Editors Note


Volume 2, Week 17

Editors Note

Brilliant!    Finally the Super 12 has come to an end, after 14 weeks of rugby hibernation and watching almost every match I dare say a break will be welcome! Congratulations to the new Super 12 champions, the Crusaders! A bit of humble pie first – I touted the Brumbies to walk away with their second title but the men from Canterbury outclassed the Australians to win for the fourth time the premier provincial competition in world rugby. 

The final was a rather grand affair and the Crusaders on their horses thundering around the stadium with that ominous music is a very intimidating feature to all visiting teams. The weather unfortunately was not the best however as a keen follower of New Zealand rugby it was a quintessential Kiwi rugby day. The rugby was of a very high standard as expected in any final and Andre Watson performed a marvelous job in making it an enjoyable match for both teams and the crowd.

The Crusaders was definitely the better outfit, their record speaks for itself however the Brumbies’ tactics were very naïve and they did not settle into their normal game plan. Easier said than done of course, the gargantuan defence of the Crusaders broke down their every move and the possession stakes were ludicrously unbalanced. I don’t know who won the toss but in the weather conditions the Crusaders had the better draw playing into a strong wind in the first half. In the end it was the tactical genius of Mehrtens and the efforts of Jack and McCaw that proved the difference and the Kiwis reclaimed the trophy they fairly assumed was theirs from year one.

It was indeed a good rugby weekend for New Zealand, the Super 12 trophy was wrapped up, the Women’s RWC was won and they claimed the London’s Sevens tournament with a win over the Springboks in the final. Ominous signs for the future? On the topic of New Zealand rugby, their squad announcement confounded many an aficionado, the inclusion of Jonah Lomu for all his mighty deeds in the past is questionable. In a country blessed with great wings his inclusion is a bit of a mystery as the big man was no t in great form during the season or in the famous hoops of the Baa-Baas. Is John Mitchell preparing for a potential quarterfinal meeting in next year’s RWC with England? We all know what Jonah did in ’95!! Watch it Mike Catt!

The Springboks are conducting a training camp in relative anonymity and even the sport pages are leaving them alone with no small thanks to the Football World Cup. This splendid sporting occasion is dominating the headlines and this might just be a blessing in disguise, Rudolf Straeuli will want nothing more than to get on with the job with the least amount of fuss available. Fuss is created by expectation, which in turn is fuelled by the media. 

The next week or so will be a quiet slumber before the international season kicks off in all earnest. As most of the top teams will be in action these test matches are vital in the preparation of next year’s world cup and in creating momentum and that winning feeling. 

Enjoy the quiet weeks and stock up on the BBP (Beers, Biltong and Pride).



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In the presence of 'Ga' by Tom Marcellus
On the weekend, a number of friends and I were discussing over bottles of wickedly potent Boksburg chardonnay the celebrities whom we'd most like to meet. Most of those assembled went for rather sentimental and predictable luminaries of the global stage like Madiba, the Pope and Steven Hawking, choices that I dismissed as being pseudo-intellectual at best. One young blonde amongst us even plumped for Mother Theresa, until we pointed out to the glassy-eyed creature that the Good Mother had moved o n to more heavenly pastures almost 5 years ago.

As I mulled over things, careful to swirl my wine anti-clockwise, I found it difficult to confine myself to one choice. Even so, I avoided like the plague all the pointy-headed intellectuals offered by my fellow revelers, and must confess that all my candidates had fooled around with a ball of some or other shape. Rugby heroes loomed predictably large, amongst them Meads, Du Preez, Edwards, Rives and Mordt, with a smattering of other riff-raff sportsmen like Sobers, Borg and Botham.

While some of the good folk waxed lyrical about the charms of a motley collection of statesmen, politicians, mathematicians, poets and writers ("So how about that fatwa, Salman?"), my own interest would lie in trying to get into the heads of these great sportsmen, to find out what drove them to success and enabled them to rise above their peers in the pressure cooker environment that is modern day sport.

As luck would have it, I had the opportunity to meet with one of my great heroes a mere 3 short weeks ago, when my boss generously sponsored me a ticket to a charity dinner in aid of the Johannesburg Hospice. The guest of honour was that "bison of scrumhalves" (as Bill McLaren called him), Gareth Edwards, he of Wales, British Lions and (lest we forget) Barbarians fame.

