|Volume 1 - Week 32|
Brilliant! The strands of time is running out for the Currie Cup competition and the final round robin matches will be played this weekend. The season, a bit topsy-turvy due to the interruptions of international commitments is nearing a thrilling finale and even though the usual suspects seem set to occupy the semi-final berths all the teams produced some magnificent rugby.
The weekend that was produced one of those rare occasions when a team, to use popular phrase, “clicked”. I am referring to the glorious display of fifteen-man rugby dished up by WP against the Cheetas. The men from “wow Cape Town bru” set off at a furious pace and hardly relented for 50 minutes in a try-scoring orgy. The match can easily compare to the Stormers’ victory over Canterbury earlier this year in the Super 12, the opposition was outclassed and outplayed by a host of thrilling touches, deft moves and audacious running angles.
Now before every non-WP supporter jumps on the high horse, the team played very well and credit is due where deserved. A few players stood out even in the rarified atmosphere of a great team accomplishment and special mention must go to Hottie Louw (why doesn’t he play like that every week??), Toks van der Linde, Bob Skinstad, Pieter Rossouw, Percy Montgommery (Yes. I know, hard to believe but it was a vintage performance) and sort of debutant, Johannes Conradie. The young scrumhalf made a stupid error or two but only because the game is so much quicker at this level he is however a wonderful talent and in a position where there is a dearth of quality players. A bright hope for the future.
The Lions and the Sharks both registered encouraging wins and should feature in next weekend’s semis. The important consideration of course is home ground advantage, not only for the extra revenue the union will generate but the enhanced chance of progressing to a final. The Lions, this weekend will meet their neighbours across the Jukskei, the Blue Bulls and a 5-point victory is paramount however remember the upset caused by the Bulls in the Super 12 this year? The Pretoria men won over the weekend in a confidence-boosting match against the Falcons and Frans Ludeke’s men might find the going a bit tougher than suspected from a side second from the bottom.
The Sharks, perennial favourites and team of the nineties face current champions and high-riding WP in what many believe is a dress rehearsal for the final two weeks later. The Sharks with a full strength line-up will need the 5-points to ensure their home semi-final but will also remember from their early days in the nineties that a dress rehearsal is definitely not a final. WP can afford to rest key-players and why not, the squad system is in employ everywhere, the Sharks should not take affront if this should happen as a defeat against a “below par” WP side could prove embarrassing to the host of test Springboks.
The Six Nation resumes once again with Wales playing Ireland and after the Irish defeat at the hands of the Scots, Wales will be confident of upsetting the long standing home ground advantage. The timing of the competition although due to circumstances beyond anybody’s control is unfortunate because the matches are not afforded the same attention it deserves when played in the beginning of the year. As a great fan of this, the oldest international competition in the world it is sad that the average supporter will be unable to watch the match (televised on satellite television only).
Enjoy the rugby this weekend, every match will impact on semi-final places also a not so small matter of Springbok places on the spell and there is no better fuel for performance than pressure.
Good Comms by Mark Foster
The one common thread amongst most rugby supporters world-wide is a certain belief and assurance that he or she is the sole judge of talent or player’s ability and therefore “best qualified” to appoint a national team, provincial squad or the under 9’s for the local prep school. Sure, there will always be certain players who are universally recognized as “great” players and shu-ins for any selection but you can bet all your grocery money, there are disbelievers. Democracy, egalitarianism, own opinion; call it want you want but it is an age-old practice which like the pyramids will never go away.
The latest “Springbok Training Group” caused the usual stir amongst rugby aficionados, not only because of the obvious, the who’s who of the squad for the end-of-year tour but yet another hopelessly inept display of so-called professionalism in producing one correct list of names that should or should not have been made public. Mark Keohane, it seems did not learn from the pre-Tri Nations occasion when the squad was announced and the list contained errors and confusion. Is it not a simple “communications” exercise? Harry V. and the selectors (or maybe not) decide on 30 odd names, somebody (who can) writes down the names, type it up, verify the list and it is either communicated to the media or kept a secret. Simple? Better? Faster? Obviously not. Communications manager? Obviously not.
