|Volume 6, Week 4|
Phew, what an exhausting weekend… one can truly sympathize with the
dedicated rugby followers out there. They are by now, probably, well
rested and ready to do it all over again this coming weekend so step
aside E! TV and the latest who did Paris and vice versa news. Ratings
are now dominated by what Carter, Rokocoko, McCaw, Habana and Pienaar do.
And they also stay at the Hilton... rugby gluttony at its best!
Firstly, this writer was not nearly as dedicated to watch every single match played but one live match, a few live telecasts and highlights of the rest still make for an exhausting amount of rugby. The feedback is encouraging; there were some stellar performances, an upset and generally acceptable displays for a first weekend of rugby.
In the very first match it was a bizarre tale of two halves and before there is any snickering on the use of that absurd cliché – look at the scorelines. The Blues ran out and dominated the Hurricanes in every facet as well as the score. Half time must of elicited one of captain Tana Umaga’s greatest ever Churchillian efforts something to the tune of “OK, ^%$#@ boys let’s go out and play rugby” because there was only ever one team on the park after the break. Inspired by the retired national captain who scored a wonderful try off an even more wonderful forward pass the Hurricanes and ‘MR’ Nonu in particular ripped the Blues apart. That comes from making an Aussie coach… bygones!
Talking of which – was the interstate clash not a wonderful affair? Two Australians teams, hell bent on beating the proverbial out of each other! There were more bust ups in the first 5 minutes than at a shoe shop summer sale… and it was as effective as a bunch of old ladies fighting over imitation Pradas. The Waratah victory, was an important one for their title contentions. As losing finalists last year, a lot is expected of Ewen Mackenzie and his team and beating the Reds probably soured Buddha Handy’s year but also provided the type of confidence boost for an even more successful season.
The Force was reasonably impressive against the Brumbies considering a first start in any competition. The Brumbies, with the old masters available and cooking can yet be a ‘surprise’ package this year despite losing some good players. The Force, with their disciplinary standards set on an unprecedented scale will find the going tough especially with a senior player benched for failing a breathalyzer test… yip, its true.
The best team in the competition (boring!) is the Crusaders and only a fool will bet against them to win the inaugural Super 14 title. With more depth than Meryl Streep’s acting ability and skills to rival the Moscow Circus they disposed of the Highlanders in a ruthless and effective fashion. It was the usual from an excellent side, who are well acquainted, expertly coached and possess world superstars of the game in McCaw and Carter. They are the benchmark.
The South African sides played a couple of derbies; the Bulls turned the table on new boys, the Cheetahs who gave a good account of themselves and the Stormers rolled over the Cats in a wet affair in Johannesburg. The Bulls with try scoring gobbler, Bryan Habana in their midst produced a solid forward display despite the loss of key tight forwards and then it was over to Roets and Habana to do the business and the Springbok winger duly scored close to the end to break some Cheetah hearts. Revenge was sweet and the ideal opener for Heyneke Meyer’s assault on the Super 14 crown.
As most readers will know, this scribe moved to Johannesburg and duly attended the first Super 14 match at Ellis Park on Saturday afternoon. Rain in JHB has become more common than a Jacob Zuma news snippet and Saturday was no different… more rain but this time the Stormers, notoriously bad in the rain, produced an accomplished wet weather display to dispatch the Cats. The under estimated forwards, combined well as a unit and made life difficult for a disjointed Cats team sadly lacking an integrated game plan and who displayed poor execution. One feels that the lack of a quality flyhalf, has a lot to do with their form and Andre Pretorius will be welcomed back with open arms, to unlock the potential of some excellent backs.
The Stormers were good value and even though there is hardly a ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling it may just be the grafters in the team, mixed with the flair of a De Villiers that can lift the Cape side’s fortunes this year. They will not contend semi-finals purely on that victory but they look more willing and able than the lot who thought so highly of themselves in the beginning of last season.
Finally, the Sharks were excellent value in their victory over the Chiefs. It was one of those games where both teams took chances and be damned the consequences. The Sharks, on the day had the rub of the ball, home advantage and some excellent individual performances. Ruan Pienaar will long be remembered for his try, it was of poetic quality and he beat some quality players to the line. Again, one swallow does not make the summer, but hell, the Durbanites must have had a great time afterwards and well deserved!
