Editors Note


Volume 6, Week 17

Editors Note

Brilliant!      Test rugby returns to SA soil with the home leg of the Tri Nations. The series may be done and dusted with only the ‘honour’ of the wooden spoon being contested. For rugby and specifically Springbok supporters, a Springbok vs. All Blacks test is still one of the game’s most arresting occasions and Saturday is the 69th occasion of the 'Great Rivalry'.

Statistics is never a good measure of how your team will perform since the old facts and figures can be manipulated at will. This old scribe is of firm belief that you are only as good as your last game. But, let’s humour the statistically minded.

The Springboks have played 25 tests at Loftus and have a win ratio of 72%... impressive BUT the Springboks have played the All Blacks 4 times (5 if you include the Cavaliers test) and these stats make for some frightening reading. Played 5 lost 3 or even worse, played 4 lost 3… with the last home victory in 1970 it makes Pretoria a highly successful venue for the All Blacks… but then, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

This is not, dear reader another attempt at ridiculing the Springboks, some may argue they have done so successfully enough themselves… and this column have been fervent in its attack of the national team of late. But as a recently arrived Saffie from London pointed out, if you do not complain and highlight inefficiencies how can anything improve? Point well made and well taken but there is a time to be positive and constructive and that time is now.

The last test was a highly disappointing one to swallow. The close defeat to the Wallabies through yet another Stirling Mortlock sideline penalty was a bit of a heartbreaker because the Springboks should have won it and comfortably so. The class of '04 and '05 would have put 20 points past the disappointing Aussie display. What was the difference, apart from Schalk, Bakkies and Jean? Confidence. Or rather - lack of. You can be the best or near to the best in the world in your sport but that one word can be your downfall. Ernie Els lost it after injury and Phil Mickleson lost it at the US Open due to a famous brain fart. The Springboks lost it against France at Newlands.

The best way for the Springboks to regain their composure and confidence is a victory on Saturday. Sela. The team has gone through a huge amount of stress, criticism and the result, if they are as professional as what we supporters want them to be, should be a famous Os Du Randt aphorism, ‘GATVOL’. They must be ‘gatvol’ of losing, ‘gatvol’ of being criticized and more importantly ‘gatvol’ of the All Blacks selecting anyone of 30 players and still beat off the rest of the world. (Gatvol = had enough)

Can they do it physically? Yes, despite Jake’s injury problems and startling revelations about lack of fitness, the Springboks do not lack physicality. It is the most important muscle that is generally lacking in their armor, the brain… funny enough that is where flair derives from as well. The Springboks can forego their conservative attitude and unleash some devastating attacking options like Jean, Jaque and Habana. The forwards need to muscle down and match the All Blacks on every single scrum and Solly must play the match of his life. Then Butchie can dominate with his physical prowess and excellent distribution skills. The Springboks can win! In fact, C on B time, the Springboks will win this match.

Saturday is probably the most important Springbok test before the RWC2007, it is the turning of the ship and the opportunity to regain confidence, focus and even more importantly, the wining way. The All Blacks should not come over to South Africa and expect to win and we must enforce that feeling. Ditto for the Aussies. Enjoy the match.



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And Then There Was by Desmond Organ

The saga around Luke Watson has finally calmed to the point where people are talking about other things rugby and it is about time. Joining the bandwagon of support for his inclusion is but another saga in a long list of what should have been and in South Africa that is part of daily life. Jake White does not like the guy and whilst he is coach he is not going to select him. There are several others that deserve a chance at the highest level and nothing short of a crisis will bring then into the fold.

Nick Mallett has spoken at some length about the need for passion on the field of play and the value that it brings to the team, compare this with the stereotypical view of Jake White and you are left wondering if the lack of creativity in the three quarters really is the brain child of the Assistant Coach. Perhaps it is a blending of the two styles that would be most appropriate for the South African game. The dominance in the scrums is a myth; albeit when a specialist like Balie Swart is brought in; the lack of creativity in the backs is the result of unsettled combinations and a predetermined approach.

Considering all the hype around selections, transformation, SARU promises, discredited former Presidents of the Controlling body it is just a case of another day in the life of South African rugby. Perhaps that should be South African cricket, South African football and any other sport where we have the supposed view that we are world class. It is not surprising that few people remember what David Campese said towards the end of the Super 14. He questioned the ability of the South African backs to operate effectively because the majority of them had been playing out of position. Hello, forty nine zero, how are you doing? There have been marginal improvements and a few new familiar faces and some new ones in the squad, but what has really changed.

South Africans need to get used to a few simple things. Transformation is here to stay and that means that until we get the real work done we are going to have a bench that cannot deliver what the Australians did in the final minutes of the ‘spectacle’ down under. Jake White should have gone to the bench; but it is clear that he probably did not have the confidence. The absence of players like Russell, Pienaar and Watson is a case in point. A year ago Du Preez would have been the option off the bench because Januarie was in such prolific form. Herein lies the dilemma, we simply have not managed the process of transformation. A player goes off form or gets lazy because he is part of a privileged few and it appears to all fall to pieces.

Injuries to key players make the matter worse because the bench or fringe players currently in use cannot simply remain on the bench as they make way for another first choice that has not been part of the system. The coach has overplayed the regulars because he is taking the easiest route to avoid the scrutiny of the administrators and politicians. There are problems with the Super 14 regional teams and their relationship with the national coach, but he is just as culpable when it comes to players being injured through being played week in and week out. He is covering his tracks at the expense of others. New Zealand and European players spend more time on the field and do not suffer the same level of ills; those that argue that they otherwise have forgotten the reality of living and plying your trade in South Africa.

The odds do not look good as we look ahead to the World Cup in France next year and I for one am getting the same feeling of disillusionment I did in 2002; trying to be positive and hope for a miracle when all the facts are pointing towards another disappointment. I know we have the players and the will and it would be nice if we could get rid of SARU, fast track coaches like Dick Muir and Rassie Erasmus and unearth the talent that has not been developed. If we could do all these things we would have a chance of winning the games where we are marginally ahead with five or ten minutes to go.

We have been told that White is the man to go to the World Cup and unless something strange happens that is the status quo. My only hope is that the World Cup is a lottery from the quarter final onwards and the winner is not always the best team on the day, we need another group of players who can stand behind one coach and where luck runs their way. Whatever your choice in faith you should be praying for a repeat of 1995.

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