It was written on their faces. The Boks, to a man, left Soccer City in despair last night, their 2012 Championship ending on the most depressing note.
The All Blacks, the trend-setters in the modern game, were beaming and edging ever closer to a world-record run of victories, after a game that only required one half of a puff from them.
Lungani Zama – Sunday Tribune
And, while Steve Hansen will look for new ways to open up opposition backlines, Heyneke Meyer is still looking for reasons why his way is still not working. It’s been a common thread this year.
Five months into his job, Meyer now knows that there is a monumental difference between moulding a franchise outfit to your own image and keeping the Boks relevant.
And, as much as he is part of the problem, Meyer cannot take sole blame for the depressing results. Too many of the senior players that he has are not providing the performances that are needed to keep the side going in these tough times.
Jean de Villiers, the captain, has thrown more stray passes over the last two months than he has in his entire career. The backline, when the ball has got to them, played as if they have just been introduced to each other.
At some point, the excuse that the Springboks are still learning will no longer be accepted as a reason for the abject displays that they have served up. After all, the entire team has played – and starred – in Super Rugby, where they have met the same players who are now dominating them so thoroughly.
And amidst all this, Meyer has maintained that the team is finally grasping his ideas.
By the end of the match at Soccer City last night, the Boks looked more clueless than ever, punch-drunk from being routinely raided by a team with a proper, modern game plan.
When the All Blacks were under the cosh in Nasrec, they soaked up the pressure and tightened the defence. The Boks, whenever they have had questions asked of their temperament, have wilted.
The defence used to be a source of pride, but lack of organisation has seen it become very leaky when confronted by pace and inventive running.
Those kind of errors could be understood against England, when Meyer had precious little time to assemble the troops. But now, five months on, and a solid stint of Championship Rugby later, there should be a defensive pattern that everyone understands.
The end-of-year tour to Europe now looms large as Meyer’s last chance to end 2012 on some kind of high.
Regardless of the results, which cannot really get much worse, what Heyneke Meyer simply has to do is take off the blinkers and scrap the Blue-Bull-print.
The Currie Cup run-in will again display those players who deserve a chance to play a more prominent role.
Players like Pat Lambie, who has the type of footballing brain that teams like New Zealand and Australia build entire backlines around because of their ability to play the moment.
That Lambie’s introduction in place of Zane Kirchener at Loftus last weekend raised the biggest cheer was telling. The public want to see him, and others like him, play.
Bok rugby has become stale and predictable. And yet, only Meyer has the power to change that. Only he can change the way the Springboks approach matches. Come November, we will see if he has had a change of heart.