After saying sorry to the nation’s distraught rugby fans, South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer vowed to turn his team’s fortunes around following a stunning 34-32 loss to Japan at the Rugby World Cup on Saturday.
The biggest shock in World Cup history fell on the two-time World Cup winners and it will take some getting over.
The soul-searching among the rugby-mad fans in Durban and Cape Town will go on for days, and sorrows will be drowned. How on earth did it come to this?
Despite leading 12-10 at halftime and fielding a team with nearly 900 Test caps, the Springboks’ comfortable-looking opener on England’s sunny south coast, turned into a veritable nightmare.
“This is a very big wake-up call for us. If this isn’t a wake-up call, nothing will be,” Meyer said, measuring his words, his outward appearance at least calm and in control.
Inside, he must be hurting badly.
“I have to apologise to the nation,” Meyer said. “We represent a proud nation and we let them down, it’s not good enough.”
South Africa’s players slumped to the ground in sheer disbelief at the final whistle on a day when, despite scoring four tries, the solid reputation of the two-time World Cup winners melted like butter and its supposedly rock-solid defence was as soft as confetti.
“We represent a proud nation and we let them down, it’s not good enough,” Meyer said, before pausing to praise counterpart Eddie Jones’ team.
“We were not good enough tonight but all credit to them, they played well.”
Tackles went missing, catches were fumbled and big-game players like No.8 Schalk Burger, veteran winger Bryan Habana and lock Victor Matfield were suddenly on the back foot against rank outsiders seeking only a second ever World Cup win – a massive 24 years after their other one.
“We just got the wrong decisions throughout the game. They were really up for it,” Meyer said. “(We showed them) too much respect, we should have played more rugby. We got caught in a kicking duel … they had nothing to lose and took their chances.”
As Brighton’s compact stadium rocked to the sounds of Japan’s screeching fans, there was stunned silence in the South African dressing room as players sat with towels draped over their heads, chins sunk into hands.
Luckily for South Africa, all is far from lost and Meyer’s team can bounce back against Samoa next Saturday in Birmingham. They have to perform, because a tricky match against Scotland follows that.
“I still believe in these players and I still think we can win the World Cup,” Meyer said.