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Rugby Forum - Vol 2, Week 9
Rugby Forum - Vol 2, Week 9
(The week that was, a South African perspective)
13 Apr 2002
[SARF]
Rugby Forum is a weekly newsletter produced by rugbyforum.co.za, it is reposted here with their permission.
Be sure to check out the full Rugby Forum archive at www.rugbyforum.co.za

 
Volume 2, Week 9 Rugby Forum

Editors Note

Brilliant!     Welcome to another bumper edition of Rugby Forum! This week’s mail is a bit chunky mostly because of readers who wrote magnificent letters expressing some interesting opinions, thank you! The wonderful game we love will be much the poorer without people watching, writing and talking about rugby.
 
By all Australian accounts South African rugby is in a tad of a mess – First John Connolly and now Mark Ella and Owen Finnegan has jumped on the old bandwagon re the “state” of our game. Now I have a fair amount of respect for our Australian foes, begrudging their phenomenal success in this year’s competition and the routine slaughtering of our cricket side but it’s about time they b*gger off!
 
Unfortunately judging by six weeks of results they all have a fair point, no arguments about that especially after witnessing one of the finest matches of the Super 12 competition on Sunday morning, the Brumbies vs Crusaders. However, my neighbourhood is still wondering which maniac was shouting at 6am on Easter Sunday when the final whistle blew and the Brumbies’ defeat resulted in a weekend white wash for Australian sides! 
 
One swallow does not make a summer just a good time and with six more weeks to go there is a distinct rift in standards with mostly the South African sides drowning. A weekend bye meant two weeks of recuperation, planning and hopefully preparation for a far better second half of the competition. National morale needs a good showing.
 
The whole New Zealand, Australian World Cup debacle is creating more inquiries than the South African arms deal, for all supporters it is imperative to know that the game is administered by “professional rugby” people, with the good of the game at heart and no personal or petty agendas. We just want to see the games, after all it is about the rugby isn’t?!
 
The coming weekend will be a thrilling final to the Six Nations with everything riding on the France/Ireland clash. It is a difficult match to call, the French are the form side and overwhelming favourites but pressure does strange things to grown men and hell, most of them are only young boys! Keith Wood is back and his sheer presence may be enough for the Irish to spring a surprise. The French deserve a title but like most things in life will have to work damn hard to get it.
 
The professional game is heading for the USA and apparently Argentina embraced the concept a few months ago, so far professionalism is a double-edged sword. People are making huge fortunes from the game; rightly so but is rugby not suffering as a result? Spectators, the “bread of heaven”, are inundated with matches and the quality control seems to be slipping as a result and the special memory of a test match is starting to wane. Also certain countries are intent on enforcing player lay off by sending inferior sides under guise of National teams – this should never be allowed to happen and countries should refuse to play against any 2nd “1st fifteens”.
 
Enjoy a huge weekend of rugby and support your teams, they need it.
Lucas
 

www.rugbyforum.co.za

Tom Marcellus explains his "Marcellus XV" selection to a reader
Dear Tom,

I have no doubt that this is a great team and though I recognise most of the names its mainly from my reading of rugby history. Its interesting that I ( almost fifty ) only ever saw 1 of your list playing. Is there a hidden message in that fact?

George Fanning

P.S Is there a place on the bench for Keith Oxlee?


Dear George

Thanks very much for your comments regarding my XV, which I had a lot of fun (occasionally of the agonising variety) in selecting.

You raise a number of issues that every amateur selector has to mull over, invariably over a few frosties with his mates down at the local tavern. Probably the most testing one is how to do justice to players like, say, oom Boy Louw, who towered over his contemporaries in the 1930’s, but whose massive frame (in those days) would be crunched by a run-of-the-mill Vodacom Cup frontranker today, or Hennie Muller, whose ripped, wiry physique was perfect for the rugby played 50 years ago, but would similarly be cannon-fodder for many of today's brutes.

My own approach in picking my side was to ignore all the players' physical dimensions and to rely solely on my respectful assessment of their "legacy" (for wont of a better word) to Bok rugby. Having been a real rabbit of a player in my time, I don't feel qualified to offer strong views on an old Bok hero's ability. And, hell, how do I compare the deeds and talents of, say, an Osler with an Oxlee – both of whom I have never even seen play? Here I tried to rely on my history books and the views of such respected commentators as Doc Craven and Chris Greyvenstein for guidance.

One of my ground rules was that my XV players had to have all been retired from the game for at least 10 years. Trying to compare a Joost van der Westhuizen to a Craven, or an Os du Randt to a Chris Koch, would otherwise have been a minefield!

Some of my players were easy to select. Doc Craven spoke only in hushed and reverent tones of Bennie Osler, whom he regarded as the greatest of captains and a true genius as a player. Gerry Brand also displaced my initial choice, HO de Villiers, if only because the good Doc also described him as a "genius" and because of my strong bias towards the 1937 Boks. This bias is also shown by my selection of the Greytown farmer, Phil Nel, at no 4. Of course, another consideration may have been the fact that I had a crush on his grand-daughter when I was a wee lad, but then that's another story altogether.

Muller, whose genius was apparent to all and sundry (especially his coach, Craven) after his almost one-man demolition of the 1949 All Blacks, selected himself, as did Chris Koch at prop. Craven and Roos were sentimental selections, granted, but ones that no bluff old traditionalists could ever really quibble about.

I selected Pelser simply because the great Pine Tree spoke so highly of him in his biography "Colin Meads All Black". I could only but defer to the views of the grizzled All Black who respectfully described the one-eyed flanker as a "bloody pain in the neck". Good enough testimony for me.

And as for the rest, well, who would you have gone for? Mordt for Engelbrecht? Or perhaps Moolman for Nel, and Stofberg for Ellis? Perhaps you would have paired up Ryk van Schoor with his old partner-in-crime, Tjol Lategan? Mulling over such selections is the much-cherished past-time of the true armchair fan!

And as for the late, great Keith Oxlee, that "Ferrari of Flyhalves", he would be an asset to any Greatest XV. I'm sorry I never saw him play, whether on the lush turf of Kings Park or Twickenham, or the parched earth of Goldstones.

Regards
Tom Marcellus

tom@rugbyforum.co.za


Six Nations Finale by Desmond Organ

After last weekend’s Australian and New Zealand Super 12 matches, we are again poised for a weekend of Northern and Southern Hemisphere rugby. The fact that the Six Nations comes down to the last weekend is a true testament to the competitiveness of this year’s championship. 

The last round produced the expected results and highlighted the widening gap between the top three teams and the collective wooden spoon candidates. It will require a small miracle for Italy to hand the piece of wood to either Scotland or Wales; considering their form to date. This season should not be viewed as a success for either Scotland or Wales; rather it should be seen as the repetition of the predictability of their performances on the field. 

To sum it up, Wales have failed to produce the miracle season that had been anticipated by the arrival of Graham Henry several years ago. Scotland on the other hand has not scaled the next step of the Six Nations ladder. Perhaps both sides can take a leaf out of the Irish book on how to re-build an under performing team. Stephen Jones, writing for Planet Rugby, stated that the real problem with Welsh rugby is that the bureaucrats are determined to prevent the game from being run professionally at all levels from Schools to National level. His words may sound harsh but the reality is there for all to see. Wales has the hallmarks of a successful rugby nation and should be doing far better than the results show. Ireland seem to have found the right balance of developing players through European club competitions before they step onto the field for a Six Nations encounter.

I think that the problem is a little more complex than the level of professionalism of the administrators. The results that are produced by England are an example of how a large rugby playing nation with a complex club and national set-up can gel to the benefit of the game as a whole. Australia has also shown us that you can take a small group of core players and develop them into a competitive unit. The difference with the Australians is the manner in which they provide opportunities for players to develop from school boy level. There is a well documented and publicised professional sports sciences institute guiding and developing the game of rugby in Australia. Ireland have benefited from the European club championship because the core of their national team are represented in the competition, much like the core of the Brumbies team is represented in the Australian national team.

There is always going to be conflict of interests between administrators, clubs and national bodies, this should not be a surprise to the supporters of the game, especially those with any business acumen. Perhaps Mr. Jones is right in this regard in his analysis of the Welsh situation; it does seem as if the whole concept of managing a business competently is foreign to the committee members of Welsh rugby.

Scotland has to be suffering from some incurable disease because week after week they show glimpses of brilliance, only to disappoint in the end. The fact that they have so many problems advancing over the advantage line amongst the backs is disturbing. However this appears to be a global disease if we look at the performances of Wales against England and that of the majority of the South African Super 12 teams. The simple reason for this is the lack of effective decision making at number 10 or 12. If this is coupled with a slow service from the scrumhalf then you have absolutely no chance of getting over the advantage line.

A good friend of mine summed up the last Scottish performance: “The problem with Scotland is that the forwards keep on going forward and the backs keep on going backwards.”
The time may have come for the Scottish to look for another national coach. There is clearly a problem with decision making amongst the players and the individual brilliance of several will not suffice. 

France appears to have found the cure for having so many gifted players. The coach deserves credit for defeating all but one of the top countries in the space of a calendar year. I am sure that the tour to New Zealand will be a classic. I have been amazed by the level of professionalism of the players and the French appear to have found a cure for their famous tempers on the field.

The pick of the games this weekend will be France versus Ireland. I would look for the French to maintain the playing pattern that has proved so successful this year. They will grind it out in the forwards and then set their electric backs upon the Irish. If the Irish come to the party, this could be a festival of running rugby. I think that the French scrum will prove too much for the Irish and they will be hard pressed to keep up with the French. The return of Peter De Villiers at tight head will bolster the pack even further. 

We all welcome the return of Keith Wood, but he and Brian O'Driscoll will have to be at their best. I would also closely watch the manner in which the French close down Humphreys. They were able to do it to Wilkinson and that destroyed England’s chances. I do not need to remind anybody what happened to Ireland when England shut him down. The Irish would be wise to give O'Gara an extended period of time on the field.

Wales and Scotland could well turn out to be a classic game of forward rugby, but the fact that there backs are about as bad as each other could result in a low scoring game which will flatter the winner without really doing much for the quality of play. Scotland must use their faster forwards to wear down the Welsh and to counter attack at every opportunity. If they can spread the ball wide and turn the Welsh pack around, they could well end up ahead of Wales at the bottom of the ladder.

The Six Nations organizers must have been hoping for a Grand Slam weekend when they scheduled the fixture with Italy. If France wins on Saturday this will the anti climax of the weekend. Loyal English supporters will be the only people parting with money in locations where you have to pay to watch the game. It should be a tough physical encounter, which England will win without raising a sweat.

For what it is worth, here are my predictions for Saturday.

Wales vs. Scotland
Either team by 5 to 10 points

France vs. Ireland
France by at least 10 to 15 points

England vs. Italy
Ireland by at least 35 points

des@rugbyforum.co.za


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A Test of South African Pride by Mark Foster

The Super 12 has reached the halfway stage after 32 matches and six weeks of exhilarating rugby. Unfortunately the Australians and New Zealanders produced most of the good stuff but then the average South African supporter needs no further reminding of their team’s woes in this competition.

The past weekend thankfully produced no humiliating defeats and was quite conspicuous in its quality culminating in one of the best matches seen for a long time between the Crusaders and Brumbies. This fascinating match had it all, awesome driving and mauling from the Crusaders pack, solid scrumming from the Brumbies, thrilling running from the Brumbies’ backline, bone-jarring defence, superb refereeing from Jonathan Kaplan and a heart-stopping finale that left spectators breathless and fulfilled. Looking at the quality it is easy to see why our South African sides are not amongst the top 4, the skills were phenomenal and the concentration levels incredible between the competition’s two heavyweights. This was Frazier vs Ali.

