|Volume 1 - Week 24|
Brilliant! It is good to be back after a week’s rest from the rigors of writing Rugby Forum. Like our heroes on the field I took the opportunity to recover from the niggling typing injuries that build up over the Super 12 and the writer’s bloc during the preparations for the international season! Rejuvenated and refreshed I look forward to making your Thursdays as entertaining as possible with some humor, excellent articles and hopefully insightful analysis of completed and upcoming matches.
The past two weeks I spent some time reading Edward Griffith’s excellent book, “The Captains”. Well written with inspiring stories this account of the men who were chosen to lead their country serve as a stark reminder how the game of rugby has changed over more than a century. The captains of today seem to be less of an influence compared to their predecessors who were responsible for coaching, motivating, counseling and leading legends to battle. One similar fad however remains the captain attracts enormous attention and respect and is regarded as a symbol, obviously of different proportions to different people but still an icon. Few but the men in this position can truly understand the ramifications of being THE SPRINGBOK CAPTAIN. Buy the book it is worth it.
Saturday’s match between Australia and the All Blacks was a bit tedious for 4:30am however three excellent tries managed to keep a very tight game entertaining. As old Van remonstrated, that is one of the main reasons he did not want to be selected for the Springboks, he did not look forward to playing at that time in the morning! The Wallabies made good use of their possession and even though the old story is a bit boring, Gregan and Larkham dictated play with authority. The All Blacks are in trouble with current selection, they need the Oros man to revive the party in the form of mercurial fullback Cullen and maestro Mehrtens. Forget about injuries and form, class is inherently permanent.
Once again the Springboks face the incredible Australians amid a competition as wide open as the stretch of road from Colesberg to Bloemfontein. Fortunately South Africa’s heroes spent two weeks in Perth where, I am led to believe is the biggest contingent of “Japies” living outside of London, hopefully these guys lend some vociferous support to Bob Skinstad’s team. The Wallabies, breaking yet another duck this year by walloping the All Blacks at Carisbrook will obviously be in no charitable mood in seeking revenge for Pretoria and Perth 1998 and a last turn out against the Springboks for legendary captain John Eales.
Somehow after the Pretoria match the whole perception towards the team has changed and there is a lot more confidence from the general public in their team’s ability to cause another upset. Blood, sweat toil and tears it will cost but the Springboks can win this contest if they display similar courage than two weeks ago and come good on the promise of improving every match. A more settled team with only one change may yet have the opportunity to develop into something special obviously the Wallabies will have a major say in that.
The Currie Cup is up and running although not in ideal circumstances due to the stop start fixtures, the country’s next best players are continuing with the unglamorous slog before the return of the Springboks from international duty. The real competition will begin once the Super 8 is in full swing, unfortunately some teams will fall along the way like the Blue Bulls last year. The format has been a topic for discussion, for one it prohibits the best players to test themselves against their peers in their positions and maybe a return to a Super 12 round robin format will ensure that every team is tested against each other and serve as a Springbok trial for the end of the year tour to Europe.
Thank you for the good wishes, notably from Helen and Johanna abroad and all the others that missed RF for a week! I appreciate the support and venture to provide everyone with something interesting and worthwhile. On that note also a large thank you to the contributors who weekly produce excellent articles in their own time, all for the love of the game. Enjoy the test match on Saturday and send us a mail of your thoughts on the game.
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A Titanic Battle by Mark Foster
The three giants of world rugby, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa collectively known as the Tri-Nations are in mid battle for the annual series to determine, arguably, who the best team in the world is of course with all respect to England and France.
The latest edition of the series, now in its sixth year has become the most competitive of all with each team winning and losing one match. The coveted home ground advantage was shattered, first by the All Blacks at Newlands and secondly by the Wallabies in the most dogged arena of all, Dunedin. The statistics surrounding this venue is well known but deserves repeating, the All Blacks has only lost three tests in history at the so-called “House of Pain”. A phenomenal record and the Wallabies only managed to triumph at their thirteenth attempt, strange enough, talismanic retiring captain John Eales never played a test at Carisbrook before Saturday…
The remarkable Australians return “home” to Perth, venue of just one other test match, a defeat to South Africa in the 1998 series. The Western Australian capital is known as an Ausie Rules stronghold also a favored settlement for ex-South Africans. The Springboks, with two weeks to prepare in a city where they do not attract the kind of attention usually reserved for international teams seem to have the inside lane as far as the build–up is concerned. Away from the harsh criticism of local supporters and media, Harry Viljoen’s team has hopefully spent their time working on improving those areas where they struggled against Australia notably the backline. The forwards are mean and intimidating and with Matfield back in the team the options seem more varied.
