|Volume 1 - Week 23|
Brilliant! At long last something to smile about and given that I committed last week to a Springbok victory, double celebrations! The Pretoria faithful was treated to a scintillating match with a very close score line but there was no doubt in my mind who the better team was. Congratulations to South Africa for finally displaying the type of rugby so much debated and vaunted in the past few months.
The Loftus victory will be remembered for a few reasons; one of them was the re-emergence of the Skinstad magic, Captain Bob provided every detractor with a performance of sheer class and majesty. The young eightman did everything right for a change, from his excellent work in the lineouts, his tackling, high work rate at the breakdown to his vintage try scored in the corner. I do have one complaint though and that is his superfluous use of the word “chuffed”! Much to my own shock and horror I spoke to my mother, an elderly lady nearing her seventies who pronounced herself “chuffed” with the Springbok’s performance! Is it a sign that he is now accepted across the board or just plain bad English? Do not worry Bob, we will all be pretty darn “chuffed” if you score the tries and the Springboks win, ugh!
Another reason the South African victory was even more the sweeter was the performance of our pack, the game is won up front full stop, the Lions proved it in the first test, the Wallabies in the third and now the Springboks. True, it is not enough just to dominate up front, with all the possession a team must score points, by penalties or tries as the All Blacks demonstrated last week. The ideal is to score tries but rock solid defensive patterns nowadays make tries almost a luxury unless there is some kind of individual brilliance. The Springboks are lacking in this department, the backline needs somebody to spark like Lukas van Biljon, Jantjes did put his hand up but numbers 9 and 10 must provide the backline with something worthwhile to work with. Hopefully after sorting out the forwards, Harry Viljoen can now apply his “management skills” to Tim Lane and the back division.
The Australians of Eddie Jones next face the All Blacks in Dunedin and after reading the statistics of All Black dominance at this stronghold, it seems almost impossible for the Wallabies to win this match. History and certain grounds do hold an advantage but after all the Australians have defied history once this year and South Africans will be hoping they can do it again!
The IRB has confirmed that Springbok frontrower, Cobus Visagie is in the clear and that his doping case will not be pursued, it is good news for the strong man who has made a major impact on the Tri Nations. Minister Balfour can now apologise if he was not “misquoted” once again by the media for branding Visagie a “cheat”.
A last word, the Springboks are getting their act together on the field yet the press release, domain of Mark Keohane, is a shamble with the announcement of the latest ”addition” to the touring squad, Albert van Biljon. Since both Lukas and Albert’s names were mentioned already this must be a new player, hopefully it is another young gem that is as fast and athletic as Van den Bergh, has the heart and fire of van Biljon and more brains than Keohane.
Murray Mexted impressed with his comment after another blurt from Joel "loss of words" Stransky, when he was asked what his thoughts were on the "great player" Lukas van Biljon, Murray replied that he is not a "great player" as yet, he had a great match the previous week. It kind of put things back into perspective, Murray Mexted has been there done that and can rightfully lay claim to a tag of "great player" incidentally so can his interviewer but Joel desperately needs eloquence lessons, even Naas is better and English is his second language!
This coming weekend the Currie Cup resumes and quite a few Springboks will be in action, go and support your local team live at the park.
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"The day the whinging died" by Mark Foster
It is funny in this old life how little it takes to be happy for example a little kid can be crying all morning but once presented with a delicious chocolate Magnum Original the tears dry up and the ice cream treat resolve all previous unhappiness. The grown up world is not always as easy to manipulate, happiness appears in various forms, money; the winning of the lottery, love; meeting a beautiful person and finding a common interest, sport; beating the World Champions after a disastrous build up to the Tri-Nations. If I could have chosen any of the three, and this question was posed to me on Friday morning, what would it be?