Back to the names announced by whoever and this one might add is what it is all about; the players, there were some surprises and some shocking omissions. To return briefly to the point made above that everybody has their own team penned in plus the way they should play, the glaring obvious is that supporters watch rugby and decide on favourite players for a few reasons. In a South African context (probably New Zealand included) provincialism is of paramount importance, deeds on the field, statistics and of course marketing and exposure of the player influences the “armchair” selector/coach. Throw in the usual sentiment and you have the popular XXII and never the starting XXII.
The inclusions are encouraging; Trevor Halstead, who produces one fine display after another since the start of the Super 12 in February has finally cracked the nod. The poor man had the indignity of the national coach implying that for SA to be competitive players like him is required in midfield, duh… if you’ve got the player you want to compare others to, why not select him? Also included is AJ Venter, an excellent performer over the Currie Cup and before being accused of Sharks bias, Toks van der Linde makes a welcome return to contention.
The squad, clearly indicated by Harry V. as not the begin and end all but only a platform, included a few shockers, no disrespect to the players but they did not exactly set the world alight this year, selections like Werner Swanepoel, Kleinjan Tromp and Louis Koen are unbelievable and before being accused of Lions’ apathy others like Friederich Lombaard, Wayne Julies, Marius Joubert hardly played any rugby. The rest of the names are the core of the Tri Nation squad and to become competitive, consistency in selection is required.
The old adage often used by many of us to describe a player’s loss of form is “form is temporary but class permanent”. Even more significant is politics and Rassie Erasmus’s glaring omission combined with the exclusion of another Cheetas player, Wylie Human disregards all concern for the formbook not to mention class. There are good reasons surely(?) but with the “communications” in such a tangle in the Springbok Business Unit who will ever know?
Ellis Park has a special feeling to it, even when it is only the Lions, rather than the mighty Springbokken, who trundle out of the tunnel onto its pitch before kick-off. While other local stadiums may claim to have been the setting over the years of as many epic encounters against foes from distant shores, Doornfontein's hallowed half hectare will forever be remembered as the venue of the country's greatest sporting triumph. Even now, 6 long seasons later, you will still, if you're lucky enough to mooch around the official lounges and suites, be able to enjoy the occasional lingering whiff of that famous victory. The walls are adorned with pictures and portraits of triumphant Pienaars and beaming Madibas from that glorious day, all of which overwhelm the parochial tributes to local stalwarts like Jannie Breedt and that occasional Transvaler, Uli Schmidt.
Through a combination of charm and bribery, I had managed to secure an exclusive media pass to see the Lions take on their upstart neighbours from Nelspruit. Luckily I arrived at the press box well before kick-off, which meant that I had ample time to rub shoulders with other media luminaries like Danie Gerber and Hannes Strydom, to savour a ubiquitous beef curry (compulsory graze whenever rugby men gather), as well as to force down a few stray polisie koffies (strictly for medicinal purposes, of course). As any journo hack will tell you between mouthfuls, these small perks make up for the long, grueling hours spent watching heroic deeds on the world’s far-flung sports pitches. Sheesh, it’s tough, man. Pass me the biltong.
With my belly full (albeit resting uneasily, after the unexpected chili onslaught) and my brain comfortably woozy as I stepped out into the afternoon sunshine, it was time to engage in a spot of “check out the locals”. This idle pastime proved to be an ideal build-up to the main game, as the slow service at the bar had meant that the curtain-raiser had already passed me by. Rubbernecking is a treat to be savoured at any place where crowds gather, and Ellis Park is no exception. In fact, the stadium, with its proximity to Bez Valley no doubt a key factor, offers a unique but tantalising blend of beauty and beast for prying eyes.
In my all-to-brief experience, the Newlands faithful tend to fit neatly into 3 vastly different categories of rugger aficionado: the rowdy, invariably half-dressed Ikey or Matie, scrounging for a dop and keen for a rawt after the game; the infamously boisterous but patriotic oke up on the terraces; and the unfailingly courteous old squire in his tweeds, who’s using the season ticket that he’s finally inherited from old uncle Oswald (RIP).
