Editors Note


Volume 6, Week 22

Editors Note

Brilliant!     Yes, brilliant if you are an All Black supporter but definitely not brilliant if you are a Springbok supporter. But then we are getting use to the usual laissez-faire slop dished up by the Springboks as soon as they cross the Tropic of Capricorn and the 23°E longitude.

The Springboks lost for only the third time in history to Ireland on Saturday and whilst there is no disgrace in losing there is a big issue about how you lose. Last week the appeal was for a game plan, good execution of the basics and 100% effort… So let’s judge the team on this.

The game plan started off very well, the forwards ran out all snorting and heaving recycled the ball, the backs looked slick and the running was hard and straight. Before you could down a pint of Guinness the score was 3-0 and the Springboks were trotting to the halfway with shoulders back and chests puffed out. It was textbook, training field stuff and one could probably have forgiven the younger lads had they thought at that moment, ‘Gee whiz this is just like we practiced hey!’

But then, the Irish decided to play the rugby as they tend to do, with 100% commitment (about 75% more than the Springboks) and a fair amount of nouz born from the days when they had a smaller pack than most but usually a great halfback pairing and hard chasing backs. Some excellent raking kicks in the strong wind and great running angles from D'Arcy in particular put paid to any Springbok ideas of repeating the opening stanza. Add to that the complete mystery, and this column has it on good authority that Scully and Mulder’s been roped in on this one, of how professional players forgot how to tackle.

It just had to be extra terrestrial influences. The coach assured us that they had worked hard on their defence and running lines against no less an opposition than a provincial under 21 team. And judging from the test performance and captain, John Smit’s shiner, the Springboks came off second best against in a team that was not even the best in their age group. Readers must please excuse the whinging… but that was a p*ss poor effort!

Can the Springboks improve? Maybe we should we ask, can they get worse? The last time a series began so disastrous was in 2002 and that resulted in a huge hiding at Twickenham. Admittedly, that was against a team who were crowned the world’s best the following year. The answer is non-negotiable YES, they have to improve. Collectively and individually there is a huge step to be taken and despite England’s dire straights, they will not roll over and play dead against any Springbok team.

Jake White has made no less than 11 changes to the 22 man squad against England on Saturday. The only player to shine against Ireland, Francois Steyn is at fullback and Butch James is preferred at flyhalf again with Januarie who inexplicably gets another opportunity in conditions ill suited to his ilk. The problems last week however started at forward and as tired as we are when every ex-forward analyst reminds us that ‘the game begins and ends upfront’ it is true. Hammer the 8 and you are well on your way to winning a test match.

Unfortunately, John Smit in his record breaking and equaling match did not provide the big game expected of a Springbok captaining legend. For all his attributes he is yet to provide the type of game Gary Teichmann was famous for and that he produced week in and week out. Smit will break his record of consecutive tests as captain, but despite the numbers, will he be as revered in 10 year’s time as the Natalian? Me thinks not. He can change it all though by leading a winning team where the drought has been most severe, Fortress Twickenham and capturing a World Cup trophy.

The England team waiting is under the most pressure of any English team in the modern, professional era. For a union who are World Champions, who have phenomenal financial clout and access to the best professional club structure, the national team is underperforming or as the locals will comment, ‘they’re sh*te mate!’ so what an interesting matchup on Saturday… As the golf caddie replied to his player after being accused as being ‘the worst caddy ever’, “can’t be sir, the coincidence is too great…”

So let the two strugglers of world rugby commence battle… a bet on the winner? Not from this punter.

On the other side of the Channel, the All Blacks absolutely demolished France in a prolific statement of their potential and candidacy for World Champions. On current form, other teams need not pitch. But, the beauty of sport, the kind of 1 in a 100 results that crop up every now will make Graham Henry just more worried and bettered prepared. At this stage, their play is a thing of beauty and the reason, this columnist began his missive with ‘Brilliant’ 6 years ago. Brilliant rugby and long may it continue!

The coming weekend is yet another bumper international weekend, good luck to your team and enjoy!



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The Battle of Lansdowne Road by Desmond Organ

Ireland recorded their greatest ever victory over South Africa and even though it was only the third time that they have beaten the Springboks they showed composure and will certainly have raised the expectations of their fans ahead of the World Cup.

On a blustery day South Africa started with a lot of passion but a lack of structure; players were isolated and the forwards were slow to the breakdown. On several occasions one got the distinct feeling that they were far too upright in the tackle. Ireland absorbed the early pressure and seemed able to recycle the ball with ease. Watching John Smit attempting to steal the ball on the ground said it all; you need a fetcher when playing rugby in the Northern Hemisphere. Ireland seemed at ease when going into the tackle and waiting for their forwards to recycle the ball.

Ireland showed a lot of composure under pressure, preferring to wait for the South African mistakes which invariably came. On one occasion after sustained pressure Pierre Spies went for the line without any support and once again the question has to be asked; would a player with the fetching abilities of a Luke Watson have made a difference. Playing out of position is never easy and with two rookies on the opposing wings it was not surprising that Ireland took the ball wide at every opportunity, tackles were regularly missed by the South African players as they battled to execute the now infamous rush defence.

Keith Wood described the South African three quarters as totally disconnected and no fewer than 17 tackles were missed in the first half and most of them in the channel between 10, 12 and 13. The younger South African players may well have learnt from the experience of playing against the likes of O Driscoll, Darcy and O Gara who are at the height of their careers but they will not be comfortable knowing that they were struggling to come to terms with playing at this level. Blooding younger players in a winning team with a well defined playing structure is what is required and this is something that New Zealand has developed. That South Africa are attempting to do it this close to the World Cup is simply not going to work and one has to hope that the confidence of the players has not been too adversely affected by it,

Despite the wind advantage South Africa did not pressure Ireland in the early part of the second half, preferring a series of aimless kicks downfield which handed the advantage straight back to the Irish who counter attacked extremely well, turned over defensive ball and waited for the South Africans to transgress. Ireland played well within their capability and seemed content to play the percentages; composure from the established combinations was the order of the day and for me O Gara and O Driscoll were outstanding. On the contrary Pretorius, De Villiers and Habana were plodding around the park without any sense of purpose. A well worked try from the Springbok backs brought some consolation midway through the second half with O Gara converting a penalty shortly afterwards the game was all but over.

Ireland will feel bullish with the result but they will know full well that this was an experimental South African side and playing their top fifteen week in and week out could cost them dearly as the World Cup draws nearer, what they have in abundance in experience could easily be damaged by injuries. South Africa will feel that several players are simply not yet at the level to make them certainties for the World Cup, other more established players have had their last chance as far as playing ability is concerned.

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