“If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.”
― Sun Tzu,
So Heyneke Meyer and his beloved team are making history. Just not the history the passionate, fanatical, die hard supporters of Springbok rugby would have chosen to write. Nor would any self respecting, patriotic South African. The people are restless. The country is restless. And yet the tea party continues, rhetoric and all.
Each time a new, disappointing, historical milestone is reached, emotion reaches a fever pitch, people cry out in anguish and the opinions increase exponentially. Then the stock standard apology is rolled out like a tired, abused donkey that can barely stand because of the inappropriate weight it has had to carry.
But Meyer is a “good man” and he “would die for his country”. Even Nick Mallett has joined the fray, pleading with people to give him a break and using every opportunity he can to reiterate the good man that Meyer is. But Meyer’s character is not the issue at hand. What is happening with the Springbok team is an issue of competence, for which the coach holds primary responsibility. Our beloved team sitting at number 6 in the World Rankings cannot be described as competence. This is simple logic and no emotion is needed.
Being a nice person just makes it harder to fire the gun.
Thanks to Einstein we have a wonderful definition for insanity:
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Anyone watching the last few months must wonder whether they are stuck in a bad version of Groundhog day. But why?
Meyer is technically a competent coach. He knows his rugby and his Provincial record shows this. He is also somebody people easily respect. His early days as Springbok coach support this too.
But the reason for the Springboks’ current situation is not rooted in the technical coaching and strategy of the team as the majority of journalists and commenters suggest.
This is a psychological issue, and South African’s don’t like psychological issues. So as long as the rugby experts continue to make this situation out to be a technical issue the tea party will continue. Change only comes when the root issue is addressed.
So this is what I believe the root issue to be and why I believe it to be psychological in origin.
Think for a moment of Meyer’s recent comment about his selection of Jean de Villiers to play against Samoa:
“I just decided as a coach that if you going into a fight and you have to win, with the whole country depending on it, if you are going into that fight you want to have a guy with you has had six knee operations and has comeback to win over 100 caps playing for me.”
Absolutely NO mention of Jean’s current competency, fitness, capacity and ability is made. Just his character.
This is not a complex situation to understand. There are two core issues.
Issue number one. I don’t believe that Meyer is a complex man. He just has one major and very fatal flaw – he believes that character and belief in people wins matches. But not just any character, a very particular type of character. Just look through the squad that played Japan and if you are a student of human behaviour you will easily see the similarities. Think attitude, belief systems, culture and even religion. Look further and you will see that these are the very characteristics that Heyneke sees in himself.
Yes, character is important if not essential – but character alone, without an effective strategy and the competence to execute it, is meaningless and destructive.
In the game against Japan, I believe that Meyer was “testing” certain players. They failed. If you want to know who these players are, just look at who has been dropped despite their form or role in the defeat. At a subconscious level, I further believe that they were set up to fail just to justify the selection that has now been revealed. Meyer needed to convince himself and others that he could be justified in choosing his team, his way.
So it is back to the core team. Saturday’s team is it. They are Meyer’s men. And I can bet he has told them they will be the guys to win 6 in a row and “make history”.
If we stand together and play to our strengths, back our captain, I know we can still do it.
“If everyone has the mental attitude and desire Duane has to play for South Africa we probably won’t lose any games.
And another for good measure….
“It’s great to have him back. He’s a warrior. We need 23 warriors.”
Absolute madness and insanity. This is not the movie 300.
Furthermore, how has nobody stepped in to ask why Duane Vermeulen is ignoring medical advice that could leave him paralysed just to play a game? And yes, it is just a game, as amazing a game that it is.
This world cup is not Meyer’s personal fairytale. This is a proud country’s sporting legacy he is vicariously living through.
Issue number two. I’m not sure Heyneke believes or trusts himself anymore. I know this sounds contradictory to issue number one. It is. Hence the insanity that is now prevailing.
The plan has gone awry. His boys were not supposed to lose the games they have. Character was supposed to have pulled them through. Now in his heart, he does not really know who to back. Losing to Argentina blew Meyer mentally, I believe. What he now says with is mouth he longer believes in his heart. And any player worth his salt will sense this. The words are now empty. Meaningless. Now the players are restless.
Did anyone find it strange that after singing the praises of Jean de Villiers (and Victor Matfield) he makes a later comment:
“If Jean doesn’t perform Jesse (Kriel) will come on, same goes for Victor with Lood (de Jager).”
Now how does this approach build confidence? So on the one hand I back you but if you fail I have a plan B? This ongoing contradiction has typified Meyer’s approach in the recent months and exemplifies his madness.
Contradiction is one of the quickest ways to destroy confidence and a healthy mind. This is the principle of “good cop, bad cop”, a basic technique used to break people’s resolve during interrogation. Not a great approach for a world cup.
The pressure has got to Meyer. It had to. Rugby is his life. Failure would be tantamount to betraying everything he stands for.
Meyer is now so lost down his own mental and belief rabbit hole that he can no longer see the truth. And the expectation and pressure continue to mount. The people are restless and are getting louder.
If you want to see what unrelenting, psychological pressure does to talent, then just re-watch the game against Japan to see how the most experienced Bok side ever crumples, lies down and dies.
The mind is a powerful thing. It needs to be respected. Ignore it at your peril.
Saturday will be Meyer’s Waterloo. If they destroy Somoa they might just have enough to get through to the finals, providing their tactics are good enough.
Sadly, I have my doubts. I believe that mentally most of the older players are shattered. Ironically these are the very players Meyer is depending on. These are the old warriors who have seen one too many wars, lost one too many battles and seen too many of their friends get replaced beside them. Even if they try and take charge, try and rescue their careers and images, their minds may not be strong enough. Yes they can take charge, they have done it before. But win a World Cup?
In my view there is only one way we have any chance now – play the youngsters. After all, they showed they can win against a hard side like Argentina, in Argentina. They have no history, no real baggage. They have resilient minds and more importantly they are naive.
In the meantime, I am off to buy a lotto ticket. I think I have more chances to win big bucks than see Meyer change who he is. This is not going to end pretty and there is no happy ending in my mind.
I hope I am wrong.
Here are some more pearls from Meyer:
I have to be honest and say these players are true warriors; from charcoal you get diamonds. They have been through a great deal and they are mentally tough.
“The other day on a tv interview the presenter told the players they need to take time off during the World Cup and play golf, get away from it. If they asked me that I would tell them, it isn’t enjoyable at times, all I want is for us to win. That’s all I enjoy. I don’t want to play golf or go out, I want us to win. That’s the difference between a coach and a player. If our team wins I’m happy. “
“You can plan everything off the field, and we did a lot of in-depth planning, but you don’t plan for players to get injured.
At the end of the day you need to back the players you believe will do the job for you. If you fall, you fall with them.
*this article is the personal opinion of the author and in no way should be construed as fact.