And No – They are not in trouble because of their age despite there being a lot of comment on the subject.
They are in trouble because trust has been broken within the team. Let me explain. The bond of trust between players and players and players and coach, is the glue that holds the team together. In tight games between teams, that are highly competitive, the strength of this bond is tested to it’s full extent. The crazy thing bout trust, is that even though it can be forged over time, it can be lost in seconds.
When Steyn fatefully missed touch in the game against the Australians, he broke trust. Heyneke Meyer took it personally. And Steyn is no more.
Heyneke is an extremely relational man and values trust highly. His team selections have always illustrated this fact. Culture, language and personality type are key components that build trust and there is little doubt that Heyneke has his type. His success thus far is far more due more to the fact that the team play for him and each other than in his Strategic ability (not that I am implying that this is lacking).
When Steyn was axed, the trust levels in the team were challenged to the core. While failure to successfully execute a task is not acceptable under any circumstance, especially when it leads to a loss of an critical game, it is the reaction to this failure that is more important than the failure itself. Heyneke’s message was made clear – fail at execution and no amount of trust will save you. While some may say that this is fair, the irony is that it will have the opposite effect on the team as fear has now been introduced where previously there was none. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of losing. You cannot win tight games when fear is present. It is counter productive not only in slowing down the decision making process but it forces incorrect thinking into places that thinking should not exist. It is a remarkable athlete that can function fully in a fear response.
The result is an “every man for himself” response which will instantly fragment any weak trust bonds between players and between players and coach. The only thing left will be pure talent and bloody mindedness. This may still win matches when the opposition has a bad day but when they are on form, the result can be messy. The statistics in the game against the All Blacks do not lie. While the score tells a different story, the stats prove that we were outplayed in very area. The bloody mindedness kicked in, but mistakes were everywhere.
On Saturday the Boks play at home to a faithful crowd that fully expect Australia to be thumped. Expectation and fear are impossible bed fellows. Throw in one or two controversial refereeing decisions from a northern hemisphere referee and those trust bonds are going to be fully tested. I suspect they will not hold. Someone has to make another costly mistake at some time and that may be the last straw that will break the camel’s back. Australia, on the other hand, have nothing to lose or prove. Fear will not be in their dressing room.
Lose on Saturday and things could unravel…never mind the thought of a looming World Cup just around the corner.