The match Saturday is touted as the decider of the 2001 Tri-Nations, both teams and supporters world-wide has recognized a soft underbelly in the All Black outfit. The Kiwis even in victory against South Africa looked a bit vulnerable up front and the persistence with Brown over Mehrtens at flyhalf has robbed them of an influential decision maker to effectively involve magnificent outside backs. The All Blacks for once look like their ready for plucking but one look at the finest record in world rugby will argue that they are not dared written off.
Back to Saturday’s clash, Australia did not play very well in Pretoria and in the absence of Larkham seemed a bit rudderless. Their forwards were not dominating the Springboks and this reduced the influence of Gregan, added a pedantic Northern Hemisphere referee, a first ever series victory over the Lions and a new coach one can understand the defeat. The loss obviously did not dent any pride or confidence as was evident in their record-breaking win Saturday. The Springboks on the other hand tasted unexpected victory and gained enormous confidence in both themselves and the process they have embarked upon.
How will this important match pan out? The secondary factors will of course play an important role, the weather should be dry, the referee is a Kiwi and although there has been a lot of talk about the ball, it is exactly that an oval rugby ball, the same for both teams. The difference in this match can well depend on that two percent Harry Viljoen was advocating as the reason for all the outside coaches. Both teams have strengths to play to and ideas on how to dominate the other and with two enlightened coaches the match may yet be determined by something very small like the timing of a replacement. Like two grand chess masters Viljoen and Jones will be plotting and counter plotting every move, the personnel will hopefully live up to the demands.
Saturday will be a phenomenal match and look at this contest to reproduce some of the scintillating rugby that marked last year’s competition, maybe not as high scoring but a titanic battle of quality test match rugby.
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South Africa versus New Zealand - How the Rivalry Began by Brian Forsyth
(Copyright © The Author, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
The Springboks are on their way to Auckland next week, to do battle once again with our greatest rugby rivals, the All Blacks. It is eighty years ago this year that the Boks first toured New Zealand, but the start of the intense rivalry goes back further. In fact it date back to 1902 and the end of the Anglo Boer War. The New Zealand troops were awaiting sea transport to their home country. Being typical New Zealanders, they looked around for rugby balls, for fields on which to play, and for likely opponents. In both Pretoria and Durban, they went so far as to form clubs which played in the Carlton Cup league in Pretoria and in the Murray Cup, in Durban which trophy they managed to win three years in a row. Even more suprising is that when the selected combined Pretoria clubs, the forerunner of the Blue Bulls, played their first ever match as a representative side in 1903 against the touring British side, seven New Zealanders from the local club were included in the team.
At the end of the First World War, when there was once again a delay in sending the troops home from Europe, a tournament was arranged in the UK, with six sides competing, England, Royal Air Force, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and South Africa. New Zealand and England headed the table. South Africa finished fourth behind Australia. It was not that our side was weak for there were six past or future Springboks playing and possibly two more in Clive Van Ryneveld, father of the Springbok cricket captain of the 1950’s and Billie Sendin, who was in the 1921 side to New Zealand, and who to this day, is the lightest player ever to wear the Springbok jersey. However it is now thought that these two players were in the Royal Air Force side which included another eight South Africans one being, Herby Taylor, our national cricket captain and recognised as the first great South African batsman.
The success of this tournament resulted in the New Zealand Services side being invited by our national rugby board to tour this country on their way home. To look back today, it is truly amazing that our visitors accepted the invitation, having been away for four years fighting a tough war, they then spent three months travelling around this country playing fourteen matches against provincial teams. The tour was a huge success and resulted in an invitation for an official Springbok tour to New Zealand to take place two years later. An interesting fact about the 1919 Services side was that the captain, Charlie Brown, had previously played for the New Zealand Maori’s in 1913, which did not produce any comment at the time. It is doubtful whether the South African authorities were aware of the issue at the time.
The 1921 tour to New Zealand ended with the honours even, and when the All Blacks reciprocated in 1928 with a three-month tour of Southern Africa again the series ended even, two all. One can imagine the build up in tension for it would be another nine years before the two foes met again. During this period they would both be very successful against the other International sides. In 1937 the touring Springboks, led by Philip Nel, and containing many players who became legends and contributed so much to South African rugby both on the field and also in administering the game in this country after they retired. Names such as Gerry Brand, Danie Craven, Louis Babrow, Boy Louw, Ferdie Bergh, Jan Lotz and Tony Harris spring to mind. Harris being the last person to represent South Africa, at test level, in both rugby and cricket. This side was triumphant winning the series by two tests to one. They have been the only Springbok side to win a series over there and such was their standing in New Zealand that for many years thereafter they were considered the best side ever to leave New Zealand. Interesting that in comparison to the modern day set up, six players controlled the playing side of the tour selecting and coaching the team. The management's sole responsibility was for the day to day administration. In fact the manager, Percy Day, boarded the ship and sailed home one week before the deciding final test was played.
Naturally both nations were convinced they were the leading rugby nation and the rivalry was to increase with the outbreak of the Second World War. Both countries sent their armed forces to North Africa and the Middle East and there, and later in Italy and other parts of Europe, including Poland, famous ‘tests’ were played. Whenever soldiers from both countries met, little time was lost in arranging games. Be it on any level piece of ground, provided there was a ball, a whistle and thirty men available, the game was on. Some matches were played with the kit consisting only of shorts and army boots. One match was purposely arranged, at the insistence of the Military Commanders, to mislead the enemy. This was two days before the decisive Battle of El Alamein where Rommel’s Afrika Korp was defeated. The game took place under German air surveillance and in a German General’s book of the battle, he mentions the activity on the rugby field “which looked like fighting had broken out between the Allied soldiers!” The South African captain for this match was Louis Babrow of the 1937 Springbok side
For many of these games, a mythical trophy was played for, known amongst the soldiers as ‘ The Book’. Allegedly each side believed that the other did not know the rules and it was recommended after the game that the losing side obtain a copy of the said book to improve their rugby. Eventually as the troops moved into Europe, a test was arranged between the South African 6th Armoured Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division. The match took place in Rome in 1944 with the national anthems being played beforehand by a military band. The South African side was again skippered by Louis Babrow, with Felix Du Plessis as his vice-captain. Felix, of course, the father of Morne, was to lead the Springboks in 1949 against the All Blacks. The match won by South Africa 8 – 3, and at the presentation after the game, the programme was handed over to the losing side and this became the official book. Famous players who played for the 6th Division in other games were Basil Kenyon, leader of the triumphant 1951\52 side to the UK. Stephen Fry, the 1955 Springbok captain and Cecil Moss, a 1949 test wing and later the national coach. After the war before the Division returned to South Africa a tour through Europe was arranged, with the team being coached by Boy Louw.
Perhaps the most unique ‘Tests’ ever arranged were those played in Prisoner of War camps in both Germany and Poland. One may ask, how was this organised? Well in Stalag IVb in Germany, there were 700 South Africans out of 10,000 Allied soldiers held in the camp. To select a side a ‘hut’ league was established, much like the internal leagues, which have featured at our universities. Eight nations took part with South Africa winning the league, once again under the leadership of a Springbok, Fiks Van Der Merwe, capped in 1949 as a flank against the All Blacks. A similar format was used at the prison camp in Thorn, Poland where the South African selection panel consisted of Bill Payn, a 1924 Springbok as convenor, assisted by the son of Theo Pienaar, the 1921 Captain and Billy Millar Jnr, whose father led the Springboks to the UK in 1912\13. They picked a side, which was able to defeat the New Zealanders. Amongst the talent they found and nurtured was a young prop forward who honed his place kicking skills at the prison camp. He did so to such good effect that in 1949 he was to be the leading point scorer in the series against New Zealand, winning two of four tests by scoring all the points on his own. His name……… the legendary Okey Geffin.
Finally, in these matches behind the barbed wire fence, how did the South Africans turn out against the New Zealanders and the other nations in the camp at Thorn in Poland? In the Green and Gold naturally – national pride was at stake. The story of how that was achieved is a legend in itself. First of all the jerseys were prepared by a P. O. W. tailor from the Red Cross issue vests, which were white. These were then boiled together with the Russian battledress, which was freely available, to obtain the green colour. The gold was more problematical. However the South African Medical staff found an ingenious solution.
They boiled up a solution of anti-malaria tablets that were on hand to achieve the right result. The playing field was marked off with yellow clay lines on the vast sandy parade ground and with army boots considered too lethal, the players played with bare feet in the middle of a Polish winter. No wonder our rugby rode the crest of the wave for the first ten years after the war.Sources: 1. Springbok Annals 1891 – 1964 Danie Craven. 2. Haka – The Maori Rugby Story. McCarthy and Howitt. 3. Natal 100. Reg Sweet. 4. Rugby in South Africa. Paul Dobson. 5. S. A. Defence Force Rugby. Edited by Turner and Coetzee. 6. Natal Rugby 1870-1964. Edited by C. O. Medworth.
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The Lopsided Tri-Nations by Desmond Organ
There has been an ongoing debate since the inception of the Tri Nations about the advantages and disadvantages of playing home and away games and the structure of the break periods between games.
I have taken a particular interest in this year's competition because I believe that it is the first time that the competition began in South Africa. In the past this would have been seen as an absolute advantage, but we managed to only come away with one win.
If you look at the schedule the Kiwi's have a distinct advantage in their schedule. They play back to back on only one occasion and have a 3 and 2 week break between the other games. South Africa has the second best schedule with one three week break, but they do have to play two back to back encounters. The Aussies have really got the worst of it this year, what after a rigorous schedule against the lions they have had to fly back from South Africa after flying all the way there and they only have 2 weeks between the SA and Kiwi game. They also have one set of back to back games.