It is common knowledge that Edwards is regarded by many aficionados, especially those living within sight of Carnarvon Castle, to be the greatest player of all time (although rugger fans from more southern climes are likely to dispute such generous praise). We can save that debate for another day, but it is surely beyond dispute that "Ga" was the greatest scrumhalf of all time. Certainly, his stats are remarkable: between 1967 and 1978 he made 53 consecutive appearances in the red jersey of Wales , with 13 as captain; he played in 3 Grand Slam- and 5 Triple Crown-winning Welsh sides, scoring 20 tries for the Red Dragons; and he also went on 3 British Lions tours, including the epic trips to New Zealand in 1971 and SA in 1974.

At a time when British rugby ruled the world (grrrr, that hurt), Edwards was very much its all-action, bullocking hub. But of all his heroic deeds and wonderful successes, perhaps the most remembered is "That Try", which is arguably the greatest, and indisputably the most famous, try of all time. Wearing the grand old black 'n white hoops of the Baa-Baas against the All Blacks at Twickers, and donning a set of whiskers that Harry Flashman himself would have been proud of (but then it was 1973), E dwards, showing a turn of speed that befits a former All England Schools' 400m hurdles champion, appeared suddenly, almost out of nowhere, to take the final pass, round the floundering Kiwi defence, and score a glorious, but nevertheless critical, try in the corner for his side.

I have never been one to shy away when celebrity flesh is to be pressed, whether it be Adrian Garvey returning to SA from his honeymoon from Mauritius or Amanda Coetzer shortly after her defeat at Wimbledon. But, on finding myself in the presence of "Ga" 3 weeks ago, things didn't go so smoothly.

The assembled masses had been entertained in regal fashion by this remarkable man, who throughout was self-effacing, humorous, generous and articulate – a genuine superstar. As I hovered around his table afterwards, awaiting an autograph or whatever scraps of conversation he was willing to share, I could not help but think of that line that went something like "Great men are truly humble, humble men are truly great". Despite the fact that he had risen to the very pinnacle of rugby, having vanquis hed the All Blacks and the Springboks on their own turf, and having played a stellar role in arguably the greatest XV of all time (the Lions of '71), here he stood in front of me, all smiles and puckish humour, sharing chit-chat and rugby anecdotes with anyone who felt like a jolly chin-wag.

When it comes to trying to point out the 5 or 6 truly great rugby players of all time, I have an unexplained bias towards the lumbering, mono-syllabled wooly mammoths that the southern hemisphere countries have churned out with such regularity – whether it is the grizzled, looming figure of the Pine Tree himself, the swashbuckling Du Preez, or the indestructible Muller or Tremain.

But, as I stumbled back to my table in reflective silence, gripping my menu in a clammy hand, I could not help but acknowledge the genius of a man whose greatness (unlike that of most mumbling rugger men) went way beyond his on-field deeds of heroism.

Gnarled forwards will always have their backers, but who amongst them can compete with the all-round genius of the stocky little Welshman from Gwaun-cae-Gurwen?

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2002 Super 12 Review by Mark Foster
The 2002 Super 12 has completed its course and the 7th edition of this wonderful competition provided a few telling answers to all people concerned with the game of rugby. The following is a short analysis of the competition:

i) The Competition Format

The old debate regarding an expansion of the competition to include 14 teams appeared yet again before this year’s competition. The Australians, supported by South Africa want to use the Super 12 to develop the code in a country dominated by the unique AFL (Ausie Rules) and ARL (League). New Zealand utilised their veto power and the Super 12 will remain exactly that.

Is there a case for a Super 14? The rudderless play and results of a team like the Bulls make it abundantly clear that in South Africa’s case it will be very difficult to provide a competitive 5th team. The recent slump of the Bulls was not foreseen as a problem when the regions were formed and combining two very strong provinces for the Cats was seen as the creation of a “super power” and admitted they did well under Mains but so will Koekenaab’s first team, such is the quality of his coaching. The current structures and inherent provincialism in SA rugby make teams like the Bulls and Cats a very difficult prospect to succeed. SA should concentrate to get their existing franchises up to speed first before even contemplating an extra team.

