Editors Note


Volume 2, Week 39

Editors Note

Brilliant!      The Southern Hemisphere is on tour and the line-up for the weekend is salivating to say the least, three tests in one day involving arguably the best six sides in world rugby! The most intriguing question is, who will walk away with the spoils? North or South? The next three weeks will reveal if RWC 2003 will be the most hotly contested competition in its short history or a three horse race. 

The first match on Saturday is between England and New Zealand, the classic black v white opponents and in true chess-fashion a lot of strategies, preparation and mental strength will be involved. The verbal wars have certainly started with English writers accusing the All Blacks of sending “nonentities” because they “dared” rest first choice players. Like with most things, the English started the tradition and the most likely outcome will be that others perfect their invention. Any All Black team is a very good team, the tremendous depth in their rugby and enormous pride in their jersey make them a formidable adversary. England have a lot to lose and one feels a defeat will be far more damaging to their confidence than what it will be to the Kiwis. John Mitchell has slyly maneuvered himself into a win win situation. RF predicts an All Black win regardless of their “second team” status.

The Australians after apparently being beaten up by the Argentineans will travel to Lansdowne Road to play the Irish and without hooker and inspirational captain Keith Wood the Irish might struggle against the world champions. The match against Argentina cost the Wallabies a few of their stars but the team has massive experience to blend with the new youngsters and they should be clear favourites to record a second victory in a row. An interesting development is the appointment of B.O.D, that is Br ian O’Driscoll as the new captain, this move could be harmful to a wonderful player with fine attacking instincts. He might just try and do too much by himself or relinquish his sense of adventure to appear “responsible” to the rest of the team. The young man is a brilliant player and one hope he can cope with the extra pressure with as much aplomb as his predecessor.

Finally the French host the Springboks in the “fortress” of Marseilles where Les Bleus are unbeaten for the massive sum of two matches! Make no mistake; this is no disdain towards the French or their side but rather a kick up the proverbial for those exploiting and lapping up this stat! The French have selected more or less a settled side that’s played together in the Six Nations for a couple of seasons now including a few exciting youngsters who came good against the Springboks last year. Francois Gelez, you will remember as the young fresh-faced flyhalf who put the Springboks to sword in his debut test and then one of the surprises, Thomas Castaignede the mercurial multi skilled back who was one of the better rugby players in the world three or four seasons ago. 

The Springbok team is unannounced and apparently will only be confirmed on Thursday evening. One of coach Rudolf’s biggest strengths may yet turn into a selection weakness, the versatility of the players selected. The all-rounders like Russell, Greeff, James, Fleck, Lombaard and Venter may pose difficult questions on the composition of the team and bench. Most players will solemnly swear to play anywhere “even hooker” but the truth is a player wants to be settled in his position, be confident that he is the no 1 and absolutely clear on his tasks and expectations. Straeuli however has proved himself very adept at selecting the right man for the job and his player management seem to be of the highest order. 

Who will win? The Springboks are an unknown quantity and probably even they themselves are not yet quite sure of what they are capable of. The tour is important for the near future and a win is vital to lift the confidence and ignite the spark. Against the French it is possible and my money will be on a great Springbok performance and another famous victory at the “indomitable” Stade Velodrome.

Enjoy the weekend’s rugby, next week will follow a full analysis of the Springboks performance against the French with player ratings.

Au revoir!



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In Praise of a One-eyed Devil by Tom Marcellus
As my gaze ran down the page of today's newspaper, which announced the names of the Frenchy squad to face the Boks on Saturday night, I couldn't suppress a little shudder of unease, as I read the names of their formidable front-row: De Villiers, Ibanez and Crenca, all grimace and grunt. I have little doubt that, were you gliding through the Sahara on a camel and you had the misfortune to come across 3 war-weary deserters from le Legion Etranger, the Foreign Legion, windswept and interesting after 7 days on the run, they would be about as pretty as this illustrious trio, but with only half the mongrel.