The rest of the weekend’s matches were not as good but still extremely enjoyable with the Chiefs springing a big upset in Invercargill over the high riding Highlanders. Inspired by the return of their captain, Deon Muir the Chiefs made excellent use of their opportunities to score good tries. In Reihana and Randle they possess two of the competition’s most lethal finishers.

The Blues won a hard fought battle against the unbeaten Waratahs and the match will probably be best remembered for Bob Dwyer’s bizarre replacement of Duncan McRae after the diminutive pivot was the most influential player on the park. That decision arguably cost them the match. The other close victory saw the Hurricanes complete a New Zealand white wash over their Australian counterparts by beating the Reds with 4 points. Ben Tune scored another magnificent trademark try and this player is a joy too behold when fit and in form.

The South African sides need to re-launch their campaigns, the Sharks sans Rudolf Straeuli will begin a long home stretch against the Blues and Kevin Putt will no doubt remember a huge defeat in the final a few years ago against the very same opposition. This time a few of the participants will be on the sidelines in different capacities, it is good to see former players involved in the game and at the teams that made them famous.

The Cats face the resurgent Chiefs who will be very confident after their good weekend, they welcome back Andre Vos and the presence of a Springbok captain might just make the difference and provide the spark to ignite their fortunes. 

The Bulls and Stormers are on the road and judging by their pathetic away record, the Bulls have very little chance of making any inroads. The Stormers are good travelers and Gert Smal holds the distinction of never having lost a game on the road all be it one match only against the Sharks! The Cape Town outfit is playing the Reds at Ballymore, a notoriously difficult hunting ground especially when the crowd gets involved in the play, ask Deon Kayser!

The weekend will provide some answers as to what the much vaunted South African pride is like, the Cats and Sharks need to produce competitive displays worthy of the semi-finalist they were last year. The Bulls only need to win a match to make it the most successful overseas tour ever but then against Mr Mehrtens and co. they have about as much a chance as beating the real bulls in the streets of Pamplona.

mark@rugbyforum.co.za


Super 12 Log

Team

Played Won Won
Home
Won
Away
Lost Lost
Home
Lost 
Away
Points
For
Points
Against
Tries
For
Tries
Against
Bonus
Points
Points
Brumbies 6 5 3 2 1 0 1 244 126 32 13 6 26
Waratahs 6 5 2 3 1 0 1 225 120 30 12 5 25
Highlanders 6 4 2 2 2 1 1 212 109 25 12 5 21
Crusaders 5 5 3 2 0 0 0 161 125 13 13 1 21
Hurricanes 6 4 3 1 2 1 1 149 174 14 21 2 18
Blues 5 3 2 1 2 0 2 153 121 18 13 2 14
                           
Stormers 5 2 1 1 3 3 0 125 114  11 12 3 11
Reds 5 2 2 0 3 1 2 125 121 12 11 3 11
Chiefs 5 1 0 1 4 2 2 124 164 15 19 4 8
Cats 5 1 0 1 4 0 4 110  209 11 29 1 5
Bulls 5 0 0 0 5 5 0 120 231 15 31 1 1
Sharks 5 0 0 0 5 1 4 56 190 7 21 1 1

Rugby Forum Super 12 XV

Halfway through the Super 12 and there are no South Africans in the team! As a comparison, the 2001 RF team after six weeks and 33 matches. There is only two!! player present in both teams, George Gregan and Greg Somerville.