Australia, as the world champions and 2001 Super 12 champions make a strong case for the inclusion of another team. This was further vindicated by the presence of two Australian teams in the semi-finals, for the second year running. The Waratahs and the Brumbies however provided an all-important insight into the true depth of their rugby, when Bob Dwyer fielded a “second” team against the eventual champions they were hammered with the biggest score ever in the comp. The Brumbies lost four matches in succession and this came at a point when there were a few injuries. For a 4th Australian team to succeed they will have to dilute their experience that means the current strong teams will lose a few of their stars or a brand new team with no experience, arguably a coach with very little experience and that is a Bulls recipe for disaster. 

The only change worth contending is dropping the fifth Kiwi franchise and replace it with a fourth team from Australia. Four teams from each country would level the playing fields but probably favour South Africa and New Zealand, realistically it does not make sense to drop the weakest Kiwi team, the Chiefs when they are better than 3 of South Africa’s franchises! 

ii) The Administrators

SANZAR, the ruling body created once again a very efficient competition and after six years of experience it becomes easier and better.

One of the problems of last year, the so-called “bringing the game to the people” theory was addressed and home teams like the Stormers for instance enjoyed the true “home advantage” of playing all their matches at Newlands. The Cats are split between Bloemfontein and Johannesburg with neither stadium attracting any real crowds and this is another grave problem facing the men in charge – how to attract the spectators to the stadiums.

For South African administrators the challenge is not a marketing one – expensive advertisements were shot of the Bulls flying in jets and their campaign promised everyone a better and great season, well we know what happened there! The challenge is, to restore a winning culture and earn the respect of their customers by actually winning matches and more importantly trophies. Ditto for the Cats and the Sharks but less so for the Stormers who continue to attract massive crowd attendances in Cape Town.

The Administrators also failed dismally in the case of the Cats and the Bulls to appoint coaches who are competent at the level requested, they will have learnt from this experience (the coaches) but yet another year is “lost” where South African rugby is not going forward towards a common goal.

iii) The Referees

The poor fellows came in for some serious stick this year and some dubious TMO or third match officials influenced the outcomes of certain matches. On the whole the standard is improving and the better referees are the ones with more experience and who are professional. The young ones unfortunately need to gain this experience and they need to be active every weekend to hone their handling of match situations.

A big influence nowadays is the referee’s character and personality; they are constantly tested by 30 professional rugby players who shout their interpretations, views and opinions during play. Needless to say, when you are involved in a fast paced rugby of Super 12 standard, George Gregan is providing a constant stream of advice, coupled with every other man and his dog it takes a steely nerve to control a game and make the correct decisions.

The referee has a thankless job but the importance and impact cannot be ignored and at the end of the day they play a vital role in proceedings, as long as they do not play the role!

The best referees this year were Andre Watson who had a magnificent final, Paddy O’Brien for his consistence and willingness to play advantage and Jonathan Kaplan who is a very dynamic referee. The worst, well, lets not go there!

iv) Basic skills

The basic skills are supposed to improve year after year especially in a competition where the weather is fine 80% of the time. Only NZ provide a challenge with some snow and rain and this is probably why the men from the Land of the Silver Fern boast the best all round skills.
Take nothing away from the Australians, they are known for their high skill levels and this sets them apart from traditionally stronger countries but after last year’s disappointment and the appointment of John Mitchell, the Kiwis worked very hard on their skills.

Contrary to this the South African teams looked under coached, again the Bulls and the Cats were guilty and their basic skill levels were not up to the standard of the competition. The defence, probably the most integral factor in any match was non-existent and sometimes the players are not to blame for when and where, how, they should be able to do since the first day they started playing. 

Basic skills are the requirements of the game, without which you cannot play. As soon as players and coaches realise this simple philosophy results will turn for the better.

v) Set phases

The most problematic area in the competition was the lineouts, the two finalists were the most effective in this department and thrived on poaching opposition ball and launching attacks from deep. The major culprits were the hookers and their inability to throw an oval ball consistently straight over a fifteen meter distance, why? How many hookers are truly hookers? Strange question? No, most of the gentlemen are converted flanks and props, in other words they have not played their rugby at hooker al l their life. It is difficult to believe how coaches could place their trust in incompetent players for one of the most crucial aspects of the modern game.