Although the Boks have traditionally been a rugged unit, not afraid to dish out the occasional well-placed stewel, or to toss the odd haymaker, when the reff's attention is distracted, it will be interesting to see how "Lorry" Sephaka and his two henchmen in the Bok front-row match up to the Gaulish foe. There is little doubt that the Bok 8, as a whole, will not be short of the necessary "aggro" required to take on the Frenchmen in the physical stakes, especially if AJ Venter earns a reprieve, as is now expected. So long, of course, as he controls his rather too obvious inclination to go Sicili an, and to try and ensure that his opponents "sleep with the fishes", within full view of the match officials. Some savvy is required – capice?

With Krige, all blood 'n guts, slotting in at no 6, the indomitable Jannes Labuschagne taking his place in the engine-room, and the irrepressible Bullet as the side's happy hooker, no-one is going to call this lot a bunch of big girls' blouses.

Even so, I couldn't help but wish that we had one particular fellow – a relic of the days when the little leaping Springbok's place at the top of the rugby pile was all but taken for granted in these parts – in that pack, gourding his loins for a hand-to-hand scrap with the Frenchies. Although shy to the point of bashfulness (I am led to believe), he was a born street-fighter: tough, remorseless and utterly fearless. His name: Martin Pelser, the one-eyed demon who led the Bok onslaught against Me ads & Co in that memorable series victory against the All Blacks in 1960.

I was thinking about Pelser only yesterday, as I read a recent British article in praise of the great All Black no 5, the Pine Tree. Written by an ex-Japie, it was filled with heroic tales of Meads' mighty deeds for the Black cause, including the infamous time that he broke his arm against an Eastern Transvaal XV that was not out to play rugby, in that savage encounter during the 1970 tour. As we were reminded in the article, only weeks later Meads returned to the All Black team for the third tes t, with his battered arm, still tender, wrapped in a protective leather sheath.

Needless to say, the article is not shy to make comparisons between the current crop of All Blacks and this rugby icon, whose grit, skill and unquenchable competitive spirit will ensure that he will remain forever (surely) the epitome of the grizzled All Black.

Even as I chuckled over these gruesome anecdotes, I couldn't help thinking of Meads' own words about that man Pelser. In his biography, published back in 1974, the All Black great heaps praise on the Bok flanker, whom he referred to as "One of the hardest, most skilful players in any position I have played against".

Meads goes on to tell of the battles that he and his fellow All Black legend, Kel "Bunny" Tremain, had with the Bok flanker during the series, and for once, it must be said, Meads and the Black hordes were on the back foot. In his own words:

"On that [the 1960] tour, I played mostly at loose-forward. Kel and I looked after the back of the lineout. It was a sort of co-operative venture – you push and I'll jump. But when Kel pushed Pelser, Pelser belted him. Then when it was on for me to look after Pelser while Kel jumped, he didn't hesitate. As the ruck formed he chased me round the side of it. There was I diplomatically trying to hide myself when he belted me, too. I'd love to have him in my side.

Pine Tree, a man who reputedly ate small children with his oats, trying to hide himself? Diplomatic? You must be joking.

Ai khona, but for a pack of 8 Pelsers. But then, at least, we do have a man called Krige.

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A Lot of Hot Air by Desmond Organ
Emotions aside, South Africa has just experienced another round of political positioning by major stakeholders. We have the so-called controversial declarations made by Chester Williams and the Minister of Sport has once again decided that he has to increase his chances of being denied the opportunity of opening next years Cricket World Cup in South Africa.

From what I have heard, Chester’s book is a good read and raises several questions about the manner in which transformation was introduced to the South African view of the rugby world. I say so because many people in South Africa were not only outraged by the racial divides in South African rugby, but also by the political implications of a national sport completely divided along racial lines. I will in due course read the book and I am sure that it will confirm what many have being saying for a lo ng time and that is that there are still major structural problems with our rugby.

We should not limit the problems to the area of the racial divide; it should also consider the issues of affirmative action and the manner in which it is addressed. Any self-respecting individual has the right to exercise their talent, irrespective of their background. Former politicians used the game for their own political interest and this reality is coming back to haunt us. Sadly though the modern South African politicians have followed the Neo-Colonialist option and decided to manipulate the s tructures of the game for their own political interest. 

The reality of change in South Africa is that we are still in the process of developing a new identity and a new way of life. Expecting the new South Africa to be a democratic version of the old is not the real issue. There are still some fundamental changes that the country has to go through and the most glaringly obvious is national identity. We are all proud to be South African and the euphoria of watching Nelson Mandela wear the captain's jersey should not fool us into believing that everything is just as it ought to be. In a nutshell his actions represented a strategic launch of a major change initiative. The real changes are still in the process of being implemented.

What saddens me the most is that the reality of racial division is still very much in the minds of the current generation of South African adults? Only in the future will a South African be able to challenge the quota system that is clearly aimed at advancing at the expense of individuals who have not always had the benefits that the previous generation did. I personally refuse to be held accountable for the actions of people that I never elected in the first place. If I am a part of the system by default then so be it, but that does not limit the right to question the continued perpetuation of an approach that teaches people to differentiate on the basis of colour.

The creation of opportunities for all is a noble cause; we should all be behind it. Mistakes will be made, personalities will get the better of the situation, and we may even see the raw emotions of people being displayed openly and without remorse.

The recent sports awards for South African rugby players were a true reflection of the way the game has developed in South Africa, despite the many challenges that are faced by the organizers of the game. Perhaps though we should have had an award for those that have brought the South African name into disrepute, if this had been so Mr. Van Zyl and Mr. Balfour would have jointly shared it.

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 All Black team to face England by Vinesh Naicker
The All Black squad to tour England, France and Wales were selected last week, their names and provinces are listed below along with my comments on them. Note that there are 21 “injured” players who were not considered for selection.

Ben Blair (Canterbury). Has been earmarked as a future All Black for a number of years and been in the All Black frame for a while. Blair has good pace and timing and a great boot. His weakness is his size, which was highlighted in the Super 12 when several attacking players ran over him.
Daniel Braid (Auckland). His first NPC season this year and although having played well his team has had a lot of go forward. Big call to take him considering other form players like Sam Harding and Kupu Vanisi are around.
Sam Broomhall (Canterbury). A bench player for Canterbury when Scott Robertson is fit. His All Black selection at the start of a year was surprising and his NPC form was moderate. His selection is still baffling.
Christian Cullen (Wellington). Was without doubt the premier fullback in the world a few years ago. He has had some injuries and lost some pace. Yet to show any great form this year, but they say class is permanent.
Steve Devine (Auckland). Unwanted in Australia a few years ago, he moved to Auckland to play Super 12. Was not picked for the Blues for 2003 until his surprise selection in the All Blacks. His selection reflects the unavailability of Justin Marshall (who had a great NPC) and the injury to Byron Kelleher.
Carl Hayman (Otago). Has been a fringe All Black for a couple of years. In my view he is too tall to be a world class prop, but his selection reflects the lack of depth in NZ in this area.
Marty Holah (Waikato). The form openside flanker in the NPC this year. His consistency and workrate shaded Richie McCaw. He should be the first choice Number 7.
Andrew Hore (Taranaki). His selection reflects the total lack of a world class hooker in NZ. Injuries to Hammett, Oliver and Willis mean the cupboard is bare in NZ. Hore was the best hooker in the NPC but that’s not saying a lot.
Doug Howlett (Auckland). A world class wing with genuine pace. Howlett’s work rate has been high all year and his eagerness to tour makes a mockery of the “burnout” excuses for Caleb Ralph.
Regan King (Waikato). The Waikato wonderkid. He was not even a first choice selection for Waikato at the start of the NPC, but took his chance with both hands and hasn’t looked back. As understudy to Umaga and Robinson on the tour he won’t be in many pressure situations.
Danny Lee (Otago). A surprise choice ahead of Jason Spice who was picked in last years tour. Lee recently transferred to Otago from Counties and so is used to playing behind a struggling pack.
Jonah Lomu (Wellington). Lomu is a rugby icon. His form this year has been atrocious but he has always delivered in the big games. He was a legend in the 1995 World Cup and his efforts in the 1999 semi-final allowed NZ to salvage what few shreds of pride they could from that effort. Mitchell publicly stated that Lomu is on borrowed time and needs to perform this tour.
Keith Lowen (Waikato). The NPC player of the year. “Sumo” as he was nick-named a few years ago has shed some weight and is in devastating form, whether at inside or outside centre he has been a class act in the NPC.
Keven Mealamu (Auckland). A dynamic player in open play, that’s probably all you can say about any NZ hooker. His selection reflects the lack of scrumming ability in NZ.
Kees Meeuws (Auckland). Troubled by injuries in the last few year Meeuws has been in devastating form for Auckland this year. He will be expected to be the rock in the All Black scrum this tour.
Andrew Mehrtens (Canterbury). Arguably the best fly-half in the world, Mehrtens form has not been that great this year. Apparently he was forced to go on tour because his family wants a break from him. Should add solidity when percentage rugby is required.
Joe McDonnell (Otago). Becoming a fixture in the All Black squad. A dynamic open field player and an adequate scrummager.
Brad Mika (Auckland). Has been in devastating form for Auckland. Brings size and power to the game. Provides great go forward from line outs and as first receivers from rucks. I expect he will be used from the bench.
Taine Randell (Otago). Has alternated between number 6 and number 8 throughout his career, not world class in either. Ideally suited to the bench to cover injuries, he has been handicapped by being given the captaincy in the past, a role for which he is patently unsuited and unfortunately requires him to be part of the starting 15. Jonno Gibbes would have been a better choice at numer 6. Randell was probably selected due to injuries or the unavailability of Flavell, Cribb, Thorne, Rober tson and Muir.
Keith Robinson (Waikato). An aggressive lock whose high work rate, consistency and ability in the air has stood out in the NPC.
Mark Robinson (Canterbury). A devastating player when uninjured. He is one of three centres picked.
Rodney So'oialo Wellington). The form number 8 of the NPC, he has demonstrated strength, skill, heart and pace for a couple of years now. As he plays for Wellington his potential behind a competent forward pack is yet unrealised. Mitchells ranking of Broomhall ahead of him is still baffling.
Carlos Spencer (Auckland). A world class player who was one of the main reasons the All Blacks won the 1996 series against the Boks. Spencer is very like Campese in that when he’s hot he’s untouchable and when he’s not, well, even Wales could beat you on that day. His greater than usual consistency in the NPC this year has been rewarded.
Tana Umaga (Wellington, vice captain). World class player, with a great work ethic. An adequate centre but probably still the best winger in the world.
Ali Williams (Auckland). Surprise selection for the All Blacks. Played well in the NPC, but his thin frame may not be suited to international rugby. I would have thought that Norm Maxwell who is back from injury would have been a safer selection.
Tony Woodcock (North Harbour). His selection ahead of Deacon Manu is surprising. North Harbour were woeful this season which makes his selection even more surprising.

The maneuvering around this tour has been interesting and the selections are probably as controversial as the England selections of 1997.

Last year John Mitchell publicly questioned the value of the three tests against England France and Wales, he suggested that perhaps he should take a NZ A team on tour. The NZRU had already made a commitment to send an All Black team and there are contractual obligations associated with this commitment.

So last week John Mitchell named a test touring squad and also named 21 players, mainly from Canterbury who were not considered for selection due to “injury”.

The English media immediately came out saying that this was a B team. Mitchell of course has denied this and said that it would be an insult to consider these guys a B team.

The selection by Mitchell was very astute. Consider the following.
1. The squad has 12 uncapped players. These guys are apparently rewarded for their form in the NPC. Eight of them are from the two finalists Waikato and Auckland. It’s a bit hard to argue with choosing form players
2. Some proven test players were selected. Christian Cullen, Marty Holah, Doug Howlett, Jonah Lomu, Kees Meeuws, Andrew Mehrtens, Joe McDonnell, Mark Robinson and Tana Umaga. Cullen, Lomu and Mehrtens have a high international standing, they are names to conjure with and lend legitimacy to any team they are in. However both Cullen and Lomu have been out of form this season. Is the tour a chance to find some form?
3. Some fringe All Blacks were selected. Ben Blair, Sam Broomhall, Carl Hayman, Carlos Spencer and Taine Randell. You always need guys like this to cover your options from the bench, they are an integral part of the squad.