The reality of this is that in the past it has been South Africa that has had the difficult travel schedule. On reflection the Kiwi's have over the past years had the best of it and this may have some impact on their successful record. The thing that really amazes me though is the extent to which South Africa and Australia go to lengths to generally accommodate the teams that they play against as far as location and time of day are concerned. The time of day is a key factor and most of their games are scheduled in the early evening.
South Africa's decision to go with this time bracket may have more to do with Television rights than accommodating opposing teams. I do not know the details about Australia. The real point of this is that the Kiwi's love to play people is places that are distinctly to their advantage. I am talking about the House of Pain, which is not the most welcoming of places. Perhaps this is an oversight, but this time of year would surely call for a venue away from the cold South. I have also heard that the facilities in New Zealand are not the most talked about and that touring there is quite a challenge in general.
Perhaps the time has come to restructure the schedule so that South Africa can overcome the fact that they travel a great distance and then have to tour longer away from home. Australia has the bad end of the draw this year and it may well impact on the final standings.
New Zealand 15 - Australia 23
The Bledisloe Cup tie between New Zealand and Australia in Dunedin will not be remembered as one of the greatest test matches between these old foes. The weather, always a factor in this rugby mad city alternated from pouring rain to bouts of sunshine, the game can be summarized in similar fashion.
The All Blacks made a magnificent start when Jonah Lomu scored an excellent try in his 50th test. After a clever grubber from Umaga, the Big Fella rounded a stumbling Joe Roff to crash on the ball, after 2 minutes of play the Kiwis were in the lead. The New Zealanders continued to play well and they kept the Ausie forwards under pressure and even managed to poach a few of their lineout balls. The tactics, with their abundance of possession was a bit bizarre and with one of the best backlines in world rugby they never really sought to distribute the ball to the powerful men out wide. Australia as is their norm minimized mistakes and defended like tigers to contain any scoring and patiently waited on any opportunities.
Opportunities there were and Matt Burke scored an unbelievable solo effort after a sweeping backline movement put him in possession with only Jeff Wilson to beat, the chip and chase was the correct option and his collect and dive was a classic piece of football. The man of course can also kick and on the day his 80% success rate proved to be the decisive factor with the Wallabies in a 13-8 lead at halftime.
The turning point in the match came after Ron Cribb tackled Joe Roff without the ball from a craftily weighted kick from Larkham, referee Lander had no choice but to award a penalty try and with Burke converting point blanc the match in essence was won. The All Blacks manfully tried harder but one got the impression that they were never really a threat to the mastery of Gregan and Larkham who shone both on attack and in defence. George Smith, one of the influential Australian loose forwards won the loose ball battle hands down and his impact on every test belies his tender age and experience.
Jeff Wilson managed a consolation try near the end of the match, his 50th in an All Black jersey and the 300th test try. Lomu, who played very well did all the hard work avoiding tackles and fending off would be tacklers to feed Wilson on the inside for a long range try. Wilson probably played his best match since his return to rugby and although he is not the best fullback his attacking and allround skills are phenomenal. He is also one of the fastest men on the field as was Joe Roff found out when he was hauled in from behind after an intercept. Roff incidentally did not have a good day looked like he was carrying an injury.
A final minute penalty opportunity was inexplicably tapped and ran by captain Oliver, with a bonus point on offer the decision was perhaps not the correct one and this as much as their inability to convert pressure and possession into points left them with nothing from this match. Australia retained the Bledisloe Cup, holders since 1998 and so ensured John Eales a memorable final match on New Zealand soil at the once impregnable Dunedin fortress.
Moments of the match: Matt Burke's try; Wilson's turnaround, chase and tackle of Joe Roff.
Men of the match: Matt Burke and Jeff Wilson.
A coach is like a winemaker: he must produce the best wine with the grapes available. Fabio Capello, AC Milan coach.
Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence; in other words it is war minus the shooting George Orwell
No leadership no ideas. Not even enough imagination to thump someone in the lineout when the ref wasn't looking J.P.R. Williams after a Wales defeat against Australia 1984
I have never been in the situation of running a rugby team but I had been in the situation of controlling 30 players on a rugby field and trying to get those players to perform to the best of their abilities, and that's man management. Clive Norling
Was it knocked forward or knocked-on? Murray Mexted during the NZ/Aus Tri-Nations on Saturday.
Letters to the Editor
Thank you for all the news.....have a good break.....eagerly awaiting all positive Bok news......My good wishes to Harry and Bob, all the team and those behind the scenes, all our loyal supporters across the ocean, who will be bringing home the Tri-nation trophy!
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