The make-up of the Kings Park crowd is equally disjointed: the shapely young lass in her tights and bikini, fresh from a stint of shopping with Mum at the Pav; the burly stevedore from Richards Bay who's traveled all the way down from Zululand in his 4x4, loaded up with a fishing rod, a Weber braai, boerewors and 24 Long-Toms; and the slick surfer-dude fresh from Vetch’s Pier, who's already mulling over his chances for a dose of slap ‘n tickle at Joe Kools tomorrow.
The Ellis Park smorgasbord, on the other hand, offers less variety but greater flavour to the discerning spotter. Of course, it doesn’t take an Edwil van Aarde to realise that the GLRU has not managed to create the chic, buzzing, sexy vibe that upstart coastal unions like WP or the Sharks now enjoy. Sadly, an afternoon of rugby at Ellis Park is not viewed generally by the locals as being an opportunity for wholesome fun for the whole family. But then they are mainly Nigerians and Rwandans with, ahem, more profitable ways to while away their time. This attitude is vastly different to that which prevails down at the coastal stadiums, where even a lowly Currie Cup match is seen as a chance to hang out with mates in the sunshine, warming up before that John Travolta impression on the dance floor later, or to wear that hot new purchase from DKNY (or whatever else blows your hair back, baby). An afternoon of rugby watching, Highveld-style, amounts to precisely that. Klaar.
Being a scornful Natalian, I had of course arrived with a pre-conceived idea, ingrained since birth, regarding the archetypal Ellis Park rugby supporter. Sadly, as I viewed the swinish multitudes wriggling through the stadium’s turnstiles, I couldn’t resist a muffled chortle of self-congratulation. Indeed, in my jaundiced eye, the spectators were invariably stout, gnarl-fingered, and gruff. And those were just the women. The men were equally fleshy, loud and abrasive, and I hadn't heard that much yelling and cursing since the days when Jan Wilkens donned his red underpants in anger.
At half time, a sudden pressure in my bladder compelled me to pay my respects to those old mates, Messrs Armitage and Shanks, and I soon found myself trudging along with the moustachioed hordes – equally grim faced – en route to our tiled place of salvation. As I brandished my weapon before the steely gaze of the urinal, mountain men in khakis and vellies loomed at either shoulder. I stared boldly at a smudge on the whitewashed walls. It was not a time to falter. Gnnnnnn. Nothing. Desperate for a diversion, I was about to ask one of my new neighbours if he enjoyed living in a caravan, when the valves suddenly opened up and, with the tears trickling down my cheeks, I gratefully resumed my inspection of the paintwork.
It ended up being a splendid day’s entertainment, and the rugby wasn’t bad either. The Lions, inspired by the occasional Gerber-esque flashes of brilliance of Gcobani Bobo, eventually ran in easy winners. I’m off to the Free State stadium this weekend, to find out if all those stories about farming hospitality are really true. I’m told that there’s a nice pub near the stadium to have a few frosties before the game. I’ve already got directions: it’s down the main road, 2nd left, opposite the café, next-door to the caravan park. You can’t miss it, bru.
"Purchase the Playbook" by Desmond Organ
As we approach the end of the South African domestic season, many of us look forward to tours to Europe. The Southern Hemisphere will once again display their skills at the end of another arduous season. New Zealand and South Africa travel with head coaches who are either new at the game or fast learning the realities of competition at this level. Australia embarks on a tour, which could well see them cement their superiority on the game, or establish that the gap has narrowed.
South Africa has certainly borrowed from Australia of late, weather it be in the form of coaches or playing techniques, one would hesitate to argue that they have ‘purchased the playbook’, but to many it would seem that they have. The underlying issue is that of professionalism in the game and the use of professional strategies from marketing the sport to actually competing on the day.
Several years ago, Australian sports administrators embarked on a journey. This has resulted in them now leading the Cricketing, Rugby League and Rugby Union worlds. It is only in cricket that Australia has a critical mass of players when compared to other nations. Yet they are at the top of the Rugby World. The answer simply is that they have made sport a very professional entity in their country and they have nurtured the talent at their disposal.
The new trend of a defensive pattern for Rugby Union has clearly come from Rugby League and in this area, teams like England and South Africa have made such tremendous progress. South Africa has never lacked the physical size of player or the raw aggression, but since utilizing an Australian defensive coach their record on defense has been impressive.