As a matter of interest I chose the second option because the first is pure hype for the masses and the last was at the time something of a lottery in itself. We all know what happened. The Springboks won. The Green and Gold beat the World Champions. Sean Mullen’s lyric sums up best, “Everything’s gonna be allright…” well almost, the significance of this victory should not be underestimated nor overestimated. In context it was the most important win for the current squad and the beleaguered coach in 9 months of rugby, that is a long time in modern sport. One could also add that the win was well deserved and plaudits are due to the people involved in the squad for finally making it happen by taking the words and promises and turning them into results.
One of the most sobering thoughts on the match came from the coach himself; the caution that this is only one victory and that there is plenty of room for improvement. Yes, one can argue that the backline was no real threat on attack, that Butch James is not the answer at flyhalf because he has become a mere link and not a decision maker. That Joost is not near the ball to make the important first decision and Dean Hall does not offer enough on attack, that Braam is not the answer at centre. Sod it! The Springboks beat the Ausies for the first time since 1999 and they manage to score the only try, Bob’s effort was as important as the dummying effort that left Horan and Larkham grappling a few years ago. The forwards were mean and magnificent and for once the team played as that, a team and we the supporters could smile and take heart.
The matter of overestimating Saturday’s victory will certainly be dispelled by all the whingers, something South Africans rank pretty high in, alongside the Ausies and of course the “mother nation” Britain. The media and supporters will always be fiercely critical about anything short of a victory and then more some. This paranoia is both advantageous and detrimental to the cause but one thing is for sure it creates pressure, pressure as we have become accustomed to over the last decade bring Springbok victories. Could that be the reason why we under perform overseas?
Well done Harry and the team, good luck ride the wave and more importantly improve with every outing, the supporters are like children, give them ice cream and they are happy!
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"No Respite for the Wicked" by Tom Marcellus
Phwoar! Victory for a tenacious Bok team over undoubtedly one of the most successful international sides of all time.
Unfortunately I can take absolutely no credit for any part of the win, and that includes even the easy part - predicting it. For the first time in my lifelong career as a dyed-in-the-wool Bok fan, I have to confess that I actually predicted a Bok loss. Please don’t confuse this with a desire to actually have the Boks lose (God forbid), but it is just that I could not believe that this all-conquering Wallaby team would stumble against a Bok side that had, as yet, only shown glimmers of its great potential. For once, those wretched Aussies, bereft of any Bernie-inspired touches of genius, stumbled at the last hurdle and were unable to sneak through in injury time.
Of course, with the benefits of hindsight (that most merciless of schoolmasters), I should have had more faith in the XV proud wearers of the little leaping springbok. If I embark on a stint of emotional self-examination (not a favourite past-time – ask my long-suffering girlfriend), I would have to conclude that my melancholic and seemingly traitorous feelings sprang from a feeling of utter frustration at the shenanigans in the Bok camp in the build-up to the Tri-Nations. In my eyes, Harry and his merry band of highly-paid helpers had stumbled from one spectacular PR cock-up to another, with the handling of Avos, who is unquestionably the most decent and loyal of men, the surly press conferences, and the resignation of Markgraaf amongst the most memorable.
One thing that has always really got up my nostrils is the manner in which fickle sports fans happily desert a team when it slumps to defeat, only to, with similar relish, rejoin the apple-cart when the side returns to its winning ways. I do not intend to do that amongst these hallowed pages, and although I still have great faith in the Boks themselves, the Bok management is not yet off the hook. To me, crowing over a win against the Wallabies – even a fine Wallaby team like this one – is like waxing lyrical when 4 pretty-faced yobs in baggy jeans make a cover version of “Uptown Girl” and the song goes to the top of the hit parade. The melody is eternal, and any gravelly-voiced porn star reaching for his morning shampoo can sing well enough.
Stretching the analogy (as always), at the outset of the international season, the South African selectors had at their disposal a vast pool of quality, potentially world-beating rugger players, the vast majority of whom enjoy all of those most admirable attributes in abundance: big, strong, mean, talented, brave etc. The Bok pack, even without the mighty Cobus Visagie, would always be competitive, and among the Paulses and Halls, Snymans and Flecks, Halsteads and Van der Westhuizens, we could, surely, assemble at least a scratch backline. As far as I was concerned, even Cabous’ grandmother could, without the help of a legion of press advisers, backline coaches, key grips and gaffers, have put together an outfit that would be a match for the very best teams in the world.
