|Volume 5, Week 19|
Two weeks in rugby is a long time. Even more so if we are talking SA
rugby and midst of a Lions tour to New Zealand. It is blatantly obvious
that SA rugby business will never be as smooth as Roger Federer’s
backhand despite the candid intentions of Jake White and our double
world champion status. But the big surprise was the demise of the ‘best
prepared Lions team ever’ in NZ…
Home first. The Springboks were not up to scratch in the first test against the French. The scrum, despite a big weight advantage struggled again and a few players lack of match practice were obvious - they were a yard or two off the pace. The French were more creative and with space to move in crafted some beautiful tries. Yet, the test was not lost. In hindsight it was a very good draw by the Springboks, if there is ever such a thing.
In the second test match we saw a far better Springbok team performance, in fact this was one of Jake White’s finest accomplishments in the last year. The team selections were heavily criticised beforehand and this writer would have had a fair bit to say about the inclusion of Ricky Januarie over the more fancied Fourie Du Preez. Reading through the literature of the week, Jake White made his selection reasons clear, he needed to know who the second best scrumhalf in his squad was.
To be truthful, the young man pleasantly surprised this old scrumhalf and even though in his eagerness he made a few schoolboy handling errors his contribution to the victory was high. Du Preez is not all of a sudden the second best scrumhalf but Januarie created a new dimension of pressure on the French backline. Fourie will assimilate the excellent work done by his colleague in disrupting the rhythm of the French backline and realise that this aspect of his own game will need to improve. The downside of that continuous type of pressure on the flyhalf is not having an extra line of defence behind the backline. Plaudits to the Springbok management for realising that with Michalak it was worth taking the gamble and thus cutting off the dangerous French backs.
One of the other pleasing aspects was the performance of the Springbok scrum. For the first time in Jake White’s tenure, the scrum stood up to the pressures of a test match. This freed Schalk up and also gave Jaco ball on the front foot. The recycling and phases will require attention against especially the Australians who will starve the Springboks of any ball, they will certainly not concede as many turnovers as the French did and after watching the All Blacks in the wet – they will neither. That however is a game plan for a different team and a different competition.
For the moment, it’s a Springbok series victory worth savouring regardless what critics may say of the French performance. They were only allowed to play as well or bad as they did by committed Springbok defence and instantaneous punishment of mistakes. Bryan Habana, take a bow – this brilliant player is fast becoming more dangerous than the Red Baron and like the German ace has a strike rate second to none.
The much anticipated Lions tour is fast becoming as attractive as Maria Sharapova’s grunting i.e. not. Their failure in the test to make an impact on the All Blacks and their subsequent bleating over the O’Driscoll incident smacks of a cover up of issues ranging far deeper than the injury to a gifted and brilliant player. The incident was a shame, and the series is the poorer for it that BOD is no longer available but regardless – time wait for no man even if he does seem to walk on water. Tana Umaga has also proved over many years of playing the game that he is one of the good guys and his reputation and actions are beyond reproach.
Like the Michelin man, Clive Woodward is under serious pressure to produce a positive result this weekend. He has made a host of changes and returned his golden boy Jonnie Wilkinson to the no10 jersey in order to beat an even more dangerous looking All Blacks side. Kelleher is a better scrumhalf than Marshall and Muliaina is a devastating runner with the ball. If it is dry in Wellington and the forwards dominate as they did in the first test then this match could turn into Sir Woodward’s Trafalgar and a big embarrassment to the Lions.
Woodward may have reached the pinnacle of rugby success through his management skill yet it may be ironic that this very ‘management skill’ could prove to be his undoing. With so many people to manage, the support party is as big as the player contingent, is his focus really on the rugby? Is he really in touch with what the players are doing on and off the field? Management is good to provide strategies, goals and objectives but are they ever in touch with implementation? What were the recommendations of McGeechan and all the other coaching staff with regards to first test selection? This writer cannot wait to see the DVD that will no doubt be released to tell the real story.
It will however be foolish to write them off at this stage of the tour although from a neutral perspective it looks highly unlikely that they will win the series 2-1. Where to then for Clive? Football? You are only as good as your last game, apparently.
Huge congratulations to the SA u/21 team for an excellent win over Australia in Argentina. The match was entertaining and the Baby Boks were the better team for the majority of the 80 minutes. They actually squandered a few opportunities when players were not aware of support or simply chose to ignore the team mate in a better position to score. All is well that ends well and yet another talented group of players must be integrated into the senior ranks to capitalise on obvious age group superiority.
This coming weekend, Lions versus the All Blacks – All Blacks to win comfortably and the French to beat the Australians by a whisker. Enjoy the test rugby!
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|Circus Act by Desmond Organ|
The events of the last week involving a man who in many ways is the last
ray of hope for Springbok rugby has brought to the fore the circus act
that is rugby in South Africa. From the moment that the President of
SARU and his collection of clowns set foot in the buildings vacated by
Silas and co; all they have been short of is a circus master to get them
to bungle along in tandem. The Minister of Sport and the rest of Van
Rooyen’s cronies have demonstrated to the whole world that they are
nothing more than bungling fools caught up in an a series of acts that
would make them quite suitable for positions a circus clowns.
South African rugby as highlighted by many of the people who really understand the way the game is run is in limbo from the executive, to the national and provincial levels. The success of the national side has more to do with the current coaches ability to identify talent, motivate players and technically outwit his opponents; it has very little to do with the hordes of bureaucrats that occupy the offices of SARU in Cape Town. In fact I will go further and say that the recent successes of the U19 and U21 teams has got everything to do with the abundance of raw talent that exists in South Africa. Jake White has gone on record to say that South Africa is blessed with more natural talent than any other rugby playing nation in the world.
The state of the game at the executive level is as corrupt and decadent as it was at the height of the Apartheid regime, the pressure of producing results and a representative team in the midst of the mediocre attempts to produce the equivalent of the Australian Sports Academy has resulted in most national coaches starting with a clear ambition and commitment to representation only to end up with the two black wings syndrome that has become synonymous with transformation. Our President has every reason to resign, his pathetic attempts to install personal friends and colleagues into positions that require professional experience is totally unacceptable, his outbursts in the press regarding his peers and the national coach and his references to who would replace him are representative of incompetence. What the game needs is for people like Markgraaf and Van Rooyen to leave the game for good. It is no wonder that people like Morne Du Plessis refused to be drawn into the circus that is SARU under Van Rooyen.
At the Provincial level, the inability of teams to transform the game into a representative one is totally unacceptable, yes there is talent and yes there is an opportunity to develop players. It is a matter of fact that the game will continue to be plagued by quotas and selection interference until such time as talent is developed at the Provincial level. We need to take the example of the Blue Bulls and Stormers and blend it with a commitment to transformation. What difference does it make if we set targets for Provincial teams; they are playing each other and not international opposition. Clearly our results in the Super 12 do nothing to defend the maintenance of the status quo. It is necessary to transform at Provincial level so that the best players are playing in the Super 12 and competing for positions in the National team. There is nothing wrong with players who succeed at Provincial and Super 12 level not reaching the international level; but when they are not there, there is no way you can defend the lack of representation in the national team.
The national team should be the ultimate reward for a player, not the place where selection interference and the two black wing syndromes exist. We need to reach a point where players who happen to be successful at the Provincial level are accepted as contributing to the game even if they do not reach national status. The outbursts from Provincial supporters are fuelled by the inconsistency in selection that has plagued our game. There are white players who are also not good enough who are being put forward as potential test players and most often it is on the basis that there are players of colour that do not deserve their places. Transform at the Provincial level and develop all players in South Africa and this will reduce the constant references to quotas and players of colour. Unfortunately the racial debate will remain in South Africa for a long time to come, but we owe it to the youth who are growing up in a society that is vastly different to the one that most middle aged South Africans are used to. What we cannot afford to do is continue prejudice through quotas and through a lack of commitment to transformation. It is totally unacceptable that players like Bennie Nortje are selected ahead of players like Sandile Nxumalo, just as it is unacceptable that black players who have not been nurtured are exposed at Super 12 level, what opportunities have been missed by the constant inactivity of players like Shimange, Tybilika and Sephaka. Were it not for the current coach and his insistence on their inclusion we would be in a right mess.
We are currently blessed with a great deal of talent at Provincial level and if we want to avoid a situation where players are out of their depth at Super 12 and international level we have to transform the game, that way their will be players of all backgrounds at Provincial levels that are not destined to achieve the levels of the Springbok team.
If we do not act soon, the efforts of Jake White will be in vain and the transformation that he has committed to will fade away. What is being done to develop additional players in the mould of the following?
