Some of the greatest Boks ever swear Meyer is the best

It was Theodore Rooseveldt who coined the phrase “talk softly but wield a big stick” to describe the USA’s foreign policy in the early 20th Century and it springs immediately to mind when you consider the coaching style of Heyneke Meyer, the composed, softly-spoken but fiercely competitive coach that on Friday succeeded the sometimes madcap and never dull Peter De Villiers as head of the Springboks.

Some of South Africa’s greatest Springboks – Fourie du Preez, Victor Matfield, Bryan Habana, Bakkies Both, Danie Rossouw – swear that Meyer is the best coach on the planet because of his calmness, meticulous planning but utter ruthlessness and conviction when making big decisions.

When he took over at the Bulls in 2002, he cut 12 disbelieving Springboks from the squad and the team lost 11 of its next 12 games before finding its feet and establishing a dynasty that harvested six Currie Cup titles in eight years and three Super 14 titles.

The reason he gave for culling all those Boks is heartening because it suggests that he will not make the same mistake that saw an ageing Bok team unable to defend the Webb Ellis Cup last year.

“I will not pick anybody who does not fit into the team culture. I had to do it again recently at the Bulls because some player became bigger than the union,” he explains. “It is something I am ruthless about. Players that think they are more important than the team must be replaced by newcomers who understand that paramount to me is an unmatched work ethic and the understanding that the team ALWAYS comes before the individual.”

Meyer, a sports psychology graduate from Tukkies as well as a qualified geography teacher, has a simple diagram that he shows to young players and whips out every now and again to nudge older players that need a wake-up call.

Victor Matfield explains: “Heyneke has these four quadrants he draws. The first one is where nobody pays you too much attention; the second is where you are starting to achieve success; the third is where you are winning everything but it is also where warning lights are flashing, because you don’t want to be in the fourth quadrant, where everybody is wealthy, content and interested only in personal gain.

“No player in a Heyneke team will be tolerated if he is in the fourth quadrant,” Matfield concludes.

Going back to 2002, Meyer was asked by the Blue Bulls Old Boys Assocision to resign; at the same time his father was undergoing heart surgery and his wife had been admitted to hospital for cancer treatment.

His wife pulled through, so did the Bulls … eventually and following his exit from the Leicester Tigers team he was coaching in 2008 – again for family reasons – he has had a period of blissfull existence behind the scenes at the Bulls as their Director of Rugby.

So why on earth plunge himself into arguably the most demanding job in rugby? Unfinished business after losing out to De Villiers in 2008?

“ Nothing like that,” he said yesterday. “The offer to coach the Boks came out of nowhere (when Gert Smal withdrew his application). “I was in a period of happy stability, and then suddenly was asked to coach the Boks. I never slept for a week but I kept asking myself, do I want to be on my death bed with regrets? If you are a coach you want to test yourself at the highest possible level, and I am a very proud South African, so really it was not a difficult choice in the end. I love the Bulls family, but ultimately coaching the Springboks is my calling and I would like to sum up the decision with this quote: “You live only once but if you do it right, once is enough.”

A criticism leveled at Meyer’s appointment is that he has not been a hands-on coach for three years, but anybody who knows his work ethic and passion for the game would be unperturbed.

“Look, I was disappointed, make no mistake, when I did not get the Springbok job in 2008 but I now know that it was not my time and that I am in a better position to coach the Boks in 2012 than I was back then,” he says.

“There are things Peter has done that I might not have at that stage, such as taking the game to the people, and I am grateful that I can now build on that. Peter has left a legacy that must be conserved.

“I am a wiser person than I was in 2008,” Meyer continued. “Every negative has its positive and me not getting the job gave me time to committ to my family while submerging myself in the game without having the pressure of having to win every Saturday.”

Meyer will have observed that the game has changed since he coached the Bulls to the Super 14 title in 2007, but he is not in the least bit bothered.

“It changes every six months – there is a new development and then it takes some time for a counter to be developed – but the basics stay the same and simplicity is always the best,” he says. “Currently the ball is longer in play, so you need fitter, more athletic players, but at the same time teams on defence are committing less players to the rucks and fanning out to stop attacks.

“So, yes, there are nuances all the time that you have to add or subtract from your game but the basics always remain,” the 44-year-old continues. “And, ultimately, your top echelon rugby games are less about elaborate game plans and more about the ability to absorb pressure, and you can’t do that if your basics are suspect. Conversely, have them rock solid and then you can add subtleties to your game that can make the difference between winning and losing.”

A million dollar question is put to Meyer: What did he make of the Boks’ quarter-final defeat to the Wallabies last October? What were his emotions as a rugby man, with no coach’s cap on his head?

“To be honest I did not see it,” he admits. “I was in the USA talking to gridiron scouts about their criteria for identifying and nurturing young talent.

“‘I also visited the West Point Military Academy where I interviewed soldiers and leaders who have been on the frontline in Iraq and Afghanistan to see how they deal with the huge mental pressure associated with being in battle situations. Like I said, It’s mental toughness that will win you the close games and that’s what I want to define my players.”

To that end, Meyer says he has carefully followed the current Springboks to identify those who have whar it takes.

“It is not easy for me, this job, because I am all about long-term planning and putting structures in place for long-term goals, but this has to be balanced with needing short term-results.

“What I will say is that I will get the players with the righ character in place, I will not cheapen the jersey with easy caps, providing each player understands that I am primarily about work ethic and team ethos.”

by Mike Greenaway

About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: