Editors Note


Volume 5, Week 25

Editors Note

Brilliant!      Few things can compare to a Springbok victory over the All Blacks. Maybe, Ernie winning the Masters or a personal visit from Angelina Jolie but still, a triumph over the best other rugby country in the world is a very very special occasion. To witness it first hand for the SECOND time in a year was just extraordinary - mind you, it would have been a damn impressive place to take ‘Lara Croft’ on a first date don’t you think?

Well done Springbok team 2005 – so far you have beaten unbelievable odds. With the kind of bedlam and bickering at administrative level and some ‘third force’ in action, three consecutive victories over numbers 1 and 2 ranked in the world is a phenomenal achievement. This column seldom ventures into the realm of rugby politics and it will remain so but allow the following chastise to all those self-serving, subversive parties wiling to do their outmost in making Jake White and his team’s life unpleasant – neither rugby, the team, the players, the supporters or the spectators like you, need you or will miss you and you WILL be found out.

Wow, heady stuff dear readers but sitting at Newlands on Saturday and watching how the players gave their all, making tackle after tackle with bone crunching intensity it became quite clear where their hearts and commitment was. It was for their team and their country – nobody else. Yes they get paid large sums of money but if they play like that, few will begrudge their fortune – certainly not this happy supporter.

OK, back to the game. The Cape dished up a day fit for very little but duvet, red wine and aforementioned Ms Jolie but 50,000 supporters froze their proverbials off to witness a fascinating encounter. Television is no substitute for the real thing, period. Watching from quite a height the moves and counter moves unfold at a dizzying speed and everything is so much faster than TV suggests. The locks rank the heavens and with a cross wind strong enough to whip hats off heads, there were hardly any skew throw ins, if any… and the kicking was flawless, not taking Percy’s rushed job into account – a truly remarkable performance.

The All Blacks were rusty and they were perhaps unprepared for the ferocity of the Springboks defence. They had made their plans to counter the infamous rush defence and by gad did they manage to beat it? More than a few times but then superb cross defence snuffed their brillaint running backs like Gear (How good is he!?). It was only when they worked the overlap with some good and calculated skip passes in close that they could outstrip both the rush and the cross, to score an excellent try.

Regarding this rush defence. As a spectator it gives you the holy bejeebies! You see a long line of black clad players who are damn fine runners and steppers with only a few Springboks opposite them and then one of the few rush up at a speed of knots and try to isolate the recipient with a smother tackle. The timing is unbelievably fine and crucial – TV follows the ball so there is hardly an opportunity to witness what the rest of the players are doing or how the tackler suddenly ‘appears’. In the background, the other players are shunting across the field in case the ‘rusher’ gets it wrong. Phew, fascinating and nerve racking stuff but also very very high risk.

A few comments:

• The scrumming was excellent and our tight five produced a commanding performance.
• The line out is fast becoming our ‘signature’ play and Bakkies, Victor and Juan Smith are safer than Fort Knox.
• Our loose forwards played very well in combination, complimenting each other's strengths and weaknesses. Richie McCaw is a brilliant player and to have contained him was impressive – they simply had to and he was forced into crucial and costly mistakes.
• Joe van Niekerk is playing superb rugby at present. Gone are the highlighted locks and playboy image – back is the player of 2002/3 who set the world alight with his pace, vision and skills. As a big critic of his this year, well done Joe and welcome back, keep it up!
• Ricky Januarie was awesome. He struggled into the wind with his passing and needs to up this part of the game but for rugged and fierce competitiveness, there are few better. He is turning into a bit of a talisman but needs to focus his discipline. Jake White has a brilliant combination in him and Fourie – incidentally his very same u21 world cup winning halves. Ricky’s tackle on Rico Gear was my moment of the match.
• Andre Pretorius played well and defended his channel adequately, with a lot of help from Schalkie and the others. His kicking is an asset and distribution good, he is however under orders and maybe if he lets loose as a runner and attacker (but please not from your own 25 with 5 minutes on the clock and a fragile lead) his true value can be realised.
• The backs did very little attacking and the flair of JHB was not quite evident but then – a certain style was required to win the test and so, mission accomplished.
• Percy – adjectives abound. A bit slow coming into the line nowadays but has so much more to offer, the most valuable player in the team at the moment.

