|Volume 1 - Week 41|
The festive season is upon us and it’s a natural time of the year to reflect back on the roller coaster year of 2001. Dominated by the most dastardly terrorist attack ever, a full scale war in Afghanistan, a crisis situation with the AIDS virus and many more horrifying events, a good or bad year in sport seem insignificant. Sport is however one of the few activities that allow people to forget their hardships for a moment and experience the joy of watching extraordinary talented people perform to the best of their ability.
The rugby year will certainly be remembered for a variety of reasons and looking back on the things that were done (to misquote the Backstreet Boys) events in 2001 will provide every rugby fan and Springbok supporter in particular with a fervent wish list for the New Year! The local season is best described by the title of the classic Clint Eastwood movie, "The good, the bad and the ugly" so lets take a look at what was good, bad and downright ugly in South African rugby for the year 2001.
The year marked one of the most successful Super 12 seasons for South African teams since 1996 with two teams, the Sharks and Cats reaching the semi-finals unfortunately playing against each other. The biggest success story was undoubtedly the Sharks after a bottom of the log finish in 2000, new coach Rudolf Straeuli rallied a young team to a 2000 Currie Cup final and a Super 12 final beginning his tenure with a slightly conservative but highly effective playing pattern. The Sharks managed a few good wins at home against eventual champions, the Brumbies, the Waratahs and a magnificent display against the Hurricanes but lost a vital game against the Cats. Overseas the going was good but the Sharks squandered a home final opportunity by losing to the Reds while employing a squad rotation system, it must be said they led the game for most of the time.
The Cats and Stormers produced a few outstanding performances throughout the competition notably the Stormers’ victory over the champions of the past three years, Canterbury in Cape Town. The performance was one of the best of any South African side seen in the competition but sadly a few close shaves in Australasia cost South Africa’s glamour side a place in the play-offs. The Cats, inspired by Johan Erasmus used their magnificent pack to dominate opposition and notch up a few impressive victories notably over the Crusaders in Christchurch.
The Sharks Cats semi-final was a good display of South Africa’s rugby strength and many a supporter felt that this was the year for bigger and better things to come. The Sharks outplayed the Cats on the day with a magnificent performance from Springbok flyhalf elect, Butch James. Travelling to Canberra a day after a semi-final is no easy task especially against a team as good as the Brumbies and the previous year’s bridesmaid eventually wore the crown with a Joe Roff inspired victory. The Super 12 proved to be a shining light but as far as international competition was concerned, the only light but for a sparkling victory over Australia in Pretoria.
The Springbok victory over Australia in Pretoria is so far the magnus opus of Harry Viljoen’s tenure as coach and he certainly can claim dominance over the country he admires so much. The Springboks in this match was more than good they were excellent but somehow the team only performed against Australia, maybe as proof that they were coached to only beat the Australians and none of the other superpowers?
The Currie Cup Top 8 followed a low-key beginning to the competition and finally supporters were treated to strength versus strength. The predictable superpowers with their Springboks present dominated the phase and once again there was some magnificent rugby played after a mediocre test match campaign. The surprise packages were the Cheetahs and the Falcons but the final once again was a repeat of the 2000 match between Natal and WP. Again, inspirational captain, Corne Krige lifted the famous trophy to become the first team since Teichman’s Sharks to record back to back victories. The top 8 again proved the ability of South African teams and their players and after the weak international season there was much more optimism for a great summer tour of Europe.
South African rugby on a provincial level had an excellent year and the encouraging signs are there, the players in their various provincial make-ups displayed skills and confidence in their respective game plans. The formulae are there and it does not take an Einstein to decipher. The year produced a few players who was a pleasure to watch, the list is not long and importantly they are mostly young, so here goes;
Victor Matfield – SA player of the year, who will ever forget his chip and gather to score against the Waratahs and his presence in lineouts are potentially match winning.
Lukas van Biljon – the best candidate in South Africa to take over James Small’s mantle as far as commitment to the Springbok cause is concerned and an excellent hooker.
Corne Krige – the best leader in South African rugby at the moment and his Currie Cup form and final man of the match performance for the Barbarians against the Wallabies threw some egg over national selectors’ faces.
Adrian Jacobs – undoubtedly talented and more exciting to watch than any other centre bar Robbie Fleck at his best. He also played in a losing team most of the Super 12 but managed to create and spark every backline he represented.
Special mentions: Braam van Straaten, Niel De Kock, Johannes Conradie, Friederich Lombaard, Johan Erasmus, Andre Vos, Gcobani Bobo, Deon Kayser, Charl van Rensburg, Warren Britz, Breyten Paulse, Daan Human, Chris Rossouw and Trevor Halstead.
