Springbok legends join calls to fire national rugby coach

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Legendary Springboks have joined a chorus of calls for national rugby team coach Heyneke Meyer to be fired, circulating via email their scathing attack headlined “Heyneke Must Fall”.

Wynand Claassen, a national rugby team captain from the early 1980s, and Divan Serfontein, named SA Rugby Player of the Year in 1982, penned and circulated their concerns in a letter to a long list of former Springboks.

The letter was sent out late last week after the two decided to do “something effective”. The letter lays blame with Meyer for the “decline” of the national rugby team over the last four years.

They said they wrote the letter because “our own people as well as us, as ex-Boks, that have so much pride in the Springbok jersey, are feeling ashamed about the performances of the Boks”.

“One man is responsible for this, namely Heyneke Meyer,” they wrote.

The South African Rugby Union (Saru) appointed Meyer in 2012 to the top post and yesterday declined to respond to the letter.

Claassen and Serfontein launched their attack on Meyer less than a week after South Africa was placed third at the end of the Rugby World Cup tournament in England.

“He (Meyer) said people must judge him after the 2015 World Cup… Well, the tournament has come and gone and now is the time to judge him,” reads the letter.

“(He) is blaming the players’ lack of skills as the reason for the World Cup disaster. The skills of the players are being suppressed in his rigid, predictable pattern and he actually points a finger to himself by acknowledging that the skills are lacking.

“The team was therefore not coached properly.”

The letter continues: “Heyneke now tries to justify himself that to finish third was not so bad… Heyneke’s coaching record speaks for itself.

“The Springboks under Heyneke simply lose five tests just this year and seven tests since last year’s end-of-the-year tour.

“Heyneke does not understand the modern game. All the rugby playing countries know exactly how the Boks play and plan accordingly. An object lesson was Japan.

“This so-called meaningless rugby nation (Japan) at the time outsmarted the Boks by tackling low around the ankles so that these battering rams could not gain momentum… and then at the breakdowns made fools of the Boks.

“And what did the Boks do when it did not work…? Falling back to the game plan of kicking away possession so that the Japanese could start again with counter-attacking.

“The ‘arrogance’ of the Japanese by not kicking for goal to draw the game with the last penalty, was a slap in the face of Springbok rugby. So little respect they had for the Boks, that they went for the winning try.”

Japan had beaten South Africa during the early rounds of the Rugby World Cup in September.

Claassen and Serfontein refer in the letter to another Springbok defeat earlier this year, in building their case against Meyer’s leadership.

“Earlier this year the Boks underwent the biggest humiliation in that a weakened Argentinian team destroyed them in Durban. The writing was already on the wall in Heyneke’s first year as coach,” they say.

They accuse Meyer of having a “dictatorial coaching style”.

“He is coaching pattern rugby instead of individual skills. He is obsessive with size and power and does not realise that skills would basically always win. His archaic pattern doesn’t work anymore, but he is still persisting with it,” they allege.

“It points to stubbornness and he does not realise that the rest of the rugby world (for example Japan, Argentina and even Georgia) has already moved on towards playing total, 15-man rugby, which is exciting for both players as spectators.

“The players of other countries develop and improve. South Africa’s are going backwards.”

Blatantly, they claim: “If one takes everything above into consideration, Heyneke Meyer has failed. But despite this, he defends his list of performance and now pleads for ‘continuity’ to retain his job – that while the poor supporters pay his salary by spending heaps of money on test tickets, memorabilia and overseas tours.

“This brings us to the extremely suspicious process of Heyneke’s appointment for another term for a further four years by Saru… The silence of the rugby bosses about the non-selection of transformation players (which led to demonstrations before the tournament) is deafening.

“Can SA rugby afford someone that performs like a maniac in the coaching enclosure, wearing his Springbok blazer, in the eyes of the whole world on television? Is this the example of a role model?”

It concludes: “We are therefore addressing this letter to all of those who still have SA rugby at heart. This is also a plea to all ex-Boks, other ex-players and supporters of Springboks that still feel something about the well-being of our rugby, to stand up and be heard.

“We now need regeneration with fresh ideas and therefore cannot walk the road with Heyneke Meyer any further.

“Let us stand together and fight for change in South African rugby, so that we as loyal South Africans, could again be proud and that players could get the opportunities to develop, thrive and to wear the Springbok jersey with pride.”

Saru, the “custodian of the game of rugby in South Africa”, is tasked to “ensure that South Africa reclaim its place amongst the world’s top rugby playing nations”.

Its spokesperson yesterday said its executive council would in December review the current coaching and management team positions.

Saru chief executive Jurie Roux said in a statement the “contracts of all of the national team’s coaching, medical and logistical staff expire at the end of the year”. This includes Meyer’s job, which could see a new person in the contested seat.

Weekend Argus contacted the sports ministry’s spokesperson for comment on this matter but did not obtain comment by late yesterday.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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