'He said: listen, I know how you feel... Just have a beer with me'

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer gives an insight into his special relationship with All Blacks boss Steve Hansen.

Image: Joe Giddens

SOUTH AFRICA COACH Heyneke Meyer has spoken of his friendly relationship with New Zealand boss Steve Hansen ahead of the sides’ clash in the 2015 Rugby World Cup semi-final this Saturday.

Meyer revealed that the two men have had a few beers together on a couple of occasions in the past.

“I don’t want to go into too much detail because it’s between us,” he explained. “But we’ve started a tradition where the first time I’d lost I was very down, he came over and I think that’s great about rugby — he came over and brought me a beer.

“He said ‘listen, I know how you feel, I know the pressure on you, just have a beer with me’. And I really respect that.

“We’d lost that game, the second game we played away was very close and we lost that game as well, and he came looking for me with another beer afterwards.

“He gave it to me and we started talking about his family, and his wife, and we know we’re under the same pressure.

“We’re proud countries. He’s got to know my family, I’ve got to know his family.”

The South Africa boss added that he was not in the habit of meeting up with fellow coaches, but will make an exception on Saturday, particularly if the Springboks prevail.

“I don’t usually meet up with coaches before games, but there’s so much respect and I’ve said to him ‘Steve you know what, I can’t wait for the first day I can bring you the beer’, because the winning coach always brings the beer.

“At Ellis Park it was only the once. I said the first time we beat you I’ll bring you a case of beer.

“So what I really respect about Steve is that after the game he took it like a man, and said ‘I’m waiting for that beer’.

“So we’ve got a tradition, so hopefully Steve, on Saturday, I can bring him a beer and give him a case of beers.”

Meyer added that there was a considerable degree of mutual respect between the two countries, even in the type of highly pressurised situation when pre-match mind games and gamesmanship often take precedence over diplomacy.

“That’s what’s great about the game, the huge amount of respect. What’s great about nowadays is that we also learn from each other.

“We want to improve as countries, we want to improve as coaches. And though there’s huge competition and no inch given on the field, that’s great about the game.

“You would think I would sit here and bad-mouth them and try and get into their heads and things, but you won’t see that from us or from them.

“But after games, a guy like Richie McCaw was the first to go over and congratulate Jean on his career after he retired.

“The respect between the two countries, that’s great for the game.

“Hopefully we can take it further but I would love to give him a beer on Saturday.”

Meyer also played down suggestions his side should be fearful of the All Blacks.

“I do not want to be disrespectful — I love playing the All Blacks. It is the easiest game as a coach to motivate a team. It is not about fear, but respecting an unbelievable team and believing you can beat them. Most of the guys have defeated them, but it is more excitement.

“You know as a coach that it could go either way and will go right to the last second. You want to test yourself against the best. I love these games: I always stand at the bottom, facing the haka out of respect. I never go up to the box until after the haka because it sums up why you do this job: you stand there and the adrenaline is pumping as you face the haka and you are just so pleased to be there.

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“I love playing the All Blacks: I love what they stand for and I love what South Africa stand for. It does not get any better than this.”

Meyer also recalled his fond memories growing up watching the All Blacks.

“In 1981, I was a youngster and it was probably the first TV in our small little village, looking at the games and seeing those guys. I was never very good playing the game as a youngster, but whenever we were on the grass it was always South Africa against the All Blacks, never anyone else.

“It is a great honour and I’m so excited to go on Saturday and you have to be excited when you play the All Blacks, believing you can win and putting your body on the line. You cannot have a defensive mindset against them for 80 minutes: you have to get the ball in your hands and attack for 90 minutes. We have been close a few times.”

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And will they be taking inspiration from the two past World Cup-winning South African sides?

“History does inspire you: the guys in 1995 won it against the odds. In 2007 they had a great side and I always thought we had a good chance. Every Springbok that has pulled on that jersey inspires us. We had a bad start to the season but there is a great inspiration between ourselves.

“We can take a lot of heart out of ourselves, sticking together and coming through adversity. We know that what happened in the past will not help us when we are on the field.

“The guys have been together under a huge amount of pressure this year. We came through it and now face one of the biggest tests ever. I am happy with where we are at the moment. I never thought a year or two back all these youngsters would be playing and all in great form.

“There is a lot of inspiration in the team and guys like Schalk have come back; Bismarck did his knee and his neck and Duane is back. Every victory helps: it is part of the ethos and character of the Boks.”

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Paul Fennessy

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