South Africa has enormous talent and there is a large pool of very good players, what is needed is to lift them that one step further and make them superstars, the effort must come from two sides, the player and of course his coach.
After thinking and writing about the good it is difficult to comprehend how there was a bad in South African rugby and even more difficult to isolate the problem since we can only speculate on the whole truth but guaranteed, it will surface in a few years time in somebody’s biography (bet some money on it being Joost van der Westhuizen’s).
To the disgust and surprise of Springbok supporters their heroes were thoroughly outplayed in the first match against the French in the build up to the Tri Nations. The young team of “unknowns” out scrummed, out jumped and outplayed the Springboks and only a physical confrontation a week later saved the series, the cracks however began to show. Italy was lively as expected in the first half but once again the only memorable performance in this match came from Claire Johnston and her magnificent renditions of the anthems beforehand.
The preparation for the Tri Nations was not ideal and with true South African arrogance the thought of defeat was hardly contemplated against the French side in the first test. Accompanied with said arrogance is of course a very light tolerance of defeats especially where the sacred Springbok is concerned. The criticism mounted and coach Harry Viljoen began to feel the squeeze unlike anything he’s had in his life before. The match was regarded as a temporary hiccup but in retrospect it was clear to see that the Springboks contained certain frailties but yet there was plenty of optimism facing the All Blacks at Newlands, the first time SA began the Tri Nations at home.
The All Black’s, the most successful team in the Tri Nations travelled to Cape Town with the knowledge that this was the first year that no New Zealand team won the Super 12 let alone feature in the semi-finals. The All Blacks were there for the taking but bad kicking from Percy Montgommery and great New Zealand defence helped them to a victory that left a bitter taste in SA mouths. The feeling afterwards was that SA deserved a victory but for the selection of a reliable kicker, the loss was bad for the Springboks but it seemed to motivate them sufficiently to overpower the Australians in Pretoria a week later.
The away leg was highlighted by a draw over the Australians (even if it constitutes kissing your sister) but an All Black team high on guts and wary under pressure of losing to the Wallabies again, decimated the Springboks at Eden Park in another wet weather match. The Springboks again demonstrated a sad lack of tactical awareness and this was one of the lowlights of the year. The Tri Nations was lost and again SA managed to under perform in the competition, a small consolation was the Australian’s recapture of the trophy and the knowledge that SA was unbeaten against the champions.
The international season up until now was bad and the pressure on Harry Viljoen enormous however the continued talks and assurances of processes and building towards a goal of 2003 RWC pacified most supporters and critics. Everybody was lulled into the thought that it cannot possibly get worse. Surprise surprise… it did.
The ugly in SA rugby reared its head early in the Super 12 when the Cats played the Stormers in Cape Town, De Wet Barry tackled Japie Mulder, the craggy old warhorse when he seemed to receive the man and ball at the same time. What followed created one of the biggest outcries of the season, Mulder in a calculated and devastating way ignored or bought a Robbie Fleck dummy and crashed into Barry’s cheekbone with his forearm, fracturing the bone and causing a lengthy lay off for the young Springbok centre. A lot was said and written afterwards in the press, the fact remain this was a callous and ugly act from a supposed senior statesman of the game.
The other most talked about event(s) was the tackling or non-tackling of one Butch James. The young man played some sublime rugby during the year however his inability to use his arms bought out the long knives, remember the cry of Buddha Hanley “repeet offenda!” During the Super 12 he was fortunate to escape with only a talking to from the referees and the match against the Chiefs spring to mind but his debut season in the international arena was marred by a suspension and eventual castigation.
The ugly history of SA rugby and its way of treating its captains once again reared its head when Harry Viljoen followed in his predecessor’s footsteps by dumping Andre Vos for Bob Skinstad. Bob was fast approaching his best form during the final stages of the Super 12 and yet another coach opted for the talented playmaker above the hard working and much respected player. The choice seemed to be inspired as Bob scored a magnificent try against the Australians in Pretoria and his Afrikaans speech was a PR stroke of genius but as the international season resumed, the new captain copped a lot of flack for his playing performance, the strength of his captaincy and his tactical awareness.
The Springbok’s European tour can easily be described as the absolute low point of the year 2001 and one that put all supporters in doldrums. The fact that the Springboks lost the matches that mattered can be negated by the strength of the opposing sides after all it was two of the top 5 nations in rugby however, but and every objection worth raising, the way in which it happened was ugly.