England’s coach Clive Woodward has also copied the Australians in the area of team selection and player development strategies. It is ironic to some that the current England stars like Wilkinson and others were on the tour several years ago where they took a battering. England are now touring with their second string team on a regular basis to expose players to a higher level of competition.
South Africa’s coach has recently said that he favours the development of long-term strategies for players and the development of second-string teams. This is not a revelation if we look at how Australia developed into world-beaters at two Rugby World Cup’s. Quite simply they are a professional outfit that looks at every aspect of playing the game.
Quite simply the challenge for some of the other nations that have reserves of natural talent is to get their act together professionally. France have in my opinion got more natural talent than any other Rugby playing nation, yet it is in their professional execution that they fail. Two of the teams with the greatest talent numbers also have the largest number of players selected in recent years and the most number of coaching changes. France and New Zealand have an abundance of talent and England and South Africa are close on their heals.
South Africa tops the list when it comes to the total number of Springbok caps awarded and the number of coaching changes in the last ten years. Some of this is as a result of political transformation and arrogance, but the balance is clearly the lack of a fully integrated professional approach to the game. There has been progress in many areas, particularly in the area of diversity, but to get to the next level will require the borrowing of a few more pages of the Professional Playbook.
Quotes (Commentating Bloopers)
It shows what a hot seat that number 9 jersey has been . Nigel Starmer-Smith
Paul Allott drying the wet ball which is a disadvantage in Lancashire's favour. Frank Hayes
You have to be fairly one dimensional when the crunch comes down. Australian Rugby Coach
I don't want to sit on the fence, but it could go either way. Maurice Banford
The Wigan defence allowed him two bites at the shot. Radio Manchester
A pressure kick for Andrew with Brown breathing down his throat. Nigel Starmer-Smith
That could have made it 10-3 and there's a subtle difference between that and 7-3. Bill Maclaren
He's like a needle in a haystack, this man 0 he's everywhere. Ray French
And there's Kenney, who at times looks almost like his double. Nigel Starmer-Smith
If you didn't know him, you wouldn't know who he was. Nigel Starmer-Smith
Dusty Hare kicked 19 of the 17 points. David Coleman
Of course they don't play to any sort of pattern and if you're not careful you will start playing to that pattern. Mike Davies
An easy kick for George Fairburn now but, as everybody knows, no kicks are easy. David Doyle-Davidson
Top 8 Currie Cup Log
Letters to the Editor
...And now for the Springbok SUPERteam! (In this perfect world there are no injuries!)
15. Percy Montgomery
14. Breyton Paulse
13. Adrian Jacobs
12. Robbie Fleck
11. Pieter Rossouw
10. Chris Rossouw [ / Braam van Straaten]
9. Craig Davidson [ / Joost van der Westhuizen]
8. Bob Skinstad
7. Joe van Niekerk
6. André Vos
5. Victor Matfield
4. Mark Andrews
3. Cobus Visagie
2. Lukas van Biljon
1. Toks van der Linde
Albert van den Berg
Joost van der Westhuizen
15, 14, 11: The WP back three have no peers on attack, as individual playmakers or as a combination. Each one an individual rugby genius with flair and deadly as a combination.
15: Monty lost a bit of confidence after being mucked about between flyhalf and fullback, and being given the kicking duties in tests. (Harry Viljoen, you've got to answer for this one!) If left to his natural game, only Christian Cullen in the same league. Also reserve flyhalf.
14: Breyton is the closest we will ever get to a country-wide unanimous selection. The best back in the world and would excel in all seven position from 9 to 15. Another reserve flyhalf.
11: Slaptjips has all the skills in the world as playmaker and defender, and has a knack for the unexpected. A few mistakes can be expected, but this is outweighed by his gamebreaker abilities. Lost some confidence after being tasked with being the primary playmaker in the 'Bok backline as a sort of extra flyhalf (Nick Mallett, you've got to answer for this one!), but left to his own devices he's a matchwinner.
13: Adrian Jacobs was the best centre in this year's Super-12 and only an untimely injury kept him out of the tests. An exciting runner and solid defender, he has a wonderful eye for a gap that is only matched by his centre partner.
