All Blacks which is what South Africa did in 2014 at Ellis Park, Johannesburg. Pat Lambie slotted a 55m penalty kick to win the game after a Kiwi fightback with Handre Pollard inflicting the intial damge for the Boks with two tries.
HM is no doubt a great motivator but he is by no means a great strategist. He talks different gameplans but it’s the same gameplan that all the Domkraggers talk, it can sound good if you are as persuasive as HM but if you know what you looking at it is just a Domkrag gameplan.
The Boks owned the first 50 minutes of that 2014 Ellis Park test, dominating the collisions with the young Handre Pollard thriving off such good ball but the physical effort it takes to have that domination takes it’s toll and is magnified at altitude. The Boks were running out of energy fast and the All Blacks had managed to get back in the lead before Lambie buried them.
I still believe that even when Domkrag teams are playing at their ultimate peak they don’t offer enough to regularly beat top teams. Domkrag rugby will never dominate world rugby, it is too one dimensional and it relies so much on that physical contest being won. Those physical contests need to be won but the attack needs variety it needs good decision making it needs skill but the Boks seem to offer mainly the bludgeon of players smashing into players over and over combined with good goal kicking and great lineout drives to maul the ball over the line.
What happens after set-piece and the play untill the whistle stops play, would be regarded as open play. Many nations refer to it as ‘actual rugby’. They see the set-piece as merely a means of getting the game started again so that they can continue playing rugby. The South Africans under all their Domkrag coaches avoid the ‘actual rugby’ part of the game as much as possible, rather looking for penalties or gains in territory through kicks. Open play requires spontaneity, good decision making, skill and Domkrag coaches see this as a dangerous minefield where things can go wrong very quickly and which should be avoided. That is why Domkrag teams lack the ball carrying attack because rather than coach structures for that kind of attack they coach players to avoid it altogether. South Africans feel affronted and insulted when accused of not playing much actual rugby but I have seen Morne Steyn kick for the corner rather than run his backline from within the oppositions 22m area. I remember Justin Marshall in commentary just going “What!!!”
After the win against the All Blacks the wheels started to come off for HM. Before the tour to the north at the end of the year he was saying how he was targetting the England game. First up was Ireland who soundly beat the Boks in Dublin and to finish the tour the Boks lost only for the second time in their history to Wales in Cardiff.
Teams build in cycles from RWC to RWC. They try identify who will be there in four years time and try implement a gameplan that they can take through to win the RWC. HM had tried out youngsters and attempted to play a more running rugby type of game but the losses up north and the close proximity of the RWC made HM back track as all Domkrag coaches do on the gameplan and he became obsessed with finding experienced players.
HM’s final year in charge was a catastrophe, not only had the Boks abandoned the idea of playing running rugby, which they only had half heartedly bought into anyway, the results seemed to deteriorate. Everyone else seemed to be peaking at the right time due to good planning and preparation while the Boks were disintegrating. South Africa lost for the first time to Argentina in Durban in a shortened version of the rugby championship after losing to Australia and New Zealand.
In the build up to the RWC South African journalists like Gavin Rich and Jon Cardinelli were telling us that this fantastic coach HM was not leaving any stone unturned in their quest for RWC glory. They had been looking at weather charts for the last 20 years and done thorough research. It is a pity that they hadn’t looked at the Japanese team with the same scrutiny because we all know what happened on that day in Brighton. For most of the rest of that tournament I watched in fear as HM was going from nervous breakdown to nervous breakdown, I felt he needed rescuing before we saw a national coach suffer a heart attack live on TV.
South Africa never have a problem in lifting themselves to a frenzied state when they are playing against the All Blacks. The semi-final against New Zealand was emotional for the Boks. They lost by only two points but the gap between the teams in reality was far bigger.
After the RWC HM did some reflecting and resigned as coach. SARU never fired him even though he struggled to hit transformation targets and had a string of historical losses that will forever blight the record books of the Boks. I was happy that he had gone but knew full well that SARU might make things even worse with the next appointment. As we know SARU did just that.
SARU are out of touch with ‘Modern Rugby’ they are not working hard to continually try and better rugby standards in South Africa which would benefit all players from all races. Their CEO Jurie Roux has been accused of mismanagement of funds and there is finger pointing about every issue under the sun without anyone advancing rugby itself. Coaches have suffered and continue to suffer because of the way rugby is run in SA. I’m not making excuses for HM but the whole structure of rugby in SA did not help him.
Sport is a strange business to be involved in. Businessmen like Alan Sugar have had a go at Sports teams. Sugar once owned Tottenham Hotspurs and soon got out because it wasn’t working yet he could make money almost anywhere. The trick with sport is you have to work out what is the purest and best thing to do to make the sport at that club better continuously. Everything else takes care of itself if that is at the centre of what you want to achieve.
We should look at successful models around the world on how to run our rugby and then look to emulate that in our own South African way.