Editors Note


Volume 2, Week 34

Editors Note

Brilliant!       It is the month October in which a certain legendary, fair-headed flyhalf described the Currie Cup is won. The annual competition is hotting up and the chances are very good that there will be a new champion in the 21st century. For those of you who do not have the last 68 champions memorised, here is a hint – Proooooblems!

When you watch as much rugby as is available nowadays on television it becomes really difficult to truly appreciate excellent play. It is easier to criticise and be negative or pessimistic about the future of rugby in this country. In certain cases there may be relevant reason for not exactly joining the euphoria and since the small issues usually resolve the big ones it is worth noting.

A recurring problem that will cost South Africa dearly in the international arena is the reluctance of players to improve their discipline around the tackle situation and the ruck. In this modern age where a professional rugby player has very little else to do but eat, drink and sleep rugby it is unforgivable to be ignorant of the laws of the game. It is their way of making a living, how can a lawyer or a doctor practice unless they know the tools of their trade? South African players are not dim-w itted quite contrary they seem very aware of the laws as they tend to break them at every occasion. What it comes down to is the discipline and faith in your teammates to legally stop opponents who have the ball in hand. After all it is the ultimate team sport. Introspection is vital, as international referees will continue to pile on the penalties in exactly the same way as in every Currie Cup match every weekend. 

The other “small” area of concern is our set phase backline play, there are very few innovative moves designed to create space for runners. Most teams are happy to use the cutback into the forwards from the static platform i.e. scrum or lineout and continue to do so until “space” appear out wide but very few teams can produce the seven phases (more or less) necessary for this theory to come to fruition. A look at the defensive patterns will tell you that “classic” defensive lines are no longer run by the scrumhalves and eightmen, the focus is on creating turnover at the inevitable tackle in midfield for the defending team and producing quick breakaway ball. There is space to score a try with a good set move, refer the Australians first try against the Springboks in this year’s Tri-Nations. 

Talking of turnovers, South African teams have become more adept at that as a counter for the Antipodean’s phased play. Our backs are currently as exciting as they have been in years on the counter attack and similar to the French of old, runners like Pretorius, Greeff, Russell, Joubert, Fourie, Paulse, Snyman, Hall and a few more can create havoc when given a quick turnover. Our star loose forwards are tailor-made for this kind of game, Skinstad, van Niekerk, Wannenburg, Erasmus, Macleod-Henderson spring to mind but all their effort, skills and talent is rendered useless without the services of a quality fetcher (WP’s problem).

The Currie Cup is doing its job; it is producing contenders for the Springbok jersey as well as confirming incumbents’ claims. One of the most satisfying things for coach Rudolf Straeuli must be the performance of Lawrence Sephaka and he could be forgiven for mumbling “vindicated” under his breath after certain criticism levelled against him when he slowly but surely turned the big Lions prop into an international forward. Another selection worth his considerable weight in gold is Jannes Labuschagn e; the lock is playing with the kind of maturity and assurance associated with an international. Others include Neil De Kock, behind a losing WP pack, Andre Pretorius and Werner Greeff who played magnificently at full back when Monty was injured.

Pretenders are raising their hands and none more so than Victor Matfield (even though he is a test star he did not future in this year’s Tri-Nations), same Rassie Erasmus, Pedrie Wannenburg, Grant Esterhuizen, Jaque Fourie, John Daniels, Deon Carstens, John Smit and Mark Andrews. The next few weeks with Springbok training camps and the Currie Cup in full swing will benefit Springbok rugby tremendously. Straeuli will be able to view and select the best form players and his options are growing with every week. The sole focus should be to attain what has become a rarity - victory at Twickenham.

Enjoy the game live at the park!



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The lure of that old chunk of bullion by Tom Marcellus
There are a number of facets to a truly great game of rugger. Of course, a high level of skill by both teams is a great help – how else do you get those slick backline moves and cunning midfield darts, not to mention manage to bury a well-aimed forefinger in an opponent's left eye socket without incurring the wrath of the telly-ref? There are also a number of other ingredients that can be tossed into the pot, like fitness, a sympathetic ref and firm playing conditions. But, methinks, a gut-wrenc hing passion for the contest is vital for any particular game to be elevated to the ranks of the "great" – whether it is amongst the players themselves, or amongst the anoracked masses huddled on the sidelines, as they take another swig of some unmentionable concoction skulking in their hip pockets.