Once again France proved to be the nemesis, apparently up the creek with loads of injuries and late withdrawals a virtual development side managed to play magnificent rugby to beat the Springboks and a week later the Wallabies. The Springboks were poor and absolutely plan less, personnel selected for the tour was not in shape and match selections were dubious to say the least. The obvious was bleeding obvious, there was very poor understanding of a game plan and definitely no grasp of execution and the team in a professional competitive environment bit the dust.
Italy proved a bit of a problem in the beginning but a victory over a foe regarded as second class was of little consolation to all Springbok fans watching their team struggle to play rugby. England, for one of the few times in the history of this fixture was labelled the favourites to win and proceeded to do so with scant respect for the history of a great rugby playing nation. The Springboks defended well and this helped them from receiving and even bigger thrashing. The Jonny Wilkinson inspired England effort announced a new order in world rugby and the Springboks were heading one way, down - like a punch drunk heavyweight champion.
The USA played an excellent match against their famous visitors a week later, by now a victory was paramount for the Springboks as some supporters were doubting their ability to beat a team outside of the top 10 in world rugby. The performance was better and there were positives but the Springboks managed to enhance their reputation as spoilers of the game with poor discipline.
The 2001 rugby year was an extremely “weird” year and for supporters the most frustrating in ages, the demands although strenuous are pretty simple, win the game. The expectation is, as we all know, unrealistic however there is a valid argument for sustaining and maintaining a certain standard of play and should one loose in the process it is a temporary setback against a better team on the day. The World Cup has been identified as the ultimate goal, the Everest however it is vitally important to preserve a winning and emergent culture within the game otherwise there is too much ground to cover in too short a time before and during the competition.
The reasons for the unhappiness and disenchantment are placed firmly in front of the coach’s door and with him SARFU. South African administrators are quick to forget that the national structure is made up of Administration, Operation and Support, the three functions as a whole and at this moment the challenge should be to unify the trinity and regain the support of the nation whom without the rest are nothing.
If the 2002 season is half as good and only half as bad as 2001 it could be the year where South African rugby returns to the fold, hard work, sweat, toil and tears it will cost but our history has proved that it can be done.
"2001: Harry's Space Odyssey" by Tom Marcellus
Phew. A tempestuous season has finally drawn to a close. It was another 10-month roller-coaster ride that promised so much, but, in the end, produced so little. The sassy self-made business guru, with his spiky hair and leather jacket, who offered fleeting inspiration with his references to "process" and "flair", is now well on his way to joining the ranks of all the other snake-oil peddlers. I hear that there is some knife-sharpening going on in the hazy boardrooms at Ellis Park, and this time it won't just be for the Xmas turkey.
Globally, the pecking order has been turned on its head. This has, at least, added some much-needed vigour to the international game. Amongst the traditional minnows, the Pumas ended their season in sparkling form, and Keith Woods' Crazy Gang over at Lansdowne Road played with truckloads of passion and commitment to beat England and France, and to give the All Blacks a big fright.
Hard-pressed local fans will at least have gained some ironic pleasure in the sudden but spectacular fall from grace of those jammiest of jammy bast*rds, the Wallabies, who flattered to deceive in their series triumph against the Lions and in their fortuitous victory in the Tri-Nations. Bereft of Eales and Macqueen, they finally came unstuck at the end of the season, with successive losses to England and France. With the form of some of their seasoned campaigners on the wane, the Wallabies seem to find themselves in a similar position to their South African counterparts: their new coach and skipper are surely now plagued by self-doubt, the old dogs appear grizzled and lethargic, and there are no obvious (and youthful) replacements to fill the boots of their aging heroes.
Despite their lucky 24-20 victory over Argentina recently, the All Blacks are beginning to show some of the muscled vigour of a few years ago. While this may be a glorious prospect to the average armchair rugger fan, to an out-and-out supporter of the Green 'n Gold like this humble correspondent, the mere hint of a resurgent team of rampaging Kiwis fills my heart with despair. That aside, the robust, direct style of their similarly rugged new coach seems to fit the All Black psyche perfectly. At Lansdowne Road, in the face of a fierce initial onslaught by Woods and his XV of Guinness-guzzling bezerkers, Mitchell's side showed magnificent composure to eventually run out comprehensive victors.
