State of the Nation: South Africa

Date published: November 4 2015

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As we do at the end of a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Up next, bronze medalists, South Africa.

The success – or lack thereof – of the Springboks' World Cup campaign depends largely on whether you see the glass as half full, or half empty.

From one perspective, finishing third, having lost to the eventual champions by just two points in a hard-fought semi-final, could be seen as a decent result.

Heyneke Meyer's team topped their pool and were a penalty away from beating the world's best team of this generation and some promising youngsters – such as Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Lood de Jager and Frans Malherbe – emerged as exciting players for the future.

Some Springbok fans will take the disappointment of a bronze medal instead of a third world title on the chin and look to Japan 2019 with optimism.

That's certainly the line that Meyer is taking. But the truth is that the glass is really only about 40 percent full. And faced with and ever-increasing player drain northwards, South African rugby finds itself in a precarious situation.

Dress it up however you like, South Africa's loss to Japan is unacceptable for one of the powerhouses of world rugby, especially when placed alongside the home defeat to Argentina – a country without a professional domestic competition – in the build-up to the World Cup.

Most alarming in that loss to Japan was the apparent contrast in skill levels and tactical maturity between the Brave Blossoms and the Springboks.

Meyer lamented how the leaders on the field failed to follow instructions and strayed from the game plan, trying to take Japan on with a ball-in-hand approach instead by sticking to the Springboks' traditional strengths, which is an indictment of the general skill levels and lack of creative thinking in South Africa's current rugby culture.

While many pundits have called for Meyer's head, few are able to offer legitimate alternative coaching options from within the Republic. The level of coaching seen at Super Rugby level has been below par in recent years.

The Lions are the only team set to start the 2016 season with the same head coach (the Sharks are still looking for someone to perform the coaching role that Director of Rugby Gary Gold never wanted).

Indeed, many fans are calling for Lions coach Johan Ackerman, whose team dominated the Currie Cup playing an expansive brand of rugby, to take over the national reins.

What those armchair experts fail to recognise is that while Ackerman has been excellent in his role, his success has largely been built on the foundations laid by former All Blacks boss John Mitchell.

What has become apparent in the last few weeks is that the South African public has finally awoken from the hangover of the 2007 World Cup and are recognising that the Boks must evolve, and a new generation of leaders must be allowed to emerge, if they are to challenge the All Blacks for the number one spot.

Midway through the tenure, Meyer spoke ambitiously of adding more dimensions to the Springboks' style and things looked promising as they were involved in two epically exciting clashes with New Zealand, losing once but winning the other.

The sheer pressure of the need to win every weekend have however seen Meyer do a u-turn and revert to type. Cue Schalk Burger standing at first receiver more often than Handre Pollard.

With calls for a foreign coach to be appointed growing – although it seems an unthinkable situation – the question now is whether Meyer should be entrusted to work with the young core of this Springbok team.

It seems like a crossroads in the path of South Africa's rugby development.

SARU's Executive Council will decide on December 4. A nation awaits.

By Ross Hastie

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