Although the Currie Cup games that this past weekend dished up for us were hardly classics, what has not yet failed to impress me is the fervour that this year's competition is managing to engender in local followers. Time and time again this weekend we witnessed beefy torsos flying headlong into rucks, or into the unsuspecting navels of the opposition, or unshaven faces grimacing in concentrated effort at scrum-time: it may sound mighty presumptuous for a lowly arm-chair correspondent like yours truly to be so effusive, but it does gladden the cockles of my heart to see local players digging so deep in the name of the venerated old trophy. But then I am, admittedly, a bluff old sentimentalist, and anything older than 16 and a day gets me misty-eyed and in a mood for rambling, where rugby is concerned.

The upshot, of course, is that the old Cup, which was donated by the shipping magnate, Sir Donald Currie, way back in 1891, has managed to retain its aura and allure, mystique even, despite the passage of the ages and despite the plethora of international rugby matches that we can now enjoy.

The first Cup Final that I went to was back in the dark old days, in 1992, when Natal managed to pip a formidable Transvaal side 14-13 at Ellis Park. What a titanic struggle it was! Luckily for us Banana Boys (to use that sadly outdated term), Theo van Rensburg, now the Sharks' assistant coach, demonstrated his future loyalties and missed a fairly close-range shot at posts in the closing minutes to allow the visitors to squeak in.

Winning the Currie Cup has always been a source of great pride and inspiration – never more so than in the 1970's and 80's, when it was the undisputed Holy Grail of South African rugby for both players and fans, hollow-cheeked through deprivation. Asked as recently as 1998, after the Bulls' unexpected triumph in that year's Final, what the highlight of the rugby season was, "Bullet" Dalton, South Africa's most capped hooker, had no hesitation in simply saying that it was "Playing in the Currie Cup Final". There are 13 tests, but only one Currie Cup Final, he explained.

Next year, of course, will be different, as it has already been revealed that the Bok stars will be rested from the 2003 competition, in anticipation for the World Cup. I suppose that's fair 'nuff, given the importance of the global competition, but it does still seem a shame. As everyone knows, Morne du Plessis once described drawing the Currie Cup Final as "like kissing your sister". Let's hope that, for the captains' sake, we get a clear winner next year. Otherwise, what will it be like? Be ing fondled by your great-aunt, Harriet, I suspect.

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Rotten Luck by Desmond Organ
The saga around Bobby Skinstad has raised its head once again; only this time it is a case of really bad luck for the inspirational and somewhat controversial player. Nobody expected that he would be hit by injury as soon as Corne Krige became available. Yet that is the bizarre reality of the Western Province cause. 

Rocked by injuries at the beginning of the Super 12 and by the loss of several ageing players to the lucrative European market the team has been hit again by a spate of unforeseen injuries. This has resulted in a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of the team. There is indeed a degree of irony in the fact that several weeks ago people were referring to the age old theory that the Currie Cup is not won in the month of May.

The date may no longer be that relevant but the comment certainly is. No team can claim to have all the ingredients for success at the beginning of the year. The Sharks came falling down in classical fashion in the Super 12 from one year to the next and then proceeded to reach the final the following year. This points to the fact that success is dependant on more than the players at your disposal.

The strategy of sticking dogmatically to a particular approach does not always pay dividends. At the conclusion of the Tri Nations there was every reason to believe that Provincial coaches would incorporate the developments achieved by the National team. In the case of Western province, injuries, positional choices and a degree of dogmatism saw the team changed on an almost continuous basis. 

This leads to a lack of player confidence and the inability to build continuity in the team. Despite criticism from several quarters the Province coach has not been able to create the confidence that comes from continuity. Being blessed with so many players of talent is also an ongoing problem. New opportunities are missed and the inevitable decline in performance can so easily come to haunt a team simply because they stick to the same playing pattern.

I am by no means suggesting that Gert Smal has lost what it takes to be successful; it might just be that a change of approach is what is needed. That being said, one has to acknowledge that the other teams in the competition have raised the level of their performances. This is quite clearly in the best interests of the South African supporter because the game as a whole is arguably improving. The decline of the Cape based team should not be seen as a disaster but a combination of rotten luck and a narrowing of the gap between them and the other Provinces.