These are indeed dark days for SA rugby. In an earlier article this year, I described how I thought that the Boks were "rudderless on the high seas". Now, 4 months down the line, things seem only to have got worse. At least Lukas van Biljon has stood out as a genuine world-class prospect who, for the most part, barged and bullocked his way into the public eye. And while there is no doubt that our tight five can match any team on their day, the lack of true international-class try-scorers out wide must be a source of massive concern to the Bok brains trust. Oxwagon-loads of flyhalves, centres and wings have danced and jigged under the light of the microscope, but almost all of Harry's lab rats have fallen short in the rough 'n tumble world of international competition. Sadly, many an accomplished provincial player has been found wanting on the global stage.
Unfortunately, such is the overriding importance of the success of the Springboks to so many South Africans, that 2001 – a most lamentable season – cannot simply be shrugged off as a bit of a lark, a frolic and detour, and better luck next year. No. History shows that the Springboks are not some common-or-garden sporting team that ought to be grateful for the odd moment of glory, only to be struck down shortly afterwards by the fickle finger of fate. These are the glorious Het Springbokken, by Gad, the present-day torchbearers of such legends of the game as Craven, Louw, Muller and Du Preez!
Humph. So much for history.
Sadly, it took the Springboks generations of almost unbroken triumph to create the aura of apparent invincibility that surrounded the little leaping antelope until about 1992. Since then, the 1995 World Cup triumph has been the only beacon (and how brightly it shone!) in a dark and gloomy night, as wave after wave of opponents has succeeded in taking a wrecking-ball to this much-vaunted reputation.
I am tempted to argue that rugby is just a game, a welcome distraction amidst the hurly-burly of modern life. But that would be impossible – certainly in this neck of the woods, my china. But, as we are cautioned by that that well-known rugger fan, Miss Scarlet O'Hara, "Afterall, môre is nog 'n dag". Who knows what teenaged stripling of the Free State soil or budding warrior of the Zulu hinterland is awaiting his summons to arms.
In the meanwhile, a strong dose of Xmas over-indulgence, followed by some late-night cricket Down-Under and occasional bouts of summer sunshine is what is needed, methinks.
After that, as always, it's onwards to glory! Trust me….
2002 Super 12 Fixtures
As a passionate Bok supporter in another part of Africa, I was denied much chance to view them at all during the apartheid days, because of sporting boycotts. But after that ended, for the whole of the 90's I watched a team who had a sure and purposeful pattern of national play. Call it "Springbok Style" -- it was very physical, exceptionally good basics, superb defence, meat-mangling fowards and quicksilver counter-attacking backs. It worked. One could watch games and know what the Boks would do next, because it was the right thing for them ( not neccessarily for a French team, or other nationality) and their strengths. They punished you and then they struck, they strangled you and then they bit....as if they were a combination of a massive Cape Python and a Cobra, all rolled into one. Not many teams could stop it.
In the past 18 months it has been very hard to keep alive a desire to watch the Boks. Because they are the most directionless team in international rugby, utterly lacking in a style, a collective purpose and revelling in confusion and inepitude that can only stem from players having lost their souls somewhere...probably to the inept Viljoen "gameplans" that require them to play one week as the French, the next as Australians, then become "English" for a match or two and so on.
What are the Boks going to do from game to game, even play to play? I have no clue and does anyone watching have one either? In the course of a game they can spend 10 minutes running around like the Brumbies, followed by 10 minutes as the "Fumblies", followed by the next 10 as playing a ten man game. They are utterly and totally without substance or style. And this is why suddenly, some of the best rugby players in the world are knocking on and committing idiotic basic errors...they are wandering in a rugby wilderness, nervous and unsure - and it shows.
Meanwhile their executive SARFU stabs the players in the back offering absurd racial "transformation" incentives to the Unions which translate to this: current players knowing they will eventually be sold out by their own unions and management based on not their skills, but their skin colour - nowhere even in apartheid times was so utterly demoralizing and discriminatory a policy ever devised. I realise South Africans are probably not allowed to say that as Big Brother watches, but East Africans perhaps can.
Let me speak my honest worry going into the Test against the USA. I wondered if the Boks would lose, because they have been so hopeless on this tour, the chance was there. Heresy? Actually, I thought the Eagles played often far better and more direct rugby than the Boks. Pinch me..am I dreaming or did I just say that? Very soon, the Boks can expect to take a loss to a third ranked rugby nation and I would certainly bet on Argentina to beat them right now, and probably Ireland too. Funny, those two teams seem to have the look of purpose and pride about them.
Lets just face the facts: South Africa will not make the RWC semi-finals, under the current SARFU/Viljoen set-up (apparently graven in stone and unchangeable...imagine SARFU declaring Viljoen will not be fired before the World Cup! There's incentive for you) The only glimmer of hope between now and 2003 is radical action. SA Rugby is a political game, so don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.