So if you put aside the fact that 21 players were not considered as they are “injured” this looks like a very legitimate team. Throw in the fact that most countries in the past have struggled to beat a NZ A team or the NZ Maoris and you take them lightly at your own peril.

The twist to the tale however, lies with the naming of Taine Randell as captain. The argument is that Taine is a mature player and an experienced captain. The facts are that Randell has arguably the worst record of any All Black captain ever. After his justifiable sacking in 1999 he has remained captain of Otago and the Highlanders, despite the talent in these teams both have failed to win anything of significance in that time. Taine stated this year that his preferred position is number 8 and he has played there throughout the entire NPC, despite this Mitchell has selected him as a specialist number 6. In addition Taine is still referred to as “Captain Invisible” in Europe due to his proven leadership style when his team is under pressure

The selection of this team therefore puts England and France in a very uncomfortable situation. If they beat the All Blacks, what do they prove? There are 21 All Black players out who will be in the World Cup next year, so the win is no true gauge that they are in great form. The NZ public will not mind too much, we hate to see the All Blacks lose but we don’t have high expectations for this tour and we are used to seeing Randell at a loss for words after those games. If on the other hand the A ll Blacks win, that means that NZ now have a pool of more than 47 players capable of going to the World Cup. It also puts pressure on the guys left at home to win back their jerseys next year, and that sort of competition has got to be healthy. For England or France the ramifications are immense, if they can’t beat this rookie All Black team, at home, with their best players, well rested, then they shouldn’t bother coming to the World Cup next year.

It's time to reclaim the sanctity of an international game. More importantly, it's time to reclaim old values. It's time to saw off a large chunk from that substitutes' bench.     Mick Cleary

Three years (of not beating England) is a long time and the supporters deserve for us to go over and do well against England.     Rudolf Straeuli

All three Tests will be televised and I've already re-arranged the loungeroom so my armchair is at the front.   Larry Devine, father of new All Black Steve

Hougaard will play Super 12 for the Bulls next season, maybe not in all the games, but it would be in the interest of South African rugby to look after him, especially since he has a very bright future ahead of him.   Rudi Joubert

I am prepared to back David depending on what his views are.     WRU chairman Glanmor Griffiths on the appointment of David Moffett as Chief Executive

All the players (All Blacks) have to do is turn up with their toothbrush and underpants. We take care of the rest. Simon Johnston, Adidas rugby operations manager 

I'm reasonably happy where we're at but if we're brutally honest we've won nothing tangible.    Clive Woodward

You don't get lucky in sport.     Clive Woodward

Five years in the waiting and they send nonentities.    Paul Ackford on the All Black team

Five years ago, many of the England team were sick at half-time - such is the intensity of playing the All Blacks.    Lawrence Dallaglio

He is the purest and most ferocious All Black there has ever been.     Donald McRae on Colin Meads 

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Letters to the Editor
Hi Ed

Re: Pathetic Province or Problems

Your summation of the Cup Final was "Brilliant" as it was a great game. I am a bit apprehensive of our youngsters against the likes of France and England, but time will tell.

You have such insight into this tremendous game can you please explain what WP (Pty) Ltd is up too. First they loose the likes of Russell and Hougaard and bring in Du Toit and Dalton? What have I missed or am just ignorant? I do not have words to describe my absolute "disgust", this is obviously their way of trying to empty Newlands.

Have a good one if you can


Ja, Dev it is a good question - the problem with so much homegrown talent and a great university like Stellenbosch is that you tend to take them for granted. Not only WP but most provinces need to find ways to bridge the gap between school, university and professional. The Bulls and Lions are mostly responsible for the startling amount of young talent coming through and they are obviously searching and investing in quality young players for the feature and not just resting on their laurels.

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