Editors Note


Volume 6, Week 19

Editors Note

Brilliant!      Two weeks in rugby make a huge difference. After a thrashing from the All Blacks at the Loftus citadel – the skies were pretty dark in Springbok country with supporters again staring mediocrity in the face. Victories over the All Blacks and the Wallabies on successive weekends eased some concern but does it mean the 2006 vintage Springbok is off the endangered list? Not quite yet.

In Rustenburg, the players were all guts and determination and let’s face it, since no Springbok team has really dominated any of the Antipodean sides (or France and England) this decade, it was a typical Springbok win. Make no mistake, a victory is as sweet as any at this level and after severe criticism the weeks before, this was a particular satisfying win for the players and Jake White.

Against Australia, it was also a close run affair but on the Highveld against a weak Wallaby front row combination, the Springboks have always been good enough – even in this decade of calamities. What the Springboks are not good enough at yet is the type of consistency required to win a RWC. And since all the coaches are gearing towards the World Cup that should be the only criteria they are measured against i.e. what will win a World Cup?

In quick review of the Tri Nations series a few thoughts; the competition was too long, many supporters and followers lost interest and attendance figures will probably reflect it. The lopsided draw forced by playing extra matches caused longer lay offs and then spurts of rugby – not good for preparation of teams or recovery times. More is not often better, there is not one game that really stood out as a truly great game of rugby.

In the teams, the All Blacks deserved the title, no qualms about that. They have learnt a lot from this series and if they do not win the RWC next year, it will be a tremendous blow for the completely passionate supporters down there. They have good depth through their rotation policy but this observer thinks its more to do with key personnel being surrounded by highly competent support than having two teams of superstars.

But then, that’s what its about however, if Hayman, Jack, McCaw, Carter, Gear and probably McAlister gets injured before the World Cup, is this team good enough? Henry’s main aim will be to protect Carter and McCaw, they are the best rugby players in the world by a long shot and put them in any of the other top 5 sides and that team will beat the All Blacks. That is exactly the type of problem White had to face this year and look what happened?

The Wallabies, for some unknown reason peak at World Cups. Its probably more to do with planning than luck since they do it so often but looking back at history, the only time they really failed was in 1995 when a bunch of has beens were sent to gently skip towards RWC glory. Or so they thought. Is the same thing happening again? Certainly in the back division, there is very little young blood and in the forwards mostly youngsters given that Smith is only 26 years old but have over 60 caps. The backs are ancient… Gregan, Larkham, Mortlock, Latham but it is a careful gamble that experience will conquer youth.

If they can sort out the obvious set phases problem, especially against the Northern Hemisphere opposition, they will be very competitive. They always are and few countries in world sport plan as well and prepare so thoroughly for world cups than the Aussies.

Then the Springboks, wooden spoonists and downright clueless for 60% of the competition. The coach, very unlike Springbok coaches of the past, listened to and seeked advice and it paid off. Injuries this year forced some changes and in hindsight, maybe it was a good thing. What if the pathetic start and attitudes as was evident in Australia happened in the World Cup? Bye bye… So – a very valuable lesson was learnt by the coach. What poor Jake White needs is help, a manager and competent back office staff to ensure the Springboks are well prepared - unfortunately he is backed (?) by SARU, an organisation you'd rather want in front of you, there where you can see it and keep and I on it...

Players of class and substance have been unearthed. Pretorius as a flyhalf should be pursued with and there are a few so-called game breakers that win matches and they must play. At the end of the day it is balance and that was not evident this year, with Bakkies Botha and Schalk Burger back and a fit Ashwin Willemse, a hungry Habana and rejuvenated Breyten Paulse (at fullback), the right mixture politically and rugby wise can be achieved.

For the next few weeks its back to local action before the November end of year tours. The selection for these Northern Hemisphere tours will be very interesting and provide for ample column space. Enjoy the provincial rugby!



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The Crossroads by Desmond Organ

The final weekends of the expanded Tri-Nations have not produced the desired results for any of the three participating teams. All three entered with one set of expectations, only to see them dashed in the final quarter of the matches. Yes there was a South African victory over both the All Blacks and the Wallabies but that does not tell the whole story.

In many ways it was business as usual, South Africa have stumbled upon results with the benefit of home ground advantage, desperation and the emergence of a few more potential world beaters. The Wallabies have continued their dismal away form and have once again failed to overcome the travel dilemma that has faced them for the last few years and once again their tight five has failed to impress. New Zealand fell at the final hurdle to the old enemy and also did little to remove the view that they choke at least once a year.

There will be little delight in the Newscorp boardroom, attendance is not at the expected levels, the players are playing too much rugby and the appeal in simply not there for the viewing public. Simply put, there should be a return to the previous format of a year ago and if there is to be any expansion it should involve the inclusion of Argentina. Personally I favour a radical overhauling of the Southern Hemisphere tournament structures to ensure that the game is developed outside of the traditional strongholds.

At the beginning of the year we expected the All Blacks to be successful and their highly experienced coaching staff have delivered according to expectation, sadly though their lineout continues to be a major area of weakness and unless this improves it will be their undoing in future matches. Australia’s forwards have not progressed, the front row continues to be a major weakness and the talent in the backline is not being exploited to the full. The introduction of “knuckles” Connolly has seen an improvement, but the impact of Scott Johnstone is barely visible. Without a vastly improved front row they will not be able to be a force in the World Cup next year.

South Africa, South Africa; same old news and the same old trends. Bumbling administrators, an inexperienced coach with a major chip off his shoulder and a selection panel that have losst the plot. The Tri-Nations has been a disaster and the emergence of Pierre Spies and others was not planned, it happened by chance. Jake White is surrounded by an incompetent backline coach an da forwards coach who has more talent to work with than any of his international colleagues and yet the performances are inconsistent to say the least. Jake White will remain in his job because it is too expensive to sack him and because it is too close to the World Cup to make drastic changes. What is needed is an end if year tour that results in the development of a squad of 30 to 40 players that can go to the World Cup.

There have as always been a number of highlights, the emergence of Richie McCaw as the best fetcher by a mile, Dan Carter given freedom is in a class of his own and Pierre Spies has the explosive power of Burger and the ball skills of Skinstad. Just imagine the impact if JP Pietersen, Ruan Pienaar and a few others were given a chance to shine. The All Black coaching staff is miles ahead of the competition and one hopes that somebody in SARU has the sense to plug the holes in the Springbok set up and starting with a competent manager would be a good start.

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