12: Fleckie is the most dazzling runner in the game, with only Ireland's O'Driscoll in the same league. His absence from the New Zealand test encouraged the All Blacks to give their best performance of the season. As with the likes of Jonah Lomu and England's Martin Johnson, his pure presence on the field is intimidating for the opposition.
10 & 9: In cricket the captain and coach inspect the pitch before deciding on playing an extra spinner or seamer on the day. Rugby can learn from this. In perfect conditions I'll play Rossouw & Davidson, while on a soggy pitch or on a rainy day, I'll play Braam & Joost.
10: Kleintjips can get his backline moving and has to be watched by the opposition as well. He previously had two weaknesses: He dilly-dallied too long on the ball and his place-kicking was suspect; however, these seem to have been sorted out courtesy of Carel du Plessis and Braam van Straaten respectively. The rest of the "contenders", I'm afraid, is a sorry bunch.
9: Davidson not only looks like Joost but plays like a young Joost. He gets his backline away nicely and doesn't fling hospital passes. Joost's extraordinary talents can best be uitilised as an impact player later in the game.
8: The only ones in denial about the Captain's amazing abilities are testosterone-poisoned half-wits and their abused wives and children, who believe you gotta look like a Neanderthal to play rugby. [Happened a couple of decades ago with Morné du Plessis as well.] Everything he does - on attack, in defense, lineouts, etc. - turns to gold.
7: Along with Victor Matfield and Lukas van Biljon one of the finds of the season. Gives a new dimension to the loose trio combination.
6: I will be very surprised if Avos is not the rugby player of the year. The gentleman of SA rugby, he is also the one with the highest workrate. In the test in Australia he was the hardest-working player I've seen in a single match.
5: The new John Eales... only better all round the field.
4: The heart and soul of the Springbok tight five. There was a time when debates raged which is the better lock among Mark Andrews, John Eales and Ian Jones. Now only "big spender" remains in the international arena.
3: The cornerstone of the Springbok pack.
2: Besides Breyton, the 2nd closest to a country-wide unanimous selection.
1: Albert is the perfect complement to "Drieman" and the three will form the most formidable frontrow in the game. Bring on England and Argentina!
And now for the SUPER-DEE-DUPER World team!
15. Christian Cullen
14. Breyton Paulse
13. Brian O'Driscoll
12. Robbie Fleck
11. Jonah Lomu
10. Jonny Wilkinson
9. George Gregan
8. Bob Skinstad
7. Owen Finnegan
6. George Smith
5. Victor Matfield
4. Martin Johnson
3. Pieter de Villiers
2. Keith Wood
1. Tom Smith
COLIN VAN RENSBURG
Wat 'n fees van rugby sien ons die afgelope tyd. Dit is werklik aangenaam en 'n plesier om die verskeie spanne te sien speel. Ek sien uit na die volgende paar weke se wedstryde. My opinie is dat dit die WP, Haaie, Leeus en Cheetas gaan wees wat in die onderskeie halfeindstryde sal speel. Ek hoop net nie dat ek te parmantig met my voorspellings is, en een van die spanne val vas nie. 'n Mens weet nooit. Die rugbybal is maar onvoorspelbaar. Die Springbok keurders het na die Curriebeker toernooi glad geen verskoning om 'n swak span te kies nie. Die talent wat vir 'n uitsonderlike Springbokspan beskikbaar is, is letterlik soos appels aan 'n oorgroeide boom. Daar is 'n paar dinge wat hulle asseblief moet vergeet. Jy kies nie 'n span op reputasie en sentiment nie. Jy kyk verby provinsialisme en persoonlikheids verskille. Die spel is groter as die individu en die SARFU korporasie. Jy kies ook 'n speler wat wil speel en nie daar vir eie of geldelike gewin is nie. Ek het natuurlik soos 'n paar miljoen ander ondersteuners my voorkeure en afkeure maar ek hoop sir Harry en die SARFU korporasie het die afgelope tien maande geleer waar hulle met die Suid Afrikaanse rugbypubliek staan. Dit is nie 'n maklike "job" nie. "But if you want to run with the big dogs, you got to learn to P high".
Groete uit my losie.
NS. Wat vir 'n dierenaam vir die WP soos die robbe of walrusse? Vra maar net.
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