15. Breyton Paulse
14. Wylie Human
13. Bryan Habana
12. Wayne Julies
11. Ashwin Willemse
10. Conrad Jantjes
9. Enrico Januarie
8. Tim Dlulane
7. Wayne van Heerden
6. Solly Tybilika
5. Randal Julies
4. Quinton Davids
3. Eddie Andrews
2. Hanyani Shimange
1. Laurence Sephaka
I mean, if I do six good things and two bad things, then it will be the
two bad things that get all the attention. All in all, it has been very
disappointing. Marius Joubert
I don't aim to shine, if I do my job properly I should not be noticed; as long as I get my backline over the advantage line and into gaps. Jaco van der Westhuyzen
I believe that, conditioning-wise, we are still behind other nations, not because of the structure but because of the age of the players we have. Jake White
It was awesome: there was an eerie silence and I could feel the atmosphere. In hindsight, I should have walked then. It would have been perfect. Louis Luyt on the Springbok 1995 RWC triumph.
I am beginning to wonder if Sir Clive Woodward knows what he is doing, I want to be supportive of the Lions. I want them to do to the All Blacks what we did in 1971. But I just can't figure out what Woodward's plan is - if there is a plan. JPR Williams
We are definitely not scared of New Zealand. We played them twice last year and learnt a lot. We are not afraid anymore because we play them so often. The players are more at ease now. Pieter de Villiers SA u/21 coach
I wouldn't say there is anything political in it, but I obviously do have to pick a team that is in the interests of the nation as a whole. From my point of view, given the guidelines, this is the strongest team I could have picked. Jake White
I guess we're expected to win, and win playing the kind of rugby people are accustomed to seeing from us, but speaking personally, I don't care how we win, just so long as we do. Dan Carter
He knows I support him as coach and I have given him constant backing since his appointment. But as president of SA Rugby Union I do answer to a variety of stakeholders. And that is what I had to emphasise to the coach. Brian van Rooyen
Fourie du Preez is highly rated and not just by me, but by lots of people, he is still my first choice. This is about who is second best - it's either Ricky Januarie or Bolla Conradie and it's about time to find out. Jake White
In my opinion, it is a pretty horrendous tackle that has put Brian out for a long time. It took half an hour to put his shoulder back in, and after watching it he was pretty lucky, if we are honest. Clive Woodward
I am in no doubt whatever that it was deliberate foul play, a double spearing. It was a cheap shot which has put me out of the tour. Brian O'Driscoll
It is an unbelievable honour for me to be named captain for the rest of the Tour. And the New Zealanders better understand I will be around a lot longer than a couple of minutes. This is a squad of great players with a lot of fight in them and we are going to put disappointment behind us and show the world what we are made of. Gareth Thomas
I understand and accept that we need to meet certain criteria, but we need to know what those criteria are, and I need to be able to communicate it to the players. Jake White
The Lions proved what I have been saying since they first touched down. They are the worst Lions team to come here. In the first Test they were fortunate it wasn't dry. If it had been it would have been a rout. The Lions offered nothing on attack, but of more concern to Clive - I refuse to call him Sir Clive because he just doesn't strike me as a knight in shining armour - was the way the All Blacks dominated the forward confrontations. He did the Lions jersey a disservice by not giving his first 15 a run before the Test. I'm amazed by his 'spin'. As a coach I put my credibility on the line whenever I spoke. That honesty is important because the rugby public know what they are looking at. Laurie Mains
As a player Clive Woodward was mediocre - as a coach, judging on his performance in the last few weeks, you have to say he is less than that. JPR Williams
They aren't shooting themselves because of what has happened ... they realise that it was an accident. We have just got to move on. Graham Henry on his team's feeling towards the BOD incident.
Well the Springboks where brought down to earth when they faced a second rate French side this past Saturday and there was no flattery in the scoreline compared to the previous week. The Boks where lucky to come away with a draw.
It appears that to be selected to the Springbok squad is based on a selection criteria of not having to be inform, being part of the old guard and you only there on your past way gone good performances, having a good relationship with Jake White and naturally having a darker shade of "white" (excuse the pun) always helps.
Jake White's strategy in having faith in players who did not perform in the Super 12 and have carried their poor performance into the test against France (Uruguay game was a farce just like the US Grand Prix) is going to come back and bite him. To name a few - Andrews, Barry, Joubert and Smit. Van der Westhuizen was praised after the Uruguay game however his array of weaknesses where exposed against France.
With a few French players returning from injury and if France have one of their non destructive games as they are so prone to self district, the result on Saturday could be most embarrassing for the Boks.
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