The scrum was a well-contested phase in this year’s competition and the better units reigned supreme over the huge packs fielded per occasion. Apart from a few matches where forwards refused to settle, admittedly the referees had something to do with it (Paul Honiss) the scrums were solid and the battle ground for dominance as the Canterbury pack so aptly displayed.

The re-starts was a bit of a gamble and hats off to the IRB for outlawing the high tees, the reluctance of the big men to jump in the air can be placed squarely on the threat of having your feet taken from underneath while high up in the air. Who can blame locks for waiting until the last moment to make an attempt and hopefully remain uninjured in the process? A few teams successfully employed fast wings to pressurise this phase.

vi) Broken play

The battlefield of the loose forwards, the psychotic flankers who aim to be at the breakdown first and create valuable turnover ball also to halt opposition attacks and initiate counter attacks. Broken play, theoretically should take up most of the time in a match and if this part of the game is mastered the team dominating the succession of phases will obviously be in the position to score the most tries. The Crusaders did show though that with good mauling and counter shoving momentum the likes of a George Smith and Corne Krige can be negated while their own McCaw cause havoc.

vii) Foul play

A major issue in 2001, foul play was less prominent in this year’s competition, the professional rugby players earn their living from playing (most are incentives) so it does not make sense to forfeit your income mostly due to stupidity. The competition was relatively clean and compared to the previous year down right virginal!

viii) Coaches

Once again most of the coaches were new to the job, all the South African franchises had brand new coaches, 3 in the bottom 3… coincidence? I think not! 

The coach is the most important member of a huge group of people that make a Super 12 team work. If he is still learning the ropes it is that much more difficult a job to perform. Robbie Deans proved his worth and his team’s faultless performance is as much testimony to his excellent coaching skills as it is to the wonderful array of players gathered in Canterbury. 

Few will argue that the Brumbies under Jones was a magnificent team comprised of excellent individuals moulded into superb combinations. Under Nucifora the Brumbies looked more mortal al be it with 90% of the same team of last year.

Experience and basic skills are cited as necessary skills for a good rugby player – it is the same for a good coach.

ix) Players

Finally, the reason we have a competition and the heroes who put their bodies on the line week in and week out. Let us look at the best of the best per position;

No 15

The fullback is a vital member of the team in modern rugby and often the spark of the counter attacking efforts. He needs to display excellent tactical awareness and of course be the last bastion in defence. Three players had a very good year, Percy Montgomery from the Stormers performed consistently well for the first time in his career, Leon MacDonald is a strong runner and the type of player you feel comfortable with at the back but the outstanding no 15 of the competition was Chris Latham. His po sitional play was faultless and his attack, match winningly devastating.

No 14 

The wing berth is a difficult choice each year as there are so many contenders, guys who score great tries, finishers in the true sense of the word. Roger Randle is probably the best finisher in the business, Ben Tune had an injury free season and showed glimpses of the brilliance but the player who was outstanding and deserves a place in any world team for his creative genius, finishing ability and consistency in selecting the right option – Jeff Wilson.

No 13

The outside centre position saw a bit of a mixed battle of form, certain players were good at times, Tana Umaga, Dan Herbert and Marius Joubert, some were very consistent throughout the competition like Ryan Nicholas and the Crusaders’ Robinson. The best player however was Stirling Mortlock with his magnificent line breaking ability he always ensured forward momentum for the Brumbies backline.

No 12

Last year the inside centre’s varied in style but the bone crunching hard men like Japie Mulder are slowly making way for intelligent decision makers with excellent vision and distribution skills. More often than not these guys are the vital decision makers. Consistent players were Nathan Mauger, Paul Steinmetz, De Wet Barry and Nathan Grey but few will argue the massive influence of Aaron Mauger and his match winning abilities for the Crusaders. He is a very, very good player.

No 11

Joe Roff vacated this position with his sabbatical in France, other players as usual stepped into the void, Jonah Lomu is no longer the massive threat of old and Wendell Sailor needs a lot of experience. Pieter Rossouw was excellent and scored some brilliant tries for the Stormers and in his last season was perhaps at his best.

