Heyneke Meyer interview: Part Two

Date published: June 17 2013

The second half of our one-on-one interview with Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer. This time we talk gameplans, selections and skills.

Planet Rugby's Ross Hastie sat down with the Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer to chat about how he has experienced his role so far.

In part one, we covered the pressures of the job, dealing with press and public perceptions.

In part two, we continue to address some misconstrued public perceptions over selections, style and the future of South African rugby.

Planet Rugby: There is a public perception that you select Bulls first and only when they fail do you pick players from elsewhere. Is there any truth in suggestions you prefer to pick players you know from your days at Loftus?

Heyneke Meyer: When I took over the team I had to pick a lot of new players to fill the gaps after so many senior players left. I picked 12 new Boks: three Bulls, three Stormers, three Lions, two Cheetahs and one Shark.

When we played the Wallabies at Loftus, I picked only three Bulls in the matchday 22 but seven Stormers… I'm the Springbok coach who has picked the least amount of Bulls out of the last four coaches!

People should also remember that there are three selectors. One is from Cape Town, one is from Durban. People see me as a Bulls man but I believe I'm neutral.

Of the current Bulls in the Springbok side, the only one I've ever coached is Morne (Steyn) and back in the day I used to get criticised for picking Derrick (Hougaard) ahead of him.

PR: You've said publicly that the Springboks rely on their forwards dominating their opposition. There's a popular catch phrase doing the rounds suggesting that when that doesn't happen, there is no 'plan B.' These days you can't expect to dominate physically every week, so does that mean your plan is outdated?

HM: The need for dominance up front is true of every side in world rugby. The All Blacks struggled in Dunedin because our forwards put them under pressure. If the Wallabies play England and get smashed in the scrums, their whole game suffers.

Even if you have a plan B, C, D and E, you're still going to struggle if your forwards don't dominate. Eight of the fifteen guys in the side are forwards so if they don't play well, you're in trouble, especially if they can't get you quick ball.

The kick-offs are the most important because if you miss it, you'll get kept in your own half until the opposition scores. So you can have a plan B, C and X if you want, but if you don't do the basics right, you're never going to win.

Plan 'B' is a fallacy. You should plan every situation on its merits.

Johan Goosen did well at Loftus because he got quality ball. There is no set game plan where players are told to go out and kick everything. You want them to read the situation.

People think there are two types of rugby – kick and run. That's not true. Everyone thinks we played fantastic attacking rugby against Australia but we made 185 tackles! That's the most we've ever made. We scored most of our tries from their mistakes, because that's where tries come from – turnovers.

Ask any guy and he'll say that because Goosen was there we played 'running rugby'. We didn't. They ran more than us. But our defence was awesome and forced them into errors to create opportunities.

People say we should just keep the ball all the time, but you can't. If the opposition sends in one tackler and we need three cleaners in a ruck, then after a few phases there is a mismatch of numbers and you have to kick.

PR: The criticism from the game in Argentina was exactly that lack of variety – it seemed like you kept on doing the same thing over and over, and guys weren't thinking on their feet to come up with other options.

HM: You can't have variety if you're always getting slow ball. Argentina's whole game is about slowing your ball down. If they are allowed to flood the breakdown like some European teams, then you'll always struggle, just like the All Blacks and Wallabies did in their first game against the Pumas.

PR: And when the All Blacks had a southern hemisphere referee when they went to Argentina, they finally got quick ball…

HM: There are a lot of things to take into consideration. You talk about misconceptions, one former coach said if you can't score four tries against Argentina, you're useless. But no one scored four tries against them, even at home, until the last round.

PR: We recently spoke to a very high level former international coach who had the impression that South African teams at school, domestic and Super Rugby levels are focusing too much on structure and physicality to the detriment of coaching 'skills'. It's hard to imagine SA producing a guy like Sonny Bill Williams. Is that an accurate assessment?

HM: It's not about structure, nothing to do with that, but I agree that in South Africa we don't do enough skills training, at all levels. The problem starts at school, where big kids play at 10 or 8 and can just run through everyone. In Australia and New Zealand they play a lot of 10-a-side where they focus on skills.

We need to get more qualified back-line coaches across the country. Most of your skills get imprinted at a young age. We've got a lot a great rugby schools, we just don't have enough coaches in South Africa.

Where did Sonny Bill learn his skills? Rugby League, where you get five chances to attack. People say I'm conservative but I started bringing in League coaches to help the Bulls back in 2000 when I saw their running lines. In Australia and New Zealand guys get exposed to other codes, which helps, but most importantly they have a very good coaching education system.

I agree we need to up-skill our players at all levels.

PR: Thanks, Heyneke.

HM: It's a pleasure. Cheers.