2002                                                          2001

1. Bill Young (Brumbies)                           -  Robbie Kempson   (Stormers)
2. Jeremy Paul (Brumbies)                        -  Anton Oliver          (Highlanders)
3. Greg Somerville (Crusaders)              -  Greg Somerville    (Crusaders)
4. Justin Harrison (Brumbies)                     -  Johan Ackerman   (Cats)
5. Chris Jack (Crusaders)                          -  Victor Matfield        (Bulls)
6. George Smith (Brumbies)                      -  Johan Erasmus      (Cats)
7. Owen Finnegan (Brumbies)                   -   Phil Waugh           (Waratahs)
8. Deon Muir (Chiefs)                                -  Andre Vos             (Cats)
9. George Gregan (Brumbies)                -  George Gregan      (Brumbies)
10. Tony Brown (Highlanders)                    -  Stephen Larkham   (Brumbies)
11. Bruce Reihana (Chiefs)                        -  Joe Roff                (Brumbies)
12. Aaron Mauger (Crusaders)                   -  Trevor Halstead     (Sharks)
13. Stirling Mortlock (Brumbies)                 -  Tana Umaga        (Hurricanes)
14. Ben Tune (Reds)                                 -  Matt Burke          (Waratahs)
15. Matt Rogers (Waratahs)                      -  Christian Cullen   (Hurricanes)


Quotes
SARFU must conduct a brutal assessment of the game in South Africa and then develop a strategic plan - which includes player skills - to reach all levels of the game, just as the ARU did in the 1970s when we finally tired of getting belted by the All Blacks.      Mark Ella

On the siren that signals half and full time - Hooters in New Zealand Tony? Hooters are what you see on the sidelines!       Murray Mexted

In New Zealand, rugby is a game for the people, in Australia it's a corporate game.    Matt Rogers

It's not so much the money, the notoriety or the fame. I really love playing and to be honest I felt a bit stale in New Zealand. I wasn't enjoying it as much. But I still have this wicked passion for grovelling for the ball on the floor and maybe getting the occasional run.     Josh Kronfeld


Letters to the Editor (letters@rugbyforum.co.za)
Hi Ed

By far the best week to date for the four SA teams in this years Super 12 competition. 

One has to add some humour (or sarcasm call it what you may) into the boiling pot after what can only be described as the worst performance to date by the SA teams in the history of the competition. For once I felt a little relieved from the tension, anguish, anxiety and disappointments of the past few weeks and hopefully so did many of the players. Let's hope this small break can result in some much needed performance improvements and results or otherwise all four SA sides could end up in the bottom half of the log or even worse which is a real possibility, of ending up occupying all four of the bottom places, which will be a first in the history of the competition.

I find it so difficult to understand the reasoning why SARFU would want a fifth SA side in the competition when on recent history a SA side has ended up a distinctive last on the table, notable the Bulls. Personally, I do believe that SA has currently not enough players at Super 12 level to field four "truly" competitive sides, yet alone five.

The issue of how difficult it is to tour and win has been beaten to death and has been disproved by the Sharks and Cats who have won somewhat handsomely on previous tours and the high level of success attained by Aussie and the New Zealand sides touring here, particularly of late. They are far more competitive on tour and even though they may lose some games, the margin of defeat is far less than that experienced by the SA who most often lose very badly.

Getting back to the fourth SA side and as an alternative option (which may sound bizarre) with all the political haggling and interference of transformation and number of players of colour etc. Why not consider the fourth side a team made up only of players of colour (something like the New Zealand Maori team which is also used for rugby development purposes) or with only three or four white players in the side to add experience. I am sure that this side will not fair any worse than the Bulls and will feature more of a defined purpose than that of the Bulls which purpose appears to be to prop up the log. SARFU can motivate this move through their highly paid executives who have done little for this new age of rugby game in SA that we as supporters love so much. This can be viewed as a temporary measure for the next three to four years and reasoning should be based on the country's sporting rugby history of white dominance and isolation with the aim of getting far more players of colour coming through the ranks, reaching and playing at this level. 

Current players of colour at Super 12 level should be encouraged and could even be incentivised to play in this team in order to add experience and the squad should not be restricted regionally, however will have to have a home base. Some may view this as a bias or even a "racist" approach but I do believe this option does have it's merits with the emphasis on "merit". With an increasingly number of white SA players leaving to play in the UK for whatever reasons, even if they are in their twilight years and with little being done to encourage these players to stay or put something back into the local game, the number of players at Super 12 and international level will continue to decline in a game that has changed remarkable in the past decade. At the end of the day with all being said about the reasons for the current turmoil in SA rugby, if we do not have the depth in player stature when compared to other countries i.e. Aussie and New Zealand, we will suck the hind-tit. A prime example of this is Australian cricket where the depth and level of players is of such a high standard in all forms of the game, which makes them always extremely competitive and with this automatically comes consistency in winning, which is what SA is seriously lacking in all team sports, including soccer.

