South Africa trailed Argentina, playing in the southern hemisphere tournament which was previously known as the Tri-Nations for the first time this year, for three-quarters of the test before a charge-down try by centre Francois Steyn allowed them to draw level.
“It was not good enough, it was unacceptable and I was very disappointed. But I always knew it would be very tough in the first year because of the inexperience of the side, a lot of them were playing their first test away from home.
“If we’re realistic, then there were only a couple of members of the pack who played in the World Cup. People underestimate Argentina, but their whole starting line-up plays in Europe and they are very experienced,” Meyer told reporters at Johannesburg International Airport on his arrival back from Argentina on Monday.
Meyer is missing a quartet of players who would have been in the starting line-up in veteran flank Schalk Burger, explosive hooker Bismarck du Plessis, loose forward Pierre Spies and experienced wing JP Pietersen, while stalwarts such as John Smit, Victor Matfield and Jaque Fourie have retired and Fourie du Preez, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw and Gurtho Steenkamp are not playing rugby in South Africa.
The Springbok coach will announce his squad for their Australasian leg of the Rugby Championship on Tuesday, but Meyer said there would not be a raft of changes.
“It’s easy to say throw people out and pick new ones, but that’s not coaching, that’s picking. I’ve been in this position a few times as a coach and the easiest thing is just to cut players, but that won’t move you forward. We’ve already lost a lot of leadership and then you’d be throwing out what little experience you’ve got.”
Meyer admitted that taking on Australia in Perth and New Zealand in Dunedin in their next two Rugby Championship fixtures would be a more daunting prospect requiring a much improved performance from the Springboks.
“The next two games will be even tougher and we have to improve. I know we can do it, but the only way the side will improve is by coaching them, improving their technique and mental strength,” Meyer said.
South Africa suffered from a distinct lack of continuity against the Pumas, who dominated the breakdowns, but Meyer said the make-up of the loose-trio – three big, physical players in Willem Alberts, Jacques Potgieter and Marcell Coetzee – was not the problem. The Springboks have a top-class fetcher flank in Heinrich Brussow, but he has not been selected by Meyer and is currently out injured.
“Argentina are also very physical and it’s not just about the loose trio. It’s the whole pack and also the backs who have to contest the ball, and the Pumas flooded the breakdown. It’s more about numbers and technique,” Meyer said.
The Springbok coach suggested some of Argentina’s ball-stealing was illegal.
“I coached a few of their players while I was at Leicester, so I knew how tough it would be. Argentina have finished third in the World Cup and New Zealand could only score two tries against them in Auckland last year. They’re especially hard to play against if they slow down your ball and they don’t play like teams in SuperRugby.
“It was a different interpretation and Argentina competed a lot, threw numbers at the breakdown and got their hands on the ball to slow it down. Our guys were used to SuperRugby for 16 weeks and now players were flying into the rucks from all areas. But we should have done better with our clearing.”
Meyer admitted that it had been a case of the Springboks’ discipline also letting them down.
“Argentina had a lot of PR and emotion behind them, but I was very disappointed with our discipline because we knew they would come hard at us and get the crowd behind them early on. Because of our discipline, we’d concede a penalty and they would start mauling, which makes life very difficult. Away from home, your discipline needs to be impeccable, but we got very frustrated, which is part of the inexperience. It was a very hostile environment and there was off-the-ball stuff, especially at the breakdown. But there’s no excuse, this team needs to grow up,” Meyer said.