Interview: Heyneke Meyer
We caught up with Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer to talk pressure, public perceptions, gameplans, Bulls, kicking, selections and skills.
SARugby.com's Ross Hastie sat down with the Bok coach to chat about how he has experienced his role so far, not only as a hands-on coach, but as a public figure who needs to deal with expectations and perceptions of the public and the press.
Then we delve into questions over the (in)famous Springbok gameplan, selections and the future on South African rugby.
SARugby.com"You obviously had an idea of what it would be like to have arguably the most high-pressure job in world rugby. How does the reality of the situation compare to your initial expectations?
Heyneke Meyer: When I was offered the job I really thought long and hard about it because I wanted to get out of the spotlight and spend more time with my family. I've always enjoyed the player management side of it more than the media side. I prefer to stay in the background, out of the spotlight.
I was an assistant to Nick Mallett and he had tough times as well so I had an idea of what to expect. When I accepted the job, it wasn't about an ego trip, I really wanted to do my best for my country.
I have very high expectations. I thought I'd be given some time because I took over such a new team - we've only been together eight weeks, that's less than half a Super Rugby season - but I found out very quickly that there is no leniency in South Africa. It's much tougher than I thought.
SAR.com: After returning from Leicester, you were able to work behind the scenes, out of the media spotlight. Has it been a big adjustment to now constantly be a topic of debate?
HM: It's been really tough on my family, especially my three boys in today's world of social media when their father is always under pressure.
I don't know what the secret of success is, but the secret of failure is to try keep everyone happy. What I've found here is that no matter what you do, you're always in trouble. One mother at my kids' school was complaining to me that I was picking too may Lions and ruining their Currie Cup campaign. I nearly fell over.
When I dropped (Morne) I got hundreds of messages telling me how many games he'd won for the Boks. You can never win...
Whether I'm at church or on a game drive or in a restaurant, everyone wants to talk rugby! Most of the time it's great but you can never escape it.
It's only once you're in the job do you realise what this team means to the people of South Africa. It's been a huge honour for me to have people of all colours and creeds to come up and offer words of encouragement. It's been amazing.
SAR.com: I remember former France coach Marc Lièvremont becoming increasingly irritated with poorly-informed sectors of the press jumping on the bandwagon of public perception. Is it frustrating that the press can sometimes sensationalise certain aspects of public perceptions, reinforcing them as a result?
HM: It is tough. I said the day I took the job my integrity was important to me. I've made mistakes in my life, like every human.
I don't mind how people remember me as Springbok coach...there will always be negativity. But I thought some ex-coaches climbed into me. I didn't want to react because I didn't want to get into public fights and stuff like that because that's not who I am.
SAR.com: Judging by some of your carefully chosen comments in press conferences, you obviously follow what is written in the media to a certain degree. Would it be correct to say you can use the press to try alter public misconceptions about the team?
HM: The most important thing for me is the players. If they respect me and believe in where we are going, then I don't mind criticism. I know whatever I say in the media my players will read so I'll never use the media to criticise a player. If they play badly, it's still my responsibility.
I don't like to play games with the press because sooner or later it will come back to bite you. I might say something because I know the opposition will read it and send a message across that way.
But most of the time you guys have decided what you are going to write beforehand anyway, so what I say is irrelevant!
SAR.com: There is no shortage of armchair experts in South Africa and you've come in for a fair amount of criticism, some of it justified, some of it completely unfounded. Let's address some of those public perceptions...
HM: First of all, I want to say I don't mind if people criticise. I'll always listen to constructive criticism, and some of it has been fair. The one thing I don't think people get right is the perception that South Africa always wins. In the history of Springbok rugby, we've won 62 percent of our games. So when we go to New Zealand - where we've only won 3 out of 24 games - and we play great but just lose and people are up in arms... you get the feeling that no one is giving this young team a chance.
SAR.com: Right, let's start with this famous gameplan. There is a perception you've simply copied and pasted the Bulls gameplan from when you won the Super 14, but it won't work because the game has changed over the last five years.
HM: People get emotional and say all sorts of things. The game has moved on, the Bulls have moved on, and I have moved on.
People see kicking and immediately associate it with the Bulls. But the strange thing is, in 2007 - when I won the Super 14 - the Bulls scored the second most tries in the competition. In 2009, we scored the most tries. So if they make that link because I'm an ex-Bulls coach, I can understand, but if they see it as simply kicking rugby, it's wrong. Considering those stats I'll actually take it as a compliment.
In every game we've played this year the opposition has kicked more than us....and then people say we kick too much and it's the Bulls' game plan? In Dunedin the All Blacks kicked eight kicks more than us.
The Stormers have the most guys in this team at the moment, the captain is a Stormer. The Stormers kick more than any other Super Rugby team and scored the least tries. But I never hear someone say if you kick you're playing Stormers rugby.
The Wallabies are the best attacking team in the world but when they tried to run it from all over against the All Blacks they scored '0'. Ireland didn't score a try by playing that way. Why would I then go play that way?
I haven't coached the Bulls since 2007 so obviously you change and adapt to your personnel. I can't even remember what I did seven years ago. We take it game by game and change our plans accordingly. With all due respect, most guys can't even seen the slight changes we make.
All the teams in the world play 90 percent in the same way. As coach you take a gameplan which suits your team the best and will win. And you change it week by week. We don't have a set gameplan.
Look out for Part Two of the interview on Wednesday when we address Meyer's selection policy, the Springboks' dependence on their forwards dominating, and the apparent lack of skills at various levels in South African Rugby.