Editors Note


Volume 4, Week 22

Editors Note

Brilliant!       How, one wonder did sport fanatics cope before the advent of satellite television? Especially when a weekend of sporting nirvana awaits the dedicated and committed couch potatoes out there. There is the high octane of the Tour De France, the nerve-racking pressure of The Open and the little matter of settling who is the finest rugby team in the Southern Hemisphere – the Tri Nations opener! 

Two hundred and fifteen years ago a bunch of highly motivated peasants stormed a jail in a suburb of Paris and caused the kind of furor that changed the world forever. Although nothing of this calamitous nature is expected on Saturday, the clash between Australia and New Zealand will be as explosive as the French celebrations of Bastille Day today. Especially after the hosts, Bledisloe Cup holders and Tri Nation champions, New Zealand were unceremoniously dumped from last year’s World Cup down under.

Let us take a look at the two teams: The All Blacks under new coach, Graham Henry has restyled their play somewhat from the John Mitchell version of last year. The forwards are expected to be hard and dominating, with a no-nonsense approach to the hard yakka as was evident against England. Henry’s selections of Robinson and Gibbes have been inspiring but brawn will not necessary be met by the Australians in the same way the English pack did. The Aussie are much smarter rugby players than that. The Kiwis are a bit unsettled with Richie McCaw’s ‘head injury’ good old concussion they use to call it (?) but his replacement, Holah is no slouch in the fetching role. It is a good strong grafting pack with no world stars in it.

The backline is a different kettle of fish in fact they are the Blue Marlin’s of world rugby – sleek, powerful, fast and exciting to watch. Carlos Spencer is the pivot and one of the world’s most mesmerizing players but he is capable of self-destruction with his adventurous play. The Aussies will have him sussed, they even went as far as nominating him as their attacking focal point in the semi-final last year. If he can remain a pivot and setup his outsides backs without taking any chances, the li kes of Rokocoko will continue in his rich scoring vein.

The Wallabies have been reasonably consistent with their test personnel over the last few years but a few injuries has opened the door for exciting young talent to emerge, one happens to be an ex-South African but nou ja bygones. The Aussies are all about skills, multiple attacking phases and superbly coached moves. Their forwards never dominate the game totally in the setpieces but they generate enough possession with superior skills in the loose through fine players like Phil Waugh and George Smith. 

This will be one of the few times in the last 10 years that George Gregan will not take the field for his country. This is a huge blow to the settled and brilliant halfback combination with Larkham but should not influence a back division to rival the Kiwis. In fact if there is one team with potentially better backs than New Zealand it is Australia. 

Who will win? Unless one team makes an inordinate amount of mistakes the forward exchanges will be reasonably even with both packs producing enough ball for the backs to prosper. The royal tussle will be at the back, Whitaker has one of the best passes in the game compared to Marshall’s lumbering loops. Larkham is on song and all-round a better flyhalf than Spencer, Giteau and Mortlock has the advantage over Carter and Umaga with more playing time together and the wings are four of the best one cou ld dream to watch in any one game. At the back it is Latham against Muliaina, Latham is a great Super 12 player but has struggled in tests while Muliaina is not too convincing under serious pressure. The distinguishing factor has to be home ground advantage, therefore if it is the proverbial on the block – New Zealand by a small margin.

Across the Tasman, the Springboks take on the Pacific Islanders and to be honest, this will be a helluva difficult game for them. These guys have had two huge warm up games, they are ‘gelling’ and they are playing their final test for the season… The Springboks have a whole Tri Nations to go and this could be one of those games where an injury is more likely than not. 

From a distance and it is best kept that way, it is a no-win situation for Jake White’s men however this writer firmly believes that of all the matches, this game will define the season. With nothing to play but the team, team mates and your country (and the match fees before being accused as a naïve romantic) this will test the character more than playing against the All Blacks and Wallabies. It is not difficult to get fired up when faced by the Haka in Dunedin or Sydney stadium with 80,000 ‘ex-convicts’ to borrow a phrase from Ian Botham but it is in front of maybe 15,000 in Gosford. Good luck Springboks, the supporters back home will expect nothing but a victory.....

Amongst all of this, there is the Currie Cup…. Rugby Forum readers have the opportunity to attend the Sharks match on Saturday at ABSA Stadium against the Lions with compliments of the Sharkmail. There are two pairs of free tickets up for grabs for the first two readers to mail me the name of the Sharks coach on
lucas@rugbyforum.co.za!! Enjoy the Sharktank it is a great experience!

Have an awesome sporting weekend, this supporter will be right there behind the Goose, Big Easy, All Blacks and the Springboks!



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Consistent or Not by Desmond Organ
Test no 4 for Jake White and the consistency of selection debate is well under way, what from injured players being selected for tests to Georgian returnees being dumped in impressive style. Now we face the greatest challenge of them all, the return of wounded heroes. First up is Jean De Villiers soon to be followed by Joe van Niekerk?

The first thing that Jake White told us when he was appointed was that he was going to choose only 22 players for the tests against the Irish, well as luck would have it he relied on several more and then more again. Was this a question of selection constraints imposed by Markies or was this a case of an over eager coach trying to convince his supporters and critics alike that he was bold brave and even brazen enough for the job of Springbok coach. 

The fitness shortcomings of the Springboks have highlighted what many have been arguing about during the Super 12, South African players although being blessed with talent are not conditioned to the same degree as the other contenders in the top five countries in World rugby. Throw in the politics of confusion that annually afflicts the administration of the game and you have what is called a recipe for “success”. How ironic then is it that a player like Os Du Randt has confounded even the harshest of critics with the level of fitness that he has achieved. Perhaps this has a lot to do with his desire to cement some good earnings in the twilight of his career and to show that he still has what it takes to compete at the highest level. 

The biggest cause for concern is the fact that our players of potential are played until they literally break down and when this occurs we find ourselves in the midst of a mini crisis and without a feeder scheme to calm the nerves of the most patriotic of supporters. The Clyde Rathbone rehabilitation programme cannot even be compared to what has happened to the likes of both Jean de Villiers, Joe van Niekerk and Ashwin Willemse, not to mention Brent Russell and Andre Pretorius. Despite the level of basic skills abundance in the country we do not appear to have a scheme to develop players who step up to the next level. This is strange when viewed in the context of the development programmes in place to develop players of colour.

Perhaps an even more alarming feature is the desire for leadership to focus on amateur national sides when we should be fixing the problems with the professional players. Kevin Putt commented on the abundance of Springboks at his disposal in a disappointing Sharks side and emphasised that it had been all too easy to become a national player in the past several years. 

The team that takes the field on Saturday will show seven changes from the one that took on the Welsh and whilst some of the changes are there to accommodate returning injured players, you have to look at the selection of others in terms of people that have been left out and the impact that has caused. I hope that Conradie has a great game because his inclusion has more to do with Julies dropping out than anything else. Jake White did a lot for Julies on his return for injury, so much that his aski ng price as a player drove away the bigger Unions and now has him settling with the Eagles.

Several of the Currie Cup coaches and Carel Du Plessis in particular have argued that certain players are being rushed back too soon. Jean De Villiers is a case in point but the lack of continuity in SA rugby is the reason for this. Jake White needs a world class back three to compete with the All Balcks and Wallabies and with Willemse and Jaques Fourie out injured he really did not have any other options at his disposal.

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Maybe it would be better for me to first start on the bench, for the Boks, and ease my way back into it. But whatever the coach wants from me is what I'll do.     Joe van Niekerk

You know, when we were playing together, we thought we were immortal.      Howard 'Sparkle' Watt (93) only surviving member of the 1937 Springbok team

'We had a number of tremendous characters. I recall going into a shop with Boy Louw. He asked to buy a cake of soap. The shopkeeper asked if he wanted it scented. "No, you just wraps it up and I will take it with me," he said in his thick Afrikaans accent.'      Howard Watt

My aim is to be a better player and to come back bigger, better, fitter and stronger - I can now say 'fitter', I can say 'stronger', 'bigger' in a sort of mental presence. But 'better'? We'll have to wait and see.   Jonnie Wilkinson

If South African rugby is ever united, they will be a force.        Former Queensland coach John Connolly

No player or team likes to play against (AJ) Venter and (Bakkies) Botha.      Jake White

I'm not that gutted because he's a menace to play against but it would have been nice for him to have played his 100th test match on an occasion like this.        Justin Marshall on George Gregan

Years of waiting patiently for the IRB to decide on your case without anything happening ruins you mentally. Kennedy Tsimba

Having sensible debate on the issue though is almost impossible, with the pair serving as metaphors for the provinces they represent. To Crusaders loyalists, Spencer is nothing more than an arrogant show pony, pitomising the worst excesses of Auckland. To Blues supporters, Mehrtens is too fat, too old, too soft, and guilty of bottling it on big occasions.      Gregor Paul in Rugby News Magazine

You can't stand still, you either go forward or backward and we've got to make another step. If we can make another step up, we've got a chance.        Pacific Islanders coach John Boe

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Letters to the Editor
Hi Lucas

Rugby tendense

Ek was nie die wêreld se slimste en of beste rugbyspeler nie maar het met die verloop van jare ander kwaliteite soos dit met ouderdom behoort gepaard gaan, aangeleer. Ek het o.a aangeleer om nie te krities te wees nie, ander mense se siening te respekteer en om nie nagatief te wees nie. Ek is baie bly vir mnr White vir die suksesse wat hy die afgelope drie wedstryde met die nuwe Bokke behaal het. Ek hoop ons vreugde en verwagtings kan voortduur. Wat my egter verbaas is dat ek elke keer aan die manne se lippe hang wat met groot idees en planne kom. Van Rooyen met sy nuwe idees en beplanning. Is ek onnosel, ek haal aan. "kwotas is nie meer geldig nie maar die span moet die samestelling van die bevolking verteenwoordig". Wat is dit? Die ander probleem wat ek nie kan oorbrug nie is, die spankeuses. Ek kies eerder 'n losskakel uit vorm uit voordat ek 'n heelagter 'n losskakel wil maak. Nog iets wat my verbaas, is die beserings. Los die man met pyne by die huis en kies iemand anders. Moet asseblief tog nie spelers met "groot name"wil saamsleep nie. Ek het verder nie hoofklagtes wat nie aangespreek kan word nie.

Sterkte. Bokke bo.
Chris Erasmus

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