|Volume 5, Week 17|
It’s that time of the year again when every rugby supporter suddenly
becomes aware of his diary. Partners are carefully wooed and coaxed into
freeing up Saturdays, business trips are frantically arranged to certain
cities (tip: make sure you have clients there!) and talk turns to
important matters like who is the best inside centre? What about our
rush defence? Can Jake do it again? You guessed it - test match rugby.
Dunno about you readers, but this Springbok supporter is a lot more optimistic about this coming season. There are a whole host of reasons, let’s try:
• Same coach – who happened to win the previous Tri Nations.
• Mostly the same squad of players – a few better pull some finger but heck at least its not 15 new guys who need to be introduced to each other.
• A few genuine stars in Schalk Burger, Vic Matfield, Os Du Randt, Fourie Du Preez, Jean De Villiers and Bryan Habana.
• Loads of opportunities to measure up against 3 of the best teams in the world.
• There is a plan, there is continuity and there is purpose.
• Defending Tri Nation champions.
This Saturday, the international season kicks off against Uruguay, a team consisting of amateurs who should pose no threat to any Springbok team. In fact even the Sharks and Cats must fancy their chances against the South American outfit… ouch! The game may make little sense from a contest point of view however for the Uruguayans it will be the moment of a lifetime to play against a famous team like the Springboks. The Springboks need to concentrate, implement practice onto the match situation and drill them.
The rest of the tests this season (this supporter is under no illusion) will be very tough. A quick look at statistics reveals that the Springboks are none to flash in winning against the Aussies, Kiwi’s and Frenchies, in fact the stats look rather dour. However at the top of international rugby one should aim for a 100% home record and to snatch one or two victories away. Since 1999, there has been none. Correct – zero, nada, zilch away victories against the top 4 (Aus, NZ, Fra and Eng). That should be the absolute priority for Jake White and his squad, to win on foreign soil and maintain an undefeated home record. It will take some doing.
Interesting news to come from the Springbok training camp is the employment of a visuals skills coach, Dr. Sherylle Calder. The sports scientist has an impressive CV where she assisted the likes of England for their RWC triumph and Australia for their Cricket World Cup victory. Well, she certainly did a great job to coach Shane Warne’s eyes to be bigger than his stomach… At the elite sportsman level, any added skill will make a difference and rugby is one of those sports where awareness of space, both in front, next to you and further away on the field is absolutely vital. If, through her coaching she can assist the Springboks in seeing the gaps between opposition players rather than trying to barge over them, this writer is all for it.
The Lions are in NZ, played two and won two. Saturday will be their most demanding game as yet when they play against probably the most successful rugby team on the planet, the NZ Maori. The Maori has a phenomenal win/loss ratio and will certainly test the Lions progress towards the first test on the 25th of June. The two games so far on the tour has been lively affairs with some excellent rugby and very well supported.
The case for longer tours just makes so much more sense. Smaller unions get the opportunity to play and fill their stadiums to capacity and that generates cash. Have a big one every year (tour) and rugby will be able to sustain growth and not just rely on the big television money and sponsorship. Bums on seat generally return a profit and local provincial cricket is a very good indication of how wrong it can go – tests will never be played in Potchefstroom, Witbank, Welkom, Kimberley and a host of small places but guaranteed, send the All Blacks or the Lions there and it will be a sell out. Thus more money for development. Anyway, it is an old but valid argument.
An interesting read this week was the All Black selectors decision to omit one of the game’s best wingers, or certainly on the form of the last few years – Joe Rokocoko. The brilliant young winger was in indifferent form for the Auckland Blues in this year’s Super 12 but that is a big statement. Lucky for the All Blacks there is no dearth in quality wings. They have plenty of those and with Carter orchestrating, hopefully the internationals will produce the running type rugby the class of 2003 produced.
The Springbok Sevens team won the London Sevens tournament, yip – pretty impressive stuff against host nation England. Well done to Fabian Juries and his squad. That is it for this week. Enjoy the rugby and remember support your team, look at what happened to the Liverpool fan that left the stadium disgusted at halftime during the Champion’s League final – a deed to regret for the rest of his life.
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|Fitness Testing by Desmond Organ|
How is it humanly possible for an athlete who has been sent home for phase
1 rehabilitation treatment on their ankle to be able to record the
highest score in exercises that clearly require your ankles to be in
normal working condition? One has to give the person the benefit of the
doubt and assume that they incurred the injury during the course of
If anything the preparation of the Springbok team has followed the same spin as we are all accustomed too, of course the previous year’s selection is still the best and of course there are bumps and bruises to recover from. What is not acceptable though is the belief by the coach that he can spin the real supporters of the game.
Why is it also necessary to only release data around selections that have come under scrutiny, nobody cares that Chavanga is the fastest in the squad when a player like Brent Russell thrives when playing at Twickenham for the Barbarians. I was delighted to read that Trevor Halstead had done equally as well, not so much because of a desire to include him in the National squad, but because he was the form inside centre in the Super 12 from a South African perspective. Players like Van Niekerk may well be burnt out, but it is not defendable when the same player has had several weeks if not months on the sidelines and others have had to play through the Super 12.
If Tim Noakes is credible, then it is players like Marius Joubert and Eddie Andrews that should be receiving the sympathy of the coach. Victor Matfield has probably played more rugby than anybody in the last 12 months and he deserves his rest. Jake White knows that the French are the real threat in the coming weeks and he would do well to rest those players that really deserve it and give others the opportunity to prove that they are as good as they were last year. Class is permanent and form is temporary, funny then that several players have a good World Cup or Tri-Nations only to falter after that. Scoring three tries against the All Blacks at Ellis Park is a great achievement; doing consistently well afterwards is what really counts.
The Australians are probably the best talent spotters in the business, hence their desire to lure players like Habana across the Indian Ocean. Rathbone is lost to SA rugby more because he was not nurtured and literally given ten minutes on the field of play in a test match of no significance. Brent Russell is a special talent and I for one find it hard to believe that size or technical expertise in any specific position is being used against him, anybody remember how he handled the Australians a few years ago. We are too comfortable with picking horses’ foe courses and defending our selections than focusing on what is really required. Jake White has the ability to spot talent, but he also has the ability to sideline players that might just provide him with a more dynamic approach.
Success in the coming months will be dependant on the forwards continuing to compete and this means a tight head that can actually become an enforcer on the field of play. We have heard that we now have fast wings at our disposal, well let’s just hope that they get the ball from structured phases and not from turnovers and individualistic brilliance. I am not convinced that the Tri –Nations victory last year was all about preparation; it was all about the right combinations taking advantage of opportunities that came their way. Things will have to be different this year because the Australians will have done their analysis on the South African rugby players with the same level of precision as their colleagues in the cricketing world have done on the English top order.
Forget the spin it does not work in an environment when the SA Rugby Union, SASOC and the Minister of Sport have advertised their incompetence to the rest of the World.
It's robbed the tour of a personality, it's robbed the tour of a great
player. Although he's in the opposition, I really feel for the bloke.
Steve Hansen, All Blacks forwards coach
It wasn't that I was making myself unavailable. I just wanted to make sure I was 100% committed to play. I am proud to be an All Black and if given the chance to play against the Lions they will get 100% out of me. Justin Marshall
The decision is purely financial. Kees Lensing on his move to Leeds Tykes
Reading a game is a skill that some do better than others, but my work has shown that it's a trainable skill. Dr. Sherylle Calder, visual skills coach
The way he's recovered is a fantastic story. It's going to be great to see the big guy again. Most guys would have called it quits and just been happy to get well again, but he wants to go on and do as much as he can. Who's to say he can't do it? Carlos Spencer on Jonah Lomu
The Lions are very special, the only major tour left in rugby, even if it is just 11 games these days. My gut feeling is that it will be close and well-contested, but history is against the Lions - they have only won 10 per
cent of internationals over here. Colin Meads
I enjoyed it. This was the stepping stone for me. I'm starting again and I want to reach the top again. You have to start from somewhere and this is the start for me. I'm pleased with where I'm at but there's a long way to go. Jonah Lomu
I've never been surer that I'm doing the right thing. I'm absolutely positive. I'll walk away and won't be doing a George Foreman, although maybe I'll be selling toasters in four years' time! Martin Johnson
We are working on becoming much more professional, but we are mostly students, with a couple of lawyers, veterinarians and doctors thrown in. Uruguay coach Sebastian Pineyrua
I think we (Province and the Stormers) have the potential to play just as well as the Crusaders. The infrastructure is in place, there is a support base and the number of talented players coming through the system from schools and tertiary level is enormous. Kobus van der Merwe, new WP backline coach
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