Harry can rightfully feel justified in his selections of Van Biljon and Jantjes, which were both masterstrokes. But to the cynical armchair critic, these are but beacons in a dark, foggy night, and there is little indication that getting to that final destination - in this case, a winning team with workable combinations - was through anything else other than pure, old-fashioned luck.C’mon, Harry, prove us Doubting Delilahs wrong. .
Sanity Prevails by Desmond Organ
A week ago I spoke about Sleeping Beauty, mostly in the hope that the former glories of Springbok rugby would return in some form.
Saturday was indeed a great day for the team and Nation as a whole and few would argue that we are potentially at the dawn of something great. In the last few articles I have been very critical about the overall professionalism of the South African operation. Few would argue that the musical chairs being played as far as selections are concerned were outrageous.
The decisions around player profiles and required skills and the coaching requirements made me think that we had a group of so - called rugby professionals trying to resolve the chicken and egg syndrome. Several journalists and former coaches espoused a return to the traditional strengths of South African rugby combined with the flair of the new ball retention strategy that Harry articulates. We can only hope that in the building of the team for 2003 the management team realises that Rome was not built in a day and that you leverage your traditional strengths as you develop new ones.
The selection of the Bok team in the games prior to the Pretoria test was based on dreams and ideals without recognising that form is important to any team and also that risks should be taken where there is a track record of inspirational ability.
If we look at the team from Saturday and the squad selected for the tour to New Zealand and Australia we can at least argue that sanity prevails. The team is a combination of experience, from and ability with a history.
The form players of the Super 12, excluding James were awesome. Van Biljon, Andrews, Joost, Vos, Venter, Ackerman, Paulse and Hall.
This was combined with the proven talent of Skinstad, Van Straaten, Fleck, Kempson and Visagie. Jantjes has a lot of talent and we know from his other sporting achievements that his selection was based on a proven ability in multiple sports.
The additional players in the squad are all in the same category of form from the Super 12 or proven talent.
The really positive thing is that our coach has apparently realised that you need the support of the nation and you need some element of success to develop support for a new strategy. Going in guns blazing without short term measurable benefits is going to result in a strategy being abandoned before the real long term benefits can be achieved.
Harry; remember that you cannot change the world in a day and that there is a lot to be learnt from the lessons of the past. I really hope that we can continue to build on the success of Saturday in a practical and well thought out way.
South Africa 20 - Australia 15
Loftus Versveld was packed to capacity to welcome the World Champions, Australia against their beloved Springboks, one wonder who they came to see since it was the first test full house since the 1986 Cavaliers tour. The Springboks made it quite clear however that Pretoria is still a South African stronghold with a very good performance and a well-deserved victory over a strangely subdued Wallaby outfit.
The Springbok pack once again dominated the match and the tight five spearheaded by the front row of Kempson, van Biljon and Visagie was indomitable, from this platform the loose forwards had a much easier task to deal with the Australian threat in the form of George Smith. Make no mistake, Smith for all his 21 years is a dangerous player and his technique at the breakdown is superb although there is a school of thought that he is “cheating” by holding on to the player on the ground’s jersey rather than grappling for the ball. Whatever it works and the Springboks countered his ruthless efficiency by targeting him as the tackler, making sure that he goes down in the tackle and therefore become useless in the fight for the loose ball. If this was a conscientious tactic it worked superb and if it was coincidental, the secret to Smith is out!
The Springboks, with Braam van Straaten in their laager converted early pressure into points and the penalties from anywhere near the halfway and in enemy territory were ruthlessly slotted. Matt Burke was strangely inaccurate and his two missed opportunities only added fuel to the Springbok fire. There was some encouraging running from Breyten Paulse and Dean Hall but all-round defence was just too good. Same with the Wallabies, Nathan Grey almost score from a long-range backline move but excellent defence from Jantjes saved the day. Talking about the young fullback, he had a very, very good match and should he build on this performance we have a bright star on the horizon.
The defining moment of the match came with the first half almost over, the Springboks attacked from relentlessly but it took a well timed superbly angled run from Bob Skinstad to break the defence and crash over for a well deserved try. Was David Giffin not busy attending to Robbie Fleck with a wild punch/elbow to the back of the head the pugilistic lock might have plugged the gap, which Skinstad raced through. The move is a practiced one and since he dropped the ball on more than one occasion last week it does say something for the confidence of the man to try it yet again. Braam missed the conversion but the halftime score reflected 14-0, with the Wallabies unable to score a point in a half for a very long time.
The second half saw the characteristic Wallaby assault and a few quick penalties put them back in the game but ultimately they caused their own downfall with a lackluster undisciplined display. John Eales and many of his teammates fell foul of the referee for questioning his decisions. Referee McHugh had a strange day with some questionable decisions both ways but at least he was consistent in his interpretations.
The Springboks continued to place pressure on the Wallaby scrum and this mastery upfront combined with aggressive defence made it very difficult for them to assume their continuous phases approach. The lineouts were also pretty even and Giffin’s suspension might be a blessing in disguise with the re-emergence of lineout specialist, Harrison. The Wallabies however was not good enough on the day where as the Springboks did everything right, there is room for improvement especially in the backline but with a solid base to operate from and more exposure to Tim Lane’s theories and running lines there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.
South Africa have re-discovered the reason for once being a strong and proud rugby-winning nation; passion, a strong forward pack and a dogged determination to win. The Wallabies will be better and more organised in a few weeks time.
Rob Kempson: Rob played another strong game and his own brand of imitation ensure that opposition players keep their cool, Joe Roff tried a bit of elbow shuffle on the big man's cheek but he laughed it off. His discipline has been impeccable and his input in the front row has improved the Springbok team immensely.
Lukas van Biljon: The man played in only his third test but again provided the fire and spark to the tight five, his charging runs have become trademark and he can look no further than Keith Wood to style his play on. He is a strong scrum worker and apart from one or two mistimed throws, this department of his game is impressive. He is definitely an asset to the team.
Cobus Visagie: The strong one had his best game so far this year and he looked like a young schoolboy with an abundance of energy, hard to believe he also puts hard work into every scrum with the way he cajoled in the loose. Potentially the most important player in the team.
Jan Ackerman: The big man silenced a few critics including this one with his fine all-round performance, his strength in the scrums is obvious while he did not shy away from his lineout ball when pressed upon. The most impressive aspect was his workrate around the field, handling the ball with aplomb and making some big hits.
Mark Andrews: South Africa's joint most capped player was once again solid and although not as commanding as in the Super 12 his general play and presence make a huge difference and he can always be relied upon for the pressure situation, seems to have an injury because he is under utilised in the lineouts.
Andre Vos: Avos played his heart out, the man made huge hit after hit and his presence at the breakdown was felt considering he played against the so-called best openside in the game. This man will never give anything less than 110% and must be inspiring to other players who has not been treated half as bad as this man. Avos deserve his position at this moment and Corne Krige will have his work cut out to displace him.
Andre Venter: Another physical game by the iron man, he probably played his best match of the season and the clever way of running straight a George Smith neutralized the man's effectiveness on the loose ball. Andre was involved in most moves and with Bob Skinstad around he is a must for the loose trio combo. At lock he was just as impressive and the Mallett method worked well again.
Bob Skinstad: Whoaa, Bob is back, yes, he did drop a ball but that paled in significance with his general play on the day. The man did everything required of him and more, he scored the vital try that secured the match. More of the same Captain Bob!