No 10

The year of Andrew Mehrtens, the All Black stand off had a disappointing year last year with injuries and poor form, this year saw an improved combative player whose match winning ability is beyond reproach. Stephen Larkham was his usual mercurial self but his influence was a bit subdued compare to last year.

No 9

The competition was fierce in this highly competitive position, Byron Kelleher was excellent though his attitude needs improving, Justin Marshall was very active and newcomer Johannes Conradie a revelation but the best is undeniably George Gregan, there are few better rugby players in the world than the Australian captain. 

No 8

Most of the top eigthmen were injured in this year’s competition Kefu was solid as always and Scot Robertson performed well behind a dominant pack. Andre Vos in his last few matches displayed great class but the player that impressed the most was young David Lyons of the Waratahs, he had a magnificent season.

No 7

The “fetcher” role is one of the most important in modern rugby and currently there are great exponents of the game playing in the Super 12. George Smith was better looked after, Corne Krige was the lionheart personified and Warren Britz performed well but the player who combined the tough duties upfront and carried the ball, providing a link between forwards and backs was Richard McCaw from the Crusaders.

No 6

The compliment to the “fetcher” is often less noticed for his efforts, a few players impressed like Hendrik Gerber and Troy Flavell but two stood out, Owen Finnegan and Reuben Thorne. By his own standards, Owen Finnegan was not as dominant as last year and was overshadowed in the final but to take on the world, none better than the big Brumbie to make the hard yards.

No 5

The tough man in the pack, there were a few good locks in the competition like Dion Waller, Simon Maling, Norm Maxwell and Hottie Louw but the presence of Jack in the no 4 jumper forces his main rival to this position, Justin Harrison. 

No 4

There were a few good performances notably from Victor Matfield in the latter stages but locks are very difficult to notice except our man Chris Jack – he had an outstanding season and his performance in the final capped a wonderful competition for the All Black.

No 3

The tough men up front, who knows what they get up to? The most consistent performers were Willie Meyer and Greg Somerville, Cobus Visagie disappointed and lost his place to Faan Rautenbach, a promising player but Somerville with his higher work rate away from the scrums is the better choice.

No 2

A few players contended for this vital position but with many injuries too players like Smit, van Biljon and Oliver it was a shoo in for the Australian, Jeremy Paul.

No 1

The loose head position goes to Bill Young, nobody really threatened the Brumbie forward’s dominance in his position although Karl Hoeft played well and the Stormer’s Daan Human made an impact in his first season.

Rugby Forum Super 12 XV

15. Chris Latham (Reds)
14. Jeff Wilson (Highlanders)
13. Stirling Mortlock (Brumbies)
12. Aaron Mauger (Crusaders)
11. Pieter Rossouw (Stormers)
10. Andrew Mehrtens (Crusaders)
9. George Gregan (captain) (Brumbies)
8. David Lyons (Waratahs)
7. Richard McCaw (Crusaders)
6. Owen Finnegan (Brumbies)
5. Justin Harrison (Brumbies)
4. Chris Jack (Crusaders)
3. Greg Somerville (Crusaders)
2. Jeremy Paul (Brumbies)
1. Bill Young (Brumbies)

The player of the tournament is a difficult choice, there were some outstanding performances from many players and a shortlist will probably be Chris Latham, Chris Jack, Andrew Mehrtens, Aaron Mauger, Pieter Rossouw but the man worthy of the award is Richard McCaw – the brilliant young Crusaders loose-forward in his first Super 12 season.

x) Conclusion

The Super 12, 2002 edition once again proved to be the best competition in the world, it was dominated by three teams, the Crusaders – unbeaten and champions, the Waratahs who played magnificent rugby throughout the competition before they ran into the brick wall and the Brumbies. The finalists were the two best teams of the year and even though the score line reflected an easy win for the Crusaders they fought very hard for the deserved crown.
The Super 12 remains a fascinating and worthwhile competition with a long and secured future, the best of the best in the Southern Hemisphere.

