I was shocked and surprised by the defeat against the 13th ranked side in the world. But not completely surprised. The degree of my surprise was muted by my doubts about Meyer and his largely unknown co-coaches’ ability to select, plan or prepare properly. Mine are not the only doubts; there are legions of sports writers and amateur enthusiasts who have expressed concern for months now over Meyer’s talents as a coach.
I listened to the pre-match routine remarks, required by the protocols of sportsmanship, that Japan ‘cannot be underestimated’. Did I believe the words of the captain and coach? No. Why should anyone have taken them seriously? Japan, until yesterday, had won only one match in the 32-year history of the competition. Did the Boks, in fact, before they entered, and indeed on the field of play, ‘underestimate’ the Japanese? Of course. Did they expect to lose? Of course not. But as the match went on, over-confidence mutated into panic, bewilderment, and an incredible defeat.
Although all knew the famed former Australian and assistant Springbok coach, Eddie Jones, was at the helm for Japan, was there serious professional analysis of a) Japan’s form in recent games? b) their scrumming technique fully and thoroughly ? c) how they used the rolling maul from line outs? d) each Japanese player’s skills and each Springbok advised accordingly e.g. sidestep, left or right kicker, tackling methods, manner of rucking and so on? e) how the Japanese would execute defence?
My answer to all the above is ‘no’. The Springbok coaches couldn’t possibly have done their homework properly in this era of so-called professionalism. (‘Ja-well, the money’s fine, but against Japan, my mate, you’ve got to be joking. Let’s not get too serious. I mean ‘East is East and West is West, ha-ha!’)
Jean de Villiers should never have gone to the World Cup. Nice man though he is, excellent as a diplomat in defeat, he is too prone to injury and unable to produce his form of years past. In addition, though he may be an excellent leader off the field, on it he is a non-entity and guilty of very poor decision-making. When he finally tried to rally the troops behind the poles, it was all too late. He is a ‘hands-off’ captain. While one does not want to see the captain running about the field micro-managing tactics and performance, there simply has to be more verbal involvement, even if an experienced player – experience born of old age? - is leading the forwards.
So why and how did the Boks lose? Well you don’t have to be William Shakespeare to work it out. ‘To be or not to be’. I mean we scored four tries to two didn’t we? But the simple fact is we lost a match we ‘should have’ won, because of indiscipline, poor counter-rucking and appalling captaincy decisions. The match was lost by two points. We conceded, through stupid, over-aggressive and unprofessional tactics, six penalties in our own half, all kicked by the fantastic Japanese fullback. The crown for stupidity goes to Coenie Oosthuizen for his once again, ‘Look my china, or Jap!, look-how –tough-I-am’, no-arms torpedo entry into a ruck. That alone cost us the game. ‘Not to be.’
And as for the strategy to use the aging Schalk Burger to carry the ball upfield, the jury may have been out, but, after its return, the verdict had to be :’too slow, too predictable, too loose’. We lost six turnover balls in the first half. Who the hell is doing the basic, very basic coaching?! And where was the drive and initiative and clever running among the backs? Once again they were predictable and confused and ultimately bewildered by the ferocity of the Japanese rush-defence. What was the captain saying? Anything? What surprise moves were attempted? I saw none. The final indignity was the hand-off of the over-hyped Jesse Kriel by a determined Japanese centre who brushed him aside like an inebriated fly and passed the ball to his wing for the final nail in the coffin. Kriel’s opponent was running across the field. The tackle should have been routine. Instead, Kriel went high and feebly at that, and the match was over.
The defeat, in the cold light of a miserable Sunday morning, can easily be explained by poor preparation, poor discipline and poor captaincy. de Villiers on two, or was it three, occasions decided to turn down kickable penalties in favour of trying for a lineout and consequent rolling maul. This turned out to be a disaster of arrogant thinking. It had to come from ‘hubris’ – the overweening pride that brought the Greek gods down. The subliminal thinking must have been ‘these are the Japanese, what do they know?’ Those decisions came at the cost of six or, possibly, even nine points.
‘There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.’
Now the campaign must be taken ‘at the flood’. There is no other way. Or the shallows await us with misery and shame.
20 September 2015