Peter V. Giraudo
After watching the once mighty Boks battle to beat a bunch of part time amateurs I can be silent no longer .The world cup is less than two years away and we are going backwards at an alarming rate. Harry thinks you can run the Boks like a business, rugby is not a business .It is a game of passion and emotion and needs to be played like that within an organized structure to inspire the individual moments of brilliance that keep us the fans coming back again and again. Under Harry we have become completely stereotyped and predictable .Our opposition no longer fear and respect us because they have analyzed what boring predictable game plan we are going to follow and they know how to counter it .Harry talks about a process about building a team for 2003 that will lift the world cup .Instead he picks a different team every week not knowing what he wants . How can the players have the confidence to try something different and inspirational when they don't know if their place is safe in the team? When Nick Mallets Bok team of 98 went on their world beating 17 match run, there was consistancey of selection the players knew that if they tried something and it went wrong they wouldn't be punished for it .The coach believed in them and there places were safe nomatter what. In This environment the players flourished they grew in confidence game bye game. They developed confidence in themselves and their own individual abilities and as a result they tried things on the field that if they were under pressure they might not have. If Harry was truly the inspirational coach that only SARFU believes he is he would have learnt from Mallet. When Mallet dropped his consistency of selection policy, the Boks started loosing because the players lost confidence in themselves and trust in the coach and as a result they retreated back to a safety first type mindset .The game became stereotyped and we lost a great coach.
Harry claims that our provincial set up is floored and that there are no good defensive systems in place so our players loose the ability to penetrate a proper organized defense . What he conveniently forgets is that for the first time ever we had two teams in the semis of the super twelve this year with the sharks making the final .No matter what Harry claims, you don't get that far in the hardest provincial tournament in the world without an organized structured defense .The reason we cant penetrate is simply because he picks a back line that doesn't have the ability to penetrate .I believe the problem all starts at flyhalf where we clearly need to pick a flyhalf with the ability to get us going forward and to put players into holes. Louis Koen was never going to be able to do that for us and as far as I can see the only flyhalf in the country that truly has all these attributes is Gaffie Dutiot. Gaffie has matured as a player and has the vision, the creativity and the skills we need to get the world cup .The other name on everybody's lips is Cris Rossouw but Gaffie was clearly better than him in both their head to head encounters this season .We need an inside center that can run straight and straighten the line and Trevour Halstead gives us this, he is strong in the tackle often sucking more than one defender on to him, which frees up space for other players to run into. I believe at outside center we need a creative player that will take chances and in the interest of transformation maybe we need to give a guy like Adrian Jacobs a go in a position that he can express himself. At left wing we need Id go with Dean Hall purely because there is nobody else. Hall has still got to prove that he can run around players as any good international wing can do and until he does this he wont be a truly class wing. At right wing I'm going back to the transformation process and going for a Wylie Human. He did enough for me in the Currie cup to prove himself as a merit selection. Conrad Jantjies has proven to be a one match wonder and its time for him to go. I would move Breyton Paulse to full back where I believe he would be devastating due to his elusive penetrating running. Whith this back line I believe we will be able to penetrate any defense in the world as it is full of creative skillful players.
My full team is
15 BREYTON PAULSE
14 WYLIE HUMAN
13 ADRIAN JACOBS
12 TREVOUR HALSTEAD
11 DEAN HALL
10 GAFFIE DUTIOT
9 DEON DECOCK
8 BOB SKINSTAD/RASSIE ERASMUS (DEPENDING ON WEATHER CONDITIONS)
6 ANDRE VOS (CAPT )
5 AJ VENTER
4 VICTOR MATFIELD
3 COBUS VISAGIE
2 LUCAS VAN BILJON
1 WILLIE MEYER /OLLIE LEROUX
16 JOHN SMIT
20 CRAIG DAVIDSON
21 CRIS R0SSOUW
22 CORNE KRIGE
I believe that this side is our future and that given an extended run will prove to be world beaters at the next world cup. All is not lost we need to use the negatives from this season and build them into positives next season. Everything happens in cycles and we are at the lowest ebb of our cycle now .If we put the right structures in place we can still come out on top we have a proud rugby heritage that wont lie down and die easily, and through hard work and passion we will rise to the top again.
In conclusion I want to say to Harry, in any good business when things aren't going well whose head is first to role .Its time you get real with yourself and everybody else and admit you are out of your depth .A nations honor is at stake do us all a favour and go quietly before its to late.
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