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Three coaches in the spotlight

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is sometimes brutally and unmercifully criticized, especially by ignorant couch-experts.

The question to be asked is: How does he compare with South Africa's most successful coaches?

For this exercise, I decided to take two former coaches – the World Cup-winner Jake White and Nick Mallett, who is currently the co-holder of the record for most consecutive Test victories – to draw a comparison with Meyer's first two years in the hotseat.

The cold statistics will tell us only part of the story, but it is certainly important that we take them into account – or at least use it as a starting point.

Meyer has so far been in charge in 27 Tests, as the Bok team's head coach. He has won 20 of those, giving him a winning percentage of 74. At home he has a winning record of 80 percent, while away from home his record is almost 67 percent. That, in a nutshell, is the first two years.

Now we compare it with Messieurs White and Mallett.

White, in his four years in charge, coached in 54 Tests – for 36 wins (nearly 67 percent), with 19 victories in his 23 Tests on home soil (about 83 percent). Mallett, in just over three years, before he was unjustly fired, coached the Boks in 38 Tests – for 27 wins (71 percent) and 12 wins in his 15 Test on home soil (also 80 percent).

Is there a pattern emerging, or can we draw a firm conclusion from this? Maybe, but I feel we need to dig deeper.

We know that Meyer, in four attempts, has failed to beat New Zealand. White, in his nine Tests against the All Blacks, won only three times, all three on home soil. Mallett's winning percentage is the only of the three that tops 50 – four wins in seven matches, but only one in New Zealand, one on a neutral field (Cardiff in 1999) and two on home soil.

And still there is so much more hidden below the crust of these cold statistics.

Meyer went head-to-head in 13 Tests against the Southern Hemisphere's greats – which he won seven times (54 percent) and on home base won five of seven (71 percent). Against the Northern Hemisphere Meyer is still unbeaten. Yes, in 14 Tests he has 13 wins and one draw.

White scored 19 victories in 30 Tests against the Southern Hemisphere (63 percent) and on home soil he has 11 wins in 13 outings against them (nearly 85 percent). Against the Northern Hemisphere White's record is 17 victories in 24 Tests (71 percent) and eight wins of 10 Tests on home soil (80 percent).

Mallett's record against the Southern Hemisphere's greats, despite his four wins over New Zealand, is a dismal 50 percent – eight out of 16 games. At home he has only four wins out of six matches (67 percent). It probably has to do with his dismal performances against Australia. Against the Northern Hemisphere Mallett was on the winning side 19 times in 22 attempts (86 percent), and eight out of nine times on home soil (89 percent).

I would like to dig deeper, because Meyer is often blasted for his so-called 'kick-and-chase' style and his team's inability to score tries.

Well, in 27 Tests, Meyer's teams scored 773 points against the 448 they conceded (this is an average score of 29-17 per game). In addition, they scored 87 tries and conceded 39 (three tries to one).

White's teams in his 54 Tests scored 1740 points and conceded 1097 (32-20), scored 194 tries and conceded 110 (four tries to two). Mallett's 38 Tests yielded 1251 points, conceding 678 (33-18), 152 tries for and 49 tries against them (four tries to one).

Meyer's biggest victory was the 73-13 demolition of Argentina last year and there was the 55-6 hammering of Scotland in June. His best win against one of the top five on the world rankings was the 38-12 victory over Australia last year. His greatest loss was the 16-32 defeat in the first Test against New Zealand in Soweto in 2012.

White beat England 58-10 in Bloemfontein in 2007 for his biggest win over a Tier One nation, although a 64-15 victory over America and a 105-13 win over Namibia also appear on his record. We all know about the 0-49 loss to Australia in Brisbane, which will always the biggest blot on his name.

Mallett can boast the biggest away win – 52-10 over France in Paris in 1997, his best performance of all time. There is, of course, the infamous 0-28 defeat against New Zealand in Dunedin in 1999, where he publicly lambasted some of the players in such an ugly manner that it ruined their careers.

So what to make of all this information?

For me one thing stands out like daylight.

Every coach has his strengths and weaknesses. Meyer is not as bad as some "experts" would suggest. He compares very well with both White and Mallett.

In fact, there has been a noticeable upward curve in the team's performances over the past 18 months. In its first year, Meyer's teams won with an average score of 23-16 and managed just two tries per game. The past 18 months those statistics improved to 35-16 and four tries to two – which certainly puts him on a par with Mallett.

By Jan de Koning


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