The losses suffered are just as attributable to the lack of forward dominance. Inspirational players like Skinstad and Roussouw are not going to perform going backwards. The backline is getting ball under pressure and is not able to break over the advantage line. The injuries to key ball fetchers are probably a double blow when one considers how successful they were a year ago. I still believe however, that the province domination would have been severely threatened even without the spate of injur ies that have plagued the team.

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19-year-old's Rule, OK! by Mark Foster
The second round of the Top 8 produced a full house of home victories and the semi-finals are not quite yet decided but the four most likely contenders are the Lions, Sharks, Blue Bulls and the Cheetas. The weekend’s matches:

Blue Bulls 35 - Western Province 26
WP suffered their third defeat in a row, this time against historic foes the Blue Bulls. Many have described the game as the Derick Hougaard show and for those who don’t know, he is a 19-year-old kicking machine who hails ironically from Western Province. 

The young man continued his previous weeks kicking heroics this time breaking WP hearts with an assured tactical performance. It was a vintage light blue performance; the forwards dominated and annihilated the “jelly brigade” of WP with astonishing commitment to the breakdown. With the abundance of possession, Hougaard kicked, kicked and kicked again – with aplomb. He converted penalties, landed a drop goal and chased Percy Montgomery all over the green grass of Loftus. It was Eighties rugby but hi ghly effective against an opposition who didn’t even have enough imagination to tackle him late once or twice.

WP has lost their last few games through the weakness of the tight five and a lack of possession, they remain however dangerous on the break out but face it, it only happens as often as you produce a turnover or the opponent makes a mistake. The Blue Bulls kept it simple and reduced their mistakes, WP’s lack of a class fetcher meant precious little turnover - so in a nutshell the reasons for defeat. 

The Blue Bulls may have progressed a long way in the competition but they will need to look at a plan B when they meet a pack that can stand up to theirs. There was no pressure on Joost or Hougaard but if that changes the young pivot may suddenly realise why they use to call the Currie Cup the toughest provincial competition in the world. Coping with pressure is the yardstick for greatness.

WP may well miss the semi-finals as they need a few other teams to lose and that is a big ask but then stranger things have happened. 

Lions 47 - Falcons 25
The Lions are roaring and with a comfortable win over neighbours, the Falcons they are topping the log and should be a shoo-in for a semi-final berth. In another error strewn affair the Lions possessed too much individual class and a strong showing from their macro pack. The Springboks in this team are performing well and their standards and skills transformed a team consigned to the scrap heap into title contenders.

Superbly marshalled by Andre Pretorius the backline is looking full of running with some good moves and excellent options. Dean Hall and Jaque Fourie played very well; the 19-year-old fullback is fast becoming one of the more dangerous players in the competition with his burst of speed and feeling for the game. He will acquire more experience in his options, add his natural flair and it is not too presumptuous a notion to see him in the green and gold of his country very soon. 

The Falcons tried hard and was left with very little ball to play with but even so, they looked dangerous and there are some very good players but as captain, Braam Els stated after the match, with so many errors no team deserves to win.

Pumas 27 - Griquas 19
The Pumas produced an excellent second half after trailing 19-6 to score 21 unanswered points for a good victory. The Pumas is a team with few stars but the one they do have is stellar – Brent Russell and he dutifully scored a try and played a hand in another. Marius Goosen, an erratic kicker remembered his boots and his contribution amounted to 17 points. For the Griquas it probably meant the end of their Super 6 hopes and they will be confined to the “B” section next year.

Natal Sharks 33 - Cheetahs 6
The Friday evening match between the two log leaders was a bit disappointing to say the least. The Cheetas’ excellent play of the previous weeks was undone by a lacklustre performance from their forwards and the obvious absence of Kennedy Tsimba. It is clear that Tsimba’s influence make a huge difference to the Free Staters, the backline lacked its normal zing and his point contribution was sorely missed.

The evening matches are always criticized for their abundance of handling errors and this match was no different, the ball seemed as slippery as Jurgen Harksen. It is no excuse, these guys are pro’s and should hold on. The Sharks forwards produced an awesome display and one could see ample evidence of Frederico Mendez’s input through their cohesion, strong scrumming and driving play. 

Behind a winning pack, Butch James had ample ball to play with but in the backs the Sharks seem to be a bit limited, the cut back may have been the tactic but hell with the pace of Snyman, Loubscher and Kayser al lot more can be done. The young scrumhalf, Ryan Walker thudded back to earth after an excellent match against WP, his options was not the best but it is a learning curve and hopefully he will have learnt from this match – the Sharks need clever and fast options to exploit their forward dominance.