The post match press conference was an interesting affair. The Kiwi’s were represented by Henry, Hansen, Smith and Richie and they were very magnanimous in defeat, answering questions with aplomb, grace and fair amount of humour. No doubt this will change when back in NZ as they will be given a far rougher ‘interrogation’ than what they received on this occasion, especially if they should lose to Australia this weekend… One thing did disturb this interested observer, and that was the strange attitude towards Joe Rokocoko. Wayne Smith felt, ‘he did what was expected’ when it was patently obvious he was far more effective in the short time on the field than Muliaina all match long. With a player that good on the bench the must be other issues – good for us!

The South African contingent was very serious and demure with no evidence of arrogance and hardly elation at the magnitude of their victory. Jake White was certainly distracted and the coach was clearly under a lot of pressure and one wonders what really goes on behind the scenes? It was an occasion for a lot more happier faces but maybe it was just evident of a team, more professional in the making and a lot more focussed on their record and the hard work required to travel to Australasia and win there.

This coming weekend, the Wallabies host the All Blacks in what will be another humdinger. Both teams suddenly have a lot to prove and improve. Graham Henry’s side probably more from a pressure at home point of view. Defeat is simply not tolerated in NZ. Eddie Jones is also feeling a lot of heat and this game is vital for his and the team’s future one feels. Can they win? Yes, Sydney has been a good hunting ground for the Aussies and somehow they always reserve their best for the All Blacks. The match will be a far different affair than the Springbok tests, the two teams favour open running rugby and although they both have magnificent defences, they are ultimately two of the best attacking teams in the world. It will be good. Enjoy!



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Defending the Icon by Desmond Organ
Victory against the All Blacks on Saturday was not just about home victories; it was about earning respect, slaying demons of the past and restoring an age old rivalry that has been watered down in the last several years. A loss would have undermined the growing self confidence of the current crop of Springboks and that is something that cannot happen in the midst of the ongoing debacle that is SARU.

Jake White and his team have done something special and in defeating the All Blacks in back to back test matches they have shown that they can stand tall in the midst of extremely demanding circumstances. The team is increasingly representative and that is merit based, not some fickle exercise in making up the numbers or complying with targets that have all but undermined the Provincial Unions attempts to comply with the national body. Amidst all the drama of the last few years fans would have been forgiven for slumping into the all too familiar pattern of dreaming about invincibility only to have their dream shattered on a continuous basis.

It means something when a player like Percy Montgomery tells us that he never felt South Africa had the players or the strategies to win whilst he was commentating for Sky, it means even more when players like Rickie Januarie are applauded as they enter the fray and it is absolutely outstanding to hear Graham Henry and Eddie Jones applaud the achievements. Some of the praise form opposition coaches may be a strategic mind game; but I have no doubt that they have respect for Jake White. The same could not be said for his predecessor and although great players like Tana Umaga have always defended the importance of the Springbok vs All Black rivalry it is really sweet to know that now they have very valid reasons for doing this.

The Springbok is a battered symbol as it has been dragged through racism, quotas and continuing bad administration from the top. Even in the professional arena of Rian Oberholzer there were those plotting behind the scenes to further their own interests at the expense of the icon that the Springbok is. It was embarrassing to have been at Twickenham on the day that our rugby dragged itself down to the level that it did, it was humiliating to have to look for some kind of explanation for the behaviour of the national coach in Pretoria before the World Cup and Kamp Staalgraad made the Springbok look like a demon from some type of horror movie. All through this however, players have spoken of their love for the jersey and that special feeling of pulling one over their shoulders.

It is small wonder that many in the rest of the world spend most of their time focusing on the evils that have been associated with the Springboks, it is always easier to criticise others rather than to focus on your own challenges and failures. What a tremendous job we as South Africans have done in the last two years as we attempt to live with the memories of the past. There is much to do and a few losses here and there may well see the old behaviours returning and with it will come the debates around quotas and poor administration. The only regret that we should have with the resurgence is the fact that it allows the corruption and hand outs to continue unchecked and this is the worst possible thing for South Africa.

The Eastern Cape is the home of black rugby and it is crucial that their involvement in the Super 12 is a success, one of the other teams will have to step back as they are given the opportunity. SARU has a duty to the public to ensure that it is successful. The corrupt administrators must be forced out, we do not want the equivalent of the Zimbabwean cricket team, we want a representative, competitive and well administered future for the game, getting it right in the Eastern Cape is going to be crucial to creating a rejuvenated icon and one that all of us can be proud of.

Complacency continues to be All Blacks biggest weakness by Vinesh Naicker
Graham Henry and his coaching staff have earned themselves a lot of praise from the NZ and overseas public as a result of the series ‘blackwash’ over the Lions. What had been forgotten was the way they struggled to win overseas victories, losing both away legs of the Tri-Nations last year to finish last in the competition. With seven wins in a row since they were trounced at Ellis Park, everything has been looking rosy with the All Blacks already installed as favourites for the 2007 World Cup.

The Springboks and Jake White obviously have a different view of how 2007 will pan out and although respectful of the All Blacks strike power have been quietly confident of their own abilities (if SARFU can hold itself together long enough to allow them to compete.)

The Lions proved to be a disappointment (the worst Lions team to tour here in the last 50 years according to ex-All Black coach Laurie Mains) and many of us were left wondering just how good this current All Black team really is. The test match at Newlands was going to be our first real gauge of this, with the Springboks riding high on confidence from their two victories over Australia.

Before the third test against the Lions, the All Blacks had talked about one of their biggest problems being complacency, and yet they had been flat and jaded in that game. With four weeks off to freshen up they were saying all the right things going into the game, with assistant coach Wayne Smith and inside centre Aaron Mauger talking about how they had been thinking about how to counter South Africa’s rush defence for some time now.

I was pleased to hear Mauger say they were aware of the Bok backs tendency to get in among the defence and therefore they wouldn’t be throwing any loopy passes. A pity that none of his team mates agreed with him.

When referee Andrew Cole’s whistle started the game there was quite obviously only one team on the park intending to play rugby and that was the Springboks. The All Blacks and their coaches had seemingly decided that the Springbok lineout was going to be a major threat and therefore to be avoided as much as possible. In this, Jake White’s unseemly Woodwardesque whining in the media seemed to have worked, encouraging Henry and company to de-emphasise the set pieces. The All Blacks brilliant plan was therefore not to play rugby but to play basketball.

From the start it all went wrong. Daniel Carter, whose performance had been nearly flawless in his previous game, kicked badly and often out of hand all game. The forwards were reluctant to commit to hitting the ball up especially around the fringes of the rucks. Everyone seemed desperate to pass the ball at all costs, no matter how inappropriate it was. Invariably, when the ball went wide, we were treated to the sight of Tony Woodcock or Rodney So’oialo thundering down the touchline looking to beat several defenders and run 70 metres. The outside backs were nowhere to be seen until ruck and maul time. Bizarre.

The biggest weapon in the All Black arsenal since their Ellis Park spanking has been their clinical ability to score tries from set pieces, the backs slicing through the opposing defence with pace, precision and power. At Newlands there was no hint of any of these; instead from each ragged ruck either Weepu or Kelleher would wander around looking for a runner to take the ball off their hands.

Handling errors were the order of the day for the All Blacks, one of the typical examples was vice-captain Richie McCaw, usually a dominant force in any game, fumbling and bumbling his way around the park.

