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Heyneke Meyer (AP)
Cape Town – Perhaps more of an indictment on Heyneke Meyer’s recent record than his swelling bankruptcy against New Zealand is the fact that Australia
Many Springbok supporters can grudgingly live with the fact that the All Blacks have been a magical cut above all comers in the last four-year cycle, even if coach Meyer’s record in eight cracks at them now — following the latest, RWC 2015 semi-final heartbreak — reflects a miserly one win.
But more damning, arguably, is the current situation of the Boks being also quite firmly stuck behind Australia in third place on the World Rugby rankings; the points gap between them has widened to well over five after the Wallabies booked a berth in the final.
From 90.93 points last week, the Aussies have increased to 91.75, whilst the Springboks have tapered off from 86.80 to 86.02.
What’s more, South Africa even run the risk of slipping back to fourth for the end of the calendar year if Argentina beat them in the bronze playoff on Friday night (22:00 SA time) to switch positions.
The Boks bottom of the “big four” in the southern hemisphere at any time? That is deemed pretty close to sacrilegious on our demanding shores.
There is, inevitably, an ever-mushrooming anti-Meyer public lobby in the wake of the Boks’ failure to make the tournament showpiece and in some ways the presence of Australia in it – rather than, say, one of the bigger northern powers – only proves more irksome.
Certainly a year ago, everything looked in pretty good place for South Africa to be the main challengers to New Zealand’s RWC crown, especially among the candidates from south of the equator.
But then along came a certain Michael Cheika.
The same age as Meyer (both presently 48), he has only had almost exactly a year at the helm of the Wallabies – far from the ideal build-up platform to a World Cup, you would think, as coaching philosophies tend to require longer than that to bed down and then bear tangible fruit.
Australia have had the instability of three coaches in the four-year cycle since RWC 2011 (Robbie Deans, Ewen McKenzie and Cheika) and in March this year, curtailed to sixth on the rankings, looked anything but RWC finalist material a few months later.
Not only has Cheika given them a puncher’s chance of reclaiming the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time since 1999, but before that he led the Wallabies to the Rugby Championship title, ending a three-year run of triumph by the All Blacks and beating them 27-19 in Sydney to close the deal.
Consistency, by contrast, has been the dominant theme in the Bok hot seat, as Meyer has been undisturbed since 2012 … but in the year that things really mattered for Meyer, 2015 has instead turned into his most turbulent results-wise.
His side have lost five of 10 internationals in it, and run the risk of a decidedly rare SA win record of below 50 percent for a calendar year if they fail to muster the energy or initiative to see off the Pumas on Friday.
Hardly helping Meyer’s cause, as debate swirls around the likelihood that he will get a significant contract extension, is that while Cheika has noticeably evolved Australia’s style of play and redressed imbalances – their former Achilles Heel of a labouring scrum and general forward mediocrity has been thoroughly addressed – he has only taken the Boks into more conservative, blunt directions.
There have been times during his tenure when an overdue move to better, more confident ball-in-hand play has shown some sparkling reward, but Meyer retreated all too noticeably to old
Let’s not forget that the Boks so nearly came a quarter-final cropper against a significantly weakened Wales, due in no small part to a glaring lack of attacking ambition that required late salvage through a moment of Duane Vermeulen-Fourie du Preez game-break magic.
This has been Meyer’s annus horribilis and in his most critical and thus educative year at the helm.
It is not the most palatable state of affairs as backdrop to SARU justifying his ongoing employment if that is, indeed, their plan …
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing