Editors Note


Volume 6, Week 14

Editors Note

Brilliant!      It’s been a quiet week in the rugby fraternity and with the football World Cup reaching the crescendo of the final the massive interest and support again emphasizes the magnificence and importance of a World Cup to a sport. Rugby’s party is only 14 months away!

Before getting too far down the line, there is the (not so) small matter of the Tri Nations to get through. The coming weekend, the opening match will be a tasty affair between Australia and New Zealand who will also compete for the Bledisloe Cup. In the past there has been a lot of whinging about playing
only two matches and the holder keeping it should there be a draw… no longer. Best out of three matches will determine which team is truly the best in this competition. Bring it on!

Last week we discussed the Aussies and Kiwi’s chances in the comp and this week we profile the Springboks. Jake White’s boys have had a bad start to the year and with bad starts come loads of pressure and a fair amount of negativity. It is the nature of the South African supporter for who nothing less but victory will suffice, OK maybe a close defeat to the All Blacks in Dunedin in the final minute is acceptable but that is just about it! Let’s analyse the no2 ranked side in world rugby and their chances in the toughest international tournament in the world.

The Springboks early season form was not much worth writing about, although the first test against Scotland, was a very very good forward performance. The backs unfortunately is not making international grade and looking at the Cats in the Super 14 maybe the finger should start to point to the backline coach… there is also an injury plague and some world class players have been sidelined for a few matches at least. This could be a blessing. The troubles however did not suddenly start this year and maybe it is worth taking things back a bit and discuss why the Springboks are not performing to the standards, they have set themselves.

Jake White won the 2004 Tri Nations in his first year as coach with a new and young team playing bustling, even flamboyant rugby. The forwards were an effective combination, the lineouts worked well and in Schalk Burger he unearthed a player the world took notice of. Forget the fact that Schalk may not be as accurate as Smith or MacCaw in his turnovers but his work rate and amount of mongrel is worth two players – on test level.

The backs were young and un-influenced by style and in Barry and Joubert he had centres experienced with each other and at the peak of their abilities. Montgomery returned and provided an anchor and reliable goal kicker. Australia was in decline and the All Blacks rebuilding. Take no shine of that Tri Nations triumph quite the contrary, it was brilliant and this scribe toured the country with that team and loved every minute of the Springbok renaissance especially after sitting at Murrayfield and Twickenham in 2002…

Jake White has been a breath of fresh air, he knows his rugby, he is committed to transformation and he cares and backs his players probably to a fault. Those are all the qualities everybody wants and expect from a Springbok coach, oh yes and victories. Jake managed to get a lot of those and people sat up and took note. 2005 was another good year, the home ground record was intact and even though a desperate defeat against the All Blacks allowed them another Tri-Nations victory, the feeling was good and that the Springboks were on the right track. One problem though, or no a few…

The Springboks are no longer new kids on the block… players, play styles and tactics like the rush defence has been seen and absorbed by as smart international coaches as Jake is and quite frankly, the Springboks have not grown as quickly as the All Blacks… They look stale and predictable. The counter argument is very true, the team must peak in September 2007 not now but if you track the progress of the last winner, England they produced a steady growth for a few years and peaked at exactly the right time. There was no dip in form and their home record was flawless something no longer evident for the current team.

The other influence or factor is the personnel available to Jake and the selectors. A core was identified and they were given every single opportunity to establish themselves. Did they? In reality - no. Not many of the core have cemented their places with performances of undeniable international standard making any coach and selectors job easy. Fringe players have disappointed badly and there has been no injection of flair, the likes provided by a Ruan Pienaar. Also, and this is a big error from Jake, as a man committed to transformation, he ignored the claims of the Ndungane twins and retained Andre Snyman who lets face it is as slow as a carthorse, prone to injuries and was not very good in the early season tests. Jake has remedied somewhat but there is a distinct feeling that the reliance upon the core players are too great and if any of them are injured, its tickets. And no, not tickets to the final.

This is not a picture of doom and gloom dear reader but more a cry for the coach and the selectors to be brave and import a few, we are not advocating wholesale changes here but a few of the top Super 14 players to join the squad and show their worth. Also a change in tactics will be nice – Jake the others have worked you out and its time to innovate or die.

What are the strengths of the Springboks? They have experience and a good goal kicker and formidable lineout. Weaknesses? The pack is nowhere as good as they think they are. Scotland in the second test and France scrummed the living daylight out of Eddie Andrews, this has happened before… the loose forwards without Schalk short a genuine fetcher and while Joe van Niekerk can fulfill the role, he is quick, intelligent and very accurate but he has no mongrel and quite frankly not hard enough to stand up to the punishment this role entails.

At the back is where the big issues are… Fourie Du Preez has been bad, his service is slow and his insistence to imitate the Bulls pattern of giving the ball to a forward on the backfoot and expect yet another drive is predictable and quite frankly easy to defend… John Smit drops the ball an unacceptable amount of times and the other forwards have no idea about body position and ball retention. George and Ritchie will kill them. Jaco is not an international no 10 – as hard as he tries and coaches try and ‘coach’ him to be and b*llocks because he is playing fullback or in Japan – real flyhalves are born and they are the best in the world at average age 21-22. Lynagh, Mehrtens, Wilkinson, Naas, Porta, Barry John, Carter and the list goes on. Jaco is 29 and if he still doesn’t have it – sorry but he never will. The centres are not creative enough without De Villiers and Fourie and only the wings look promising but they never get the ball. What to do? Play Bosman, he can be the next Wilkinson at age 22-23 and let him run the show. Play Pienaar inside and start praying that Jean gets back quickly.

The Springboks will struggle in this comp and this reluctant Nostradamus cannot see them finish higher than third. Enjoy the weekend’s match and strange enough, don’t know why but this couch observer think the Aussies will run the All Blacks very close and might just take it even if they are playing down south.



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Reality by Desmond Organ

A week or so ago I sat down to write a piece and found myself drifting back into the past history of poor administration within South African rugby, I predicted that Jake White was walking on thin ice and not a week later the scandals about contracts surfaced, this was coupled with the loss of the unbeaten home record and injuries to several key players. What it did show is the fact that despite all the progress that the Springboks have made, they continue to be haunted by the poor levels of administration.

As if to bring us right back to reality the ill-informed people that inhabit Parliament had a go as well, suggesting that White had done little if anything to transform the game and make it more representative, now there is a thought, the one coach who has met every quota is criticised for not doing enough, the less said about the matter the better. We have also had the perennial wrangling by the Provincial Presidents and this at a time when the Boks have lost their unbeaten record at home. The writing was on the wall over a year ago and the performance against Northern Hemisphere opponents at the end of last year was a sign of things to come.

Instead of blooding new talent White has remained true to his word and been consistent in selection, the problem with this is that he has retained the services of players that are on the way out or should never have been there in the first place. Now suddenly these players have been omitted , sadly they were not good enough to get more game time and it is at the expense of the fitness of some of the key players in the squad. There will always be injuries in the game of rugby, which is a fact of life. Not having suitable replacements that are familiar with each other is a recipe for disaster. The replacements towards the end of the game against France at Nelwands were a disaster, not only because they were out of position but because they were not game breakers in the first place.

Gaffie Du Toit has never fulfilled the promise that he showed as a younger player, Wayne Julies is at best Super 14 material and yet they were introduced to try and pull off a last minute win, it was never going to happen. Too many players who are journeymen have been retained at the expense of investing in younger players and now there is a mini crisis because players like Schalk Burger have been injured, Solly Tybilika has had a rough run of late and on those grounds alone he should not e in the Springbok squad. The administrators need to find new ways of developing players on the international stage. Something like the Churchill Cup would do wonders for those players that need to step up. Holding players on the bench in the hope that they will draw inspiration from their peers is not going to work.

White has lacked imagination in the last several months and many of his selections have made this even more apparent, he ignored Brent Russell for months, preferring the erratic Du Toit, he brings back Andre Snyman who was discarded by the Boks a long time ago and even worse he continues to select Shimange who is now at best number 5 in the hooking stakes. His reluctance to be flexible and select Luke Watson is testimony to the fact that he does not like to admit he is wrong on occasions. He has made the same mistakes with the Press and that cost him a lot and now he is doing the same thing as far as flexibility in playing patterns and style is concerned. His three quarters although hampered by injury are playing like robots, there is no freedom in playing patterns and now that the rush defence has aged, the springboks are predictable.

Jake White really needs to take a fresh look at the way the game is being played, Australia are one of the favourites for the Tri Nations and yet just look where they were at the end of last year. White needs to invest in some of the talent unearthed by Rassie Erasmus and Dick Muir and above all he needs to go cap in hand to players like Luke Watson because South African rugby needs players of his calibre playing for the national team.

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