Joost: Once again a better match but there are too many plays where he is not the distributor of the ball, this slows down important second phase possession and devoid the Springboks of a decision maker handling the ball. He looked sharp on the break with some good acceleration and his defence is phenomenal. A better box kick will only add to his repertoire but then as a left footed kicker it will always be very difficult.
Butch James: The young pivot lacks presence, he does not take enough responsibility to dictate the play, he must forget that he is young and inexperienced and acquire an arrogance on the field that he is in charge. Once he uses his full array of attacking, defensive and distribution skills, other teams will always have to find a counter for his mind, same as with Larkham. At the moment he is predictable and his options smack of instruction rather than the type of carte blanche that flyhalves need.
Dean Hall: Dean is becoming a good international player, he works hard off the ball, defends very well but the most important skill is lacking, the ability to beat one or two defenders or to keep opposition players guessing. Make no mistake; he will never let the team down and ads value however creativity is needed to take the step up from good to great.
Robbie Fleck: Robbie Fleck had another one of his in-your-face matches, always dangerous with the ball in hand he was as good on defence and his general play was outstanding, he did not get enough opportunities to break the line this time but he is the kind of player that will come good next time as the opposition will relax a little bit. His altercation with Giffin of course created the gap for Skinstad's try, so maybe Fleckie can "claim" a bit part in the try!
Braam van Straaten: Chosen for his defence and kicking he accomplished both with flying colours. The man arguably won the test with his accurate kicking and his persistent marking of Joe Roff ensured that the Springbok line remained unscathed in the Tri Nations. He is a must for his boot but needs to establish a better rapport with Butch James, it will come with game time together.
Breyten Paulse: The most dangerous runner in open play, he always keeps the opposition guessing and his brilliant run early in the match set a certain standard for what was to follow, he needs the ball more often because this man can create a try from absolutely nothin. His support of the fullback is first class and general play was excellent, his defence is solid and in the last two tests impressed with his commitment.
Conrad Jantjes: Holy moly, what a big game for the youngster, one mistake almost cost a try but he did not let the charge down affect him in any way. His general play was exemplary and his punting of the ball was excellent, reminiscent of a James Small in his running and kicking style, this man is going to play many tests for SA. Admittedly he was not put under real pressure but somehow I doubt if high hanging kicks would have fazed a man with his sporting ability.
Johann van Niekerk: The young loose forward is getting ten minutes a test and the learning curve will be enormous, once again it is difficult to judge on such a short period on the field but he is not disgracing himself.
John Smit: The man has a few question marks hanging over his throwing into the lineouts, he once again did not provide a massive impact after van Biljon's departure but it is difficult to impress in ten minutes especially where Lukas left off!
Ollie le Roux: As usual he substituted Rob Kempson and this system works well for the Springboks, he needs to produce a few of his trademark barnstorming runs though.
Corne Krige: The Province captain made a few errors in his time on the field and he needs to work on his penalty counts but he does do valuable, uncompromising graft like a true fetcher, needs more match practice.
Moment of the match: Bob Skinstad's try and Jantjes little chip kick and collect.
Men of the match: Bob Skinstad, Andre Vos and Conrad Jantjes
You're as old as you need to be. As long as you're fit enough, you're young enough. Jeff Probyn
Rugby can be a very violent game if there is £ 1000 per man riding on the result. Bob Weighill, secretary of the RFU, 1983
To be a top sportsman in any field, you need an arrogance; you need to be driven. It can offend people, but you cannot be bothered about that too much. You might regret it later, as I do in a way, but not at the time. Barry Richards
There are people who say I have never really done anything wrong in my life; of course they only say it behind my back. Oscar Wilde
Letters to the Editor
I seems to be quite fashionable these days to nail Monty. The poor guy seems to have played a lousy game before he puts a foot on the field. I am sure most of his critics assess and document his performance the minute they hear of his selection - certainly long before the start of the match.
I cannot condone his poor kicking in the last match but then, lets face it, he was relegated those duties (which he hadn't held for a long time) simply because there was no specialist kicker in the side. Poor goalkicking does not necessarily make him a bad fullback. I would like to know where he let us down on Saturday (besides the kicking). I noticed an excellent try-saving tackle he pulled of on Greg Somerville on a clear run to the tryline.
I agree with the sentiment in this edition which suggests that his best position is flyhalf and I am convinced that given a couple of matches in this position would prove me right. (Harry, maybe this could be the last tactic you can try cause you seem to be running out of ideas - give the poor guys a chance to gel as a side with a few consecutive matches man.)
Cmon guys, give the oke a break !
Thank God Tom Marcellus was watching the same game I peered at through M-Nets telephoto lens - are they ever going to allow us to see the defensive and attacking lines again or must we accept the close up views of Lukas' back or Robbie's calf? Back to TM's article. 'Looks to the scoreboard' is what international rugby is all about. This 2003 kak that our Harry is continually espousing is what lawyers call obfuscation - throwing up clouds of bullshit to obscure his inability. TM is quite right when he says we shouldn't be trying to play a style of game with which we are not familiar nor equipped. Sadly the hopes of the Nation raised by Super 12 results playing SA rugby, have been dashed by a well-intentioned, but out of touch dreamer!
One thing your Match Review failed to point out, while expressing how, had a few kicks been successful, the result would have changed was that the All Blacks sat back in the second half knowing that the Boks would have to carry the ball to them in atrocious conditions if they hoped to win. That showed their experience in that type of weather. I'm sure, had the Boks managed any form of score, the All Blacks would have reverted to attack and then your report would have been quite correct in presuming a different result. A bigger score line difference perhaps? I think Naas and David Campese were spot on during Boots 'n All when they both said the game was a poor performance by both teams. Campo also said dropping passes, even in those conditions, by 'professional' players who are paid to do nothing else but practice to perfect their skills is unforgivable.
Now I've been a Monty critic before but his game last week was amongst the best on the park. He kicked into touch, caught the ball, made the greatest number of breaks which lacked support, even though he ran towards and by his colleagues, and made a superb tackle on Sommerville who'd parted our forwards like the Red Sea! Thank God Andre Joubert didn't have to do the place kicks! If you wanted to tonk someone then dear old Bobby had a shocker - bum decisions, professional fouls, knock-ons and a general chicken without a head type run around, and I too enjoyed his skill and flair in 1998!
I agree with your assessment that Andre Vos always gives 110% and played well - gave Lukas plenty of ball to shine with, but am disappointed that you rated Andre Venter so low. He put in his effort like always too , but the seeming lost yard could well be laid at the feet of confusion, as the strength of the Venter, Erasmus and Vos loose trio, who instinctively know what each other will do and accommodated Corne so easily, has been destroyed by our Harry. Maybe that's why so many passes went to ground as one hand's finger was up the nose busily reprogramming!
Finally, Andre Van Rooyen's letter about SARFU and the main Media is spot on. Sadly none of them give a ratz r's about the PAYING rugby public - TV's target market, as their belief is that we'll always keep turning up to support and watch the Boks. Its really hard not to give a cash cow another squeeze instead of feeding it, so you can hardly blame them! Like so many other South Africans I support the Boks whole heartedly just, when are they going to select them?
Many of the opinions of coaches and others are that they wish to see 7 or more phases before a team goes on to score a try. The reason for this that the long line of defenders strung out across the field is sucked into defence and thus gaps are created. I do not understand this. With the not so new rules when there is a fixed mscrum all the opposition forwards are locked into the scrum. Getting the ball out wide and quickly must surely present the best opportunity for a try. Why does our coach keep getting our centres to run straight back into the mass of defenders instead of doing what seems to be the sensible thing?
By the way fortuitous does not meet lucky it means "by chance". The correct word if you mean lucky is "fortunate". You are not alone, Mike Procter continually uses fortuitous or fortuitously instead of fortunate or fortunately.
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