On Rudolf Straeuli - He knows that is what it takes to be successful in Test rugby.      Ollie Le Roux

History shows there is no correlation between Super 12 form and what happens in the international program. Robbie Deans

The two things you can't give anybody in this game are bravery and enthusiasm.      Unknown

Explaining the Irish links of Hika Reid, former London Irish coach - His grandfather once went out with a Polish girl whose uncle once saw Mike Gibson play.    London Irish RFC program note, 1993

Letters to the Editor (letters@rugbyforum.co.za)
Dear Ed

After reading Tom story I was once again amazed to read the part about Andre Pretorius and the worrying factor about his goal-kicking, last year we had one of the greatest goal-kickers seen in a long time in our own country not only that he could tackle as well, what did we typical South African idiots do but say sorry he is not good enough as he cannot create openings. 

Braam has gone to richer pastures now we are contemplating not having a goal-kicker. Guess where we are going to lose matches this year, not through our forwards, not even through our backs but through a person who cannot slot match winning kickers from the halfway line right through to the 25 drop out. I am positive myself over the make-up of the team but would put a suggestion through and by asking Straeuli to keep Louis Koen happy and rich, just in case history repeats itself as it did in last years first and second test against France. As a follower of rugby I have not seen anybody else reliable for the job and Louis does have test match experience. 

Straeuli and the Sharks downfall in the past barring Joel Stransky in the latter part of the 90's and so far including the 00's has been a lack of a reliable goal-kicker.

Keep up the great work gentlemen always a pleasure to read this forum.


Dear Ed

Please tell me what it is I and the general public are missing. What is it about Mr Skinstad that makes him so desirable to have in the national squad?

I have very seldom seen this flare of brilliance that all the coaches seem to see. One or two great moves does not make a certain place in the bok side! Grief even Ollie has scored as many try's and he isn't always the first on the field.

The bantering around of the captaincy between Corne' and Bobbie fails to make any sense what so ever. The man has been out of form for, what? Two years now? I was surprised at his inclusion to the trials but shocked at his selection over Sowerby. How could Rudolf even have come to that conclusion? Captaincy ? what a disaster!!! Rudolf is trying to install respect for the green and gold, the pride of a nation!

What behind the seams clandestine conspiracy could be taking place? Does any one out there have any ideas or am I just an uninformed, ignorant spectator with little or no knowledge of the game of the god's?

James Sleigh
James, an interesting conundrum the Bob Skinstad question - my views on Bob: 

At his best he was one of the most gifted players I've ever seen live, he is nowhere near his phenomenal 1998 form and trust me will never get back there. The game has changed too much, defences are tighter and the patterns are different. He does however present a different dimension when fit and he is the best offloader in the tackle than anybody in the Springbok team, fit or unfit.

He does not deserve to be selected on current form but he is the Springbok skipper and should receive the due respect, somebody wrote this on the SA Rugby news and discussion group (see above),

"Skinstad? Doc Craven's words when the incumbent Bok captain Wynand Claassen was selected for the B side at the trials come to mind - 'You don't treat a Springbok captain like that.' Nelie Smith was fired for that. Claassen is now a selector, maybe he remembered. Still tough on Sowerby, though."

I agree with this view and Rudolf Straeuli advocated a return to traditional values, Mr Mallett perished when he stuffed around with captaincy (although not the real reason!), so did Mr Viljoen (also not the real reason!) - if Rudolf Straeuli is a slight bit superstitious he will not be that "stupid" to  make the same mistake, I hope!     Ed.

Hi Ed,

I have looked at the selections made over the last view years and noticed something quite interesting. Everyone usually talks about players to be unlucky not to make the final total, but most of the time the players not making it are the ones who already have a lot of his team mates in the squad. 

So I have come to the conclusion that the selectors would look at a player and compare him with others almost on the same level as him and pick them so that they do not have the whole Shark team or the whole Stormers team as the Bok team. This way they satisfy most of the countries people and are not branded as favoring only one portion of the nation. There must be buy-in from everybody to get things working smoothly.

I have looked at this team and noticed that the loose forwards might be somewhat of a problem. I hope Rudolf do not pick Joe v. Niekerk and Bob to play together. Those two can only be effective when the tight five have overpowered the opposition and they can run loose. If it's a tight game they will struggle. Those two will always need a Cornè or a Warren Britz to do the donkey work.

Gordon van Wyk

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