Former Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has pleaded with South African rugby teams to stop trying to play like the New Zealanders.
“Attacking rugby” has been the buzzword for local teams the past year or so as they attempt to close the massive gap that has grown between the two arch rivals.
Yet Meyer believes all South Africa has done is given itself an identity crisis.
“I know my view won’t be popular but we’ve got to stop trying to copy New Zealand,” he said on Thursday at a launch of the World Club Rugby 10s, which is held annually in Mauritius.
“We’re probably already 10 years behind them. If we’re going to take that amount of time to catch up, they’ll be a further 10 years ahead. South Africa needs to find a South African way of playing again.”
Meyer isn’t denying that local players can’t take the time to sharpen up their skills but it shouldn’t lead them to neglecting other aspects that South Africa traditionally has always been good at.
“Everybody is talking about playing attractive, running rugby. All our teams talk about it,” he said.
“However, we can’t even do the basics anymore. We can’t scrum and we can’t defend. That was previously two of South Africa’s biggest strengths.”
It’s rather hard to argue against this view.
Despite leaving quitting as a reasonably unpopular national coach after 2015’s World Cup, Meyer’s Springboks came within three points of toppling New Zealand in a semifinal and eventually finished third.
“The Springboks were much closer to the All Blacks than people are willing to concede,” he said.
“In 2013, the Boks scored the most tries by any international team that season. In eight of our Tests against the All Blacks, we led at some stage. They competed well because we played to our strengths.”
Where South Africa rugby does need to catch up urgently with New Zealand is conditioning and fitness.
“That is one area where we really can use the Kiwi’s template. Our players simply aren’t as fit as them,” said Meyer.
“When the Boks lost narrowly to the New Zealanders, it was because they just couldn’t quite keep up in the dying stages of games. If we had been fitter, we would’ve made sure we capitalise on our winning positions.
“South African players have the talent to compete with the best. It’s just about finding a South African way of playing. I’m sure we’ll get it right.”