Heyneke Meyer (Gallo)
Cape Town – Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer tellingly borrowed the old Morne du Plessis quote in reference to Friday’s World Cup bronze playoff against Argentina at London’s Olympic Stadium (22:00 SA time).
“It’s like kissing your sister,” he reportedly said, stirring memories of a rueful Western Province skipper Du Plessis describing the feeling after arch-rivals Northern Transvaal had earned a late 15-15 share of the spoils in the 1979 Currie Cup final at Newlands; the legendary Bok No 8 never did get to lift the trophy on his own.
Meyer is right in many respects, of course … the “hangover” game for third place between the Boks and Pumas isn’t the most keenly anticipated rugby match in the world, either by players involved (all of them rueing still unpalatably recent semi-final exit) or public.
But in the context of the current year and the increasingly negative climate surrounding a possible — the buzzword remains “likely” – extension of his contract, I would argue that Meyer instead needs to summon a last, vibrant and winning effort from his troops rather than simply pooh-pooh the occasion.
It is still a Test match, will still have a bearing on international rankings, and frankly Bok fans will be more than gatvol if South Africa follow up their brave but ultimately predictable and warranted Twickenham semi defeat to the All Blacks with a sixth defeat this year and third at this RWC alone.
They need to somehow muster the fightback spirit that their 1999 Nick Mallett-era predecessors did, soon after a similarly closely-fought reverse in the last-four phase, to Australia, at the very same Twickenham.
After a shorter, five-day turnaround – at least this time it is six – the Boks amassed enough mojo to pip New Zealand 22-18 for bronze in Cardiff and come home to a largely warm, appreciative reception for their tournament effort.
It was probably easier, with the greatest of respect to vastly improved Argentina in the latest instance, for Mallett’s charges to get up for that clash given that it was against their fiercest rivals.
This particular third-place game has rather more of a “no-win” factor attached to it, when you consider that most days the Boks would be expected to prevail against the Pumas anyway.
Only we can’t be quite so flippant in 2015, can we? The scorecard between the two nations stands at 1-1, with the Pumas winning in Durban (Rugby Championship) and the Boks in Buenos Aires (non-Championship).
Just ahead of the traditional Monday update of the World Rugby rankings, following the weekend’s RWC semis, the Boks stood third on the ladder with Argentina breathing right down their necks in fourth.
So at least mathematically, it is difficult to argue that there is nothing at stake on Friday.
With the mood around Meyer so volatile, he could do with triumph at the very least, and ideally a bit of overdue chutzpah and inspiration from the side he puts out as well.
In short, it amounts to an early opportunity – albeit so brutally soon after a definitive loss – for the coach to sow some fresh seeds, if he is really going to get the SARU nod for extended tenure.
He may well have been sounding overly, understandably downbeat about the bronze fixture simply because of the bitter disappointment still swirling on his mind at the media briefing less than an hour after the All Blacks defeat.
It took very senior Bok Victor Matfield, arguably, to put a necessarily alternative perspective on things when he reportedly said: “There is no such thing as a meaningless Springbok game.”
Matfield, who is set to bow out of international combat in what will be his 127th appearance if he takes part, will also be among a few ageing Boks for whom this will be a swansong clash – yet another 2015 defeat would be a slightly bitter, undesirable way to go.
Quite how Meyer will structure his side remains to be seen; it is to be announced on Wednesday evening.
Several men like Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager and Schalk Burger have probably played about as much rugby as they can handle at this point (at least as starters), and the game seems the right opportunity to field rarely-used – and presumably fresh and hungry — RWC squad players like Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Rudy Paige who will also provide some pointers to the future.
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