Meyer buoyant about 'grinding' Boks
South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer said his first year in charge of the Springboks had gone as well as he could have expected after they ended 2012 by “grinding out” a 16-15 win over England at Twickenham.
Saturday’s success saw South Africa finish the calendar year with a record of played 12, won eight, lost three and drawn one, with two of those defeats coming against world champions New Zealand and the other by Australia.
However, the win against England saw the Springboks complete an unbeaten tour of Europe following victories over Ireland (16-12) and Scotland (21-10).
At Twickenham, they scored the only try of the match when blindside flanker Willem Alberts crossed early in the second half for a score converted by fly-half Pat Lambie, who also kicked South Africa’s remaining points courtesy of three penalties.
The fact that England opted to go for goal when they were awarded a penalty at 16-12 behind with barely two minutes left, rather than opt for an attacking line-out that could have led to a match-clinching try, was testament to the Springboks’ set-piece superiority and their forceful defence.
“You have to dig deep and grind out the wins,” said Meyer. “I believe that this was one thing this team couldn’t do.
“We played well once we were on the front foot and could throw the ball around but I think the one thing we’ve added to our play is the defence and grinding out wins.
“We had an inexperienced side and started (the year) number four in the world and hopefully we will end number two.
“I would have taken that every day as my first year. I always knew it would be a tough, tough year for a new coaching staff,” insisted Meyer, whose tenure as Springbok coach after he replaced Peter de Villiers, started with a 2-0 series win (with one draw) at home to England in June.
“A lot of youngsters have put up their hands and I think we can grow from here,” Meyer added.
“We have a lot of guys coming back (from injury) and they have to play for their places now.”
South Africa were led by an experienced captain in centre Jean de Villiers but he had plenty of raw Test recruits around him this tour.
“I’m really proud of our guys’ defence,” said former Bulls coach Meyer.
“We had a lot of youngsters here, in front of 80,000 people.
“This team has really grown. I said to Jean that six months ago we’d have probably lost this match by 20 points. I’ll take the one-point (win), I would have taken half a point for that matter.”
Meyer said Saturday’s victory was all the more significant given the next World Cup will be staged in England, in 2015.
“Defence wins trophies and this is how you win trophies. You grind out games. It’s tough here, the World Cup is going to be here,” added Meyer, who had a brief spell in charge of English giants Leicester.
“I think these guys have come a long way. We are not used to playing in these conditions. It’s a long season and I almost felt this was one game too far.
“But these guys were so positive, what they lose in experience they gain in excitement. I want to keep that culture, even if the guys get more experienced.
Jean de Villiers, now a veteran of 84 Tests, was delighted South Africa denied England a try.
“We pride ourselves on our defence,” he said. “From a defensive point of view, I think we are up there with the best, if not the best. We’ve conceded one try in three games on this tour.
“The attitude and the commitment the guys have shown, that is something you cannot coach,” he added.
That prompted Meyer to inject “say that again” with de Villiers, to much laughter, also telling reporters: “That is something that comes from within, even though we do get a lot of good coaching!”