Butch James displayed a new peroxide blond hairdo and although this was not his best game ever he is solid and his kicking extremely good. His defence is borderline but legal, one area of criticism is his unnecessary playing of players off the ball – as a “marked” player he should be careful.

All in all it was a good victory and the Sharks are marching towards the semi-finals. The Cheetas need to regroup, sort out their forwards and pray for the return of Tsimba to better utilise the potential of excellent players like Pitout, Lombaard etc. 

Weekend Fixtures

4/10/2002 Western Province v Pumas Newlands 19:10
5/10/2002  Falcons v Natal Sharks Pam Brink Stadion 15:00
5/10/2002  Griquas v Blue Bulls  Absa Park 15:00
5/10/2002  Cheetahs v Lions Vodacom Park 17:05

Currie Cup Top 8 Log
Team Played Won Lost Draw Pts
Lions 5 4 1 0 20
Natal Sharks 5 3 1 1 18
Cheetahs 5 4 1 0 18
Blue Bulls 5 3 1 1 16
Pumas 5 2 3 0 12
Western Province 5 2 3 0 11
Griquas 5 1 4 0 5
Falcons 5 0 5 0 4

They gave me advice, and I took it. I didn't have to take it but I did. So I have to take responsibility for that as well.      Ben Tune

World rugby has had a century of Lions tours, of invincible All Blacks and rampaging Springboks and where is the game of rugby in Honduras, Nepal and Egypt? Exactly where it was 100 years ago is probably pretty close to the answer.        Pio Bosco Tikoisuva, chief executive of the Fiji Rugby Union

Andre Watson, the South African referee, may well have a facial resemblance to a certain German dictator of the 1930s and 1940s - or at least he did until he shaved off his moustache - but even he can be endearingly unpompous.    Stephen Jones

It was not Hiroshima, was it?      Bob Skinstad putting the WP loss against The Blue Bulls in perspective.

It is no good to talk like Tarzan while playing like Jane. It is time that the Province pack start commanding respect between the chalk lines on the field.       Keith Andrews

THE REAL BOB SKINSTAD: Get the October issue of SA Rugby magazine now for an inside look at SA's golden boy. To subscribe to SA Rugby phone 021-418-0141 or e-mail monarchc@mweb.co.za

Letters to the Editor
Hi Lucas

If ever there was a crock of bull published in your newsletter it was this week's article by DO. Yes there have been some disastrous results in recent times but to go to the extent of saying those losses were incurred because the team was dominated by WP players is absurd to say the least. When the team wins, one does not say it is because the majority of the players is from the WP. If you want to look at statistics look at the whole history of Springbok rugby. Look at the total number of games, tota l number of victories and total number of losses, and then look at who dominated the sides that attained those victories. I could probably also go and isolate a specific period of time and analyze it and blame the poor results on the province from which the majority of the players hailed.

It seem that the view of the rest of the rugby fraternity out there is that provincial bias is ok, as long as the bias doesn't lean towards WP. Then all hell breaks loose. Forget about the fact the Nick Mallet was one of our most successful coaches, WP bias and all! Forget about the fact that some of our truly great players emerged from the WP. Names such as Morne du Plessis, Carel du Plessis, Rob Louw, etc, etc, etc, etc spring to mind. The list is endless. 

Then there is the endless abuse that the current crop of WP players have to put up with. Certain homophobic comments echoing from up north come to mind. This actually laughable.......it doesn't say much for one's rugby if one's team gets beaten so often by a bunch of "moffies" from the Cape now does it? Boy....those "moffies" sure can play!!

One last point that Mr. Organ should take note of.......all Sharks, Lions, Bulls, etc etc supporters out there should in fact take note! The Currie Cup ain't been won yet. Write Western Province off at your own peril!! A certain well set lady has not sung yet boys! Remember last year at ABSA Stadium (Kings Park) about 3 weeks before the final! He who laughs last...........!!

Best Regard
Derek A Durant

Dear Lucas,

Once again thank you. The reporting and the discussions, you used the word "Brilliant" I can not agree more. To JB (Cape Town) and James Sleigh (Admiral?) I concur with what both of you had to say. Just a thought thou, hindsight is an exact science. Lets hope that Province will start playing rugby again soon. Has anybody check Montgomery and Barry's sell by date?

Have a good one 

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