This coming weekend, more of the same with hopefully some excellent performances and a few more upsets. As promised, a ranking of the teams:
Enjoy the weekend and support your team at the park!
|View from the North Desmond Organ|
At the beginning of each Northern Hemisphere season the pundits express
their views on the strength of the Northern Hemisphere. One thing is
clear; the results of the first two weeks of the Six Nations have left
me in no doubt that it is the English and to a lesser degree the French
that will pose the greatest threat to South Africa and New Zealand at
the World Cup. Australia will as always be competitive but I just cannot
see them developing a threatening pack under a new coach with less than
18 months to go before the global competition gets under way.
The mercurial French are as ever hard to predict, there is currently a hole the size of a double decked buss in the flyhalf channel. Michalak is impressive and will always impress on attack; but it is in defence that World Cups are won and lost and in this area there is little for the Southern Hemisphere to be worried of at this stage. The surprise victory of the Scots, the demolition of the Welsh and the poor display from the Irish in week one left me wondering if the All Black Grand slam really meant that much; as impressive an achievement as it was.
Wales have deceived before and quite frankly I cannot see them being more than a nuisance at the World Cup, there lack of depth and desire to play an expansive game will not suffice. They will in all likelihood come up against one of Argentina, South Africa and or England and that will put an end to their aspirations. The English have developed a momentum that began in the autumn tests and any team that demolishes the Grand Slam champions with such efficiency must be watched with a great deal of trepidation. The English pack in week one was outstanding and that with players like Simon Shaw, Jason White and Lawrence Dallaglio playing from the bench. Factor in a fit Vickery, Wilkinson and Stuart Abbott and you have the making of a very impressive side.
Whilst strength in the forwards and a kicking flyhalf has brought the English success in the past, they currently do not have the class of the team that took them to the last World Cup. Hodgson is pedestrian at best, despite the tries that he has scored this season. In fact the game against Italy reminded me of the ponderous Bulls as they plied their trade in the final Super 12 last year, results went their way but up against real class they were made to look cumbersome at best. Defensively Italy appear to have mastered certain aspects of the rush defence that is so effectively employed by South Africa. If there is one real pleasure for those of us that reside in the Northern Hemisphere it is the resurgence of a more expansive game that is most pleasing.
France are the only team that possess the depth of New Zealand in almost every position, despite their loss to the Scots, there are not many teams that can field their fifth centre pairing and still come so close to a victory, this was followed by a first half demolition of the Irish in the second week which has aspects of the All Blacks written all over it. One aspect of the French performance that remains as true as ever is their inability to remain consistent, they are just not able to put on the same performance week in and week out. Against the English two years ago in Paris they dominated the first half, only to capitulate in the second, the same happened against Wales a year ago and yesterday we saw the same result. I put it down to the lack of a genuine leader amongst the backs and therefore you have to question the continued use of Michalak as a starter, pity there are really only journeymen available if he is not starting.
The Irish have flattered in the past few years only to deceive; famous victories over South Africa and England in the last couple of years have not made me any more confident that they only have an outside chance of ever progressing to the final four in a World Cup. The Scots who were so impressive against a poor French team were denied a great opportunity at a double by what can only be described as an outrageous decision by the referee. Kicking can never be condoned, but to deny the paying spectator the opportunity to watch a competitive game is indeed a great pity. Scott Murray may never be castigated to the extent of a Corne Krige and that is a great pity because he cannot begin to imagine the impact that his seconds of stupidity have had on the match.
The less said about the standard of refereeing the better, the only official that has come even close to delivering a professional performance is Jonathan Kaplan and we already knew that he was of a certain class. The moron that officiated in the Ireland vs. Italy game should not be given a second chance. Mr Walsh is well known to South Africans as a bit of a donkey and his decision to send Scott Murray packing makes no sense if compared with the inability of a match referee to punish an Irishman for the same offence a week before.
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Is dit nie belaglik dat De Wet Barry ‘n geelkaart kry vir ‘n kamstige kopstamp wat niemand seergemaak het nie, maar Van Heerden wat vir De Villiers late tackle en dan met sy toks op hom spring kom niks oor nie?
De Kock wat verkeerd ingekom het met die tackle en sy eie kop oopstamp, kry ‘n stafskop teen hom? Goed gedoen Stormers om die heavy-weight Cats span te klop. Wie is now die Powder Puff Girls?
Vir ‘n verandering het ons spannetjies almal goed vertoon, veral die Sharks het my verras om met die Chiefs af te reken. Cheetah’s wat egter ongelukkig om teen die Bulls te verloor, maar hulle het darem baie swak beslissings van die ref teen hulle gehad.
Stormer en SA Rugby Ondersteuner
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