The numerous mistakes denied the All Blacks any momentum and they rarely questioned the Springbok defence. The best evidence of this was Schalk Burger not being penalised for any head high tackles. Anybody who has watched Burger play, for any length of time, has seen that when he is beaten on defence he invariably throws out an arm to grab his opponent around the neck. The fact that he didn’t do this all game meant that the All Blacks rarely tested the Springbok defence.

Meanwhile the Springboks just played percentage rugby, rushing up in defence to smother any All Black initiatives and constantly kicking for field position. They backed their lineout and didn’t give up one of their throws all night. Instead they poached several of the All Black lineout throws, further discouraging them from moving away from their airy-fairy, razzle-dazzle basketball type game.

On the plus side the All Black defence was generally good, although the Springboks rarely asked them any questions, with Pretorius generally kicking the ball where possible. This, however, was all they needed to do once De Viliers had scored his seemingly trademark intercept try.

The All Blacks earned a bonus point for finishing within seven points courtesy of several botched drop goal attempts from Pretorius, but didn’t deserve to finish that closely.

After getting off to a very good start the Springboks now face the challenge of winning away from home. Something they will have to do to retain their Tri-Nations crown.

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I don't think we would regard it as disrespectful if opponents did turn their backs on us. For an All Black the haka is about what we do before going into battle and how we perform it. It is not about what others might do. It is something special for us as All Blacks.      Sean Fitzpatrick

They said the Lions didn't turn up for the first Test. They certainly turned up for the second game. The pressure just did not stop. It was intense and a lot was off the ball. It became a tough job to keep perspective and still let the players play. It would have been no good to keep blowing the whistle. I had to find a balance between keeping control and keeping the play going.       Andrew Cole, referee

I want to stress that I find this lack of support and continued criticism, of both the national team and myself, by Mr Markgraaff unprofessional, very disturbing and totally against the spirit of the game.       Jake White in a letter to SARU

The Springboks snatched an astonishing 13-point lead in the first nine minutes and set out a marker for the physical contest to come. Byron Kelleher was smashed out of the game by Victor Matfield and high-octane tackles proliferated. This was legalised violence.        Peter Bills

I think we compliment each other very well, Victor is brilliant in the line-outs and is an outstanding athlete. He covers his ground well, is intelligent in all that he does and makes some telling tackles. Compared to him, I am much more of an in-your-face guy. I am probably more involved in other areas, simply because it suits my style of play.        Bakkies Botha

Rugby has been awesome to me and it is something I will miss. I have been through both good and bad times, but I loved every minute of my time in the game.         Robbie Fleck, retired

I did not hit Byron with the forearm. I connected him with my shoulder in going for the tackle. That's the way the judiciary also saw it. It was not malicious. I am not a malicious player and my track record during my test career indicates this.        Victor Matfield

It is not necessarily a system that would work for everyone. The principle is high risk. So you'd have to have the players to implement. The system was pretty much designed around defensively protecting the wingers in the Bok team. We have quick wingers who are very good on attack, but they're not the biggest and by using the press defence, where you go up and in aggressively, you cut off the threat of their big winger running at your smaller winger.          Nick Mallett on the SA rush defence

David Giffin to Ali Williams in the 2003 Sydney test, 'Williams, I thought they brought you in to help the f---ing lineout . . . you're making it go worse.' Williams turned around and said: 'Yeah, but I've got seven backs kicking your ar--, so it's going all right'.

Hi Lucas

Nooit het ek gedink dat die Bokke dit gaan doen nie!. Die Bokke het egter deur suiwer guts en vasberadenheid gewen, ten spyte van Andre’ Pretorius se beste pogings. Daardie mannetjie moet ‘n medalje vir stupidgeit kry !. Net voor die einde toe Montgommery die bal buite die 25 vang en vir vir Pretorius pass om te skop, besluit die domkop mos om te hardloop. Ek sien toe al hoe die Bokke die wedstryd verloor in die laaste minuut. Ook daardie skepskoppies vlak voor die pale, gee dan liewer die bal uit vir De Villiers. Hy sal weet wat om met die bal te doen.

Marius Stegmann

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