When visiting New Zealand last year it was interesting to hear that their junior rugby is still based on weight groups and not age groups. Some comment was made to this effect recently in SA where SA junior rugby is based on age groups which appears to be somewhat flawed. It will be interesting to hear your views and your viewers views on the merits on both weight and age groups. It has also always puzzled me why youngsters playing whatever sport, have to play on the same size field/court, use mostly the same size ball or sporting apparatus and use the same size goals or goal posts as their much larger adult counterparts. It's most probable all got to do with economics and finances. 

I cannot really say that I am looking forward to the next round of the Super 12 but let's hope we see another great game like the Crusaders/Brumbies game played last week and that maybe it will involve a SA side. So far this year it has been a great tournament for the two other competing nations and all credit most go to them for some great rugby played.

Chow
Schultzy

PS. Would it be possible to include a log of the Super 12 each week and add more interesting statistics i.e. Tries For/Against, Penalties For/Against, Points Scored Home/Away, Wins Home/Away. The log could be an attachment for specific viewing.


Dear Ed,

The relief of not having to watch our sides being clubbed yet again resulted in my watching the schools teams battling it out at St. Johns. Tragically the basic errors so pronounced in our senior teams are just as obvious at school level, so it appears we have absolutely no chance of raising our position on the International log for some years to come.

Forget the fudging about defensive patterns making it impossible to breach the advantage line, etc. and get back to basics. First and foremost is 'Teach the Coaches how to pass a ball,' so they can then teach that skill to their pupils. Speed and surprise have always been the key element to breach an opponents defence and good, fast passing will create those openings.

I have now watched countless numbers of our teams at all levels and the standard of passing is atrocious. Every time a receiver has to reach up, down, to the side or behind to collect a pass, at least one meter of space is lost. Every time a potential passer takes a full step carrying the ball, two meters of space is lost to his potential supporting players. The ball seldom finds its way to the wings these days as the skill of collecting a pass on one foot and passing off the other has been entirely lost. Today its make contact and hope the ball is re-cycled fast to those running off the ruck/maul so they may take advantage of any gaps occurring before the defensive team can align itself. Winning the Lotto has become easier!

Secondly, is the frailty of our tackling. Today the imported 'expertise' of League defensive coaches has most players tackling to prevent the ball from being moved. It's a great concept but must be used judiciously and creative judgement is definitely an ingredient missing from our players. The problem with tackling the ball is that stronger players can shrug off defenders whose attempt attracts no criticism as they were trying! What's happened to giving a ball carrier a message by tackling him so hard - like a Joggie Jansen - that his dentist feels the pain? Has the basic of taking away the ball carrier's legs, whatever his size, to stop him running been forgotten?

Thirdly, is it not time to let rugby players play rugby? Is there way too much input from coaches in terms of 'plays, patterns' etc.? Watching teams like the Brumbies, Crusaders and the Blues there is a creativity caused through the players freedom to think. The skills necessary to carry out the players' visions like ball distribution seem to be where their coaches are concentrating, not trying to emulate American Football where every attack is developed from a Play book!

Storm Ferguson

Dear Editor,

I have been a fanatical rugby supporter ever since obtaining my first season ticket to Loftus in 1947 and, like the rest of us, am now disillusioned and disheartened by our Super 12 performances.

I have watched all the games involving S.A. sides and find it blatantly clear that the Australian and New Zealand referees are the major cause of our demise. We are unfairly penalised in every game and the penalty count against us is ridiculous. Strangely there has been no outcry about this, perhaps because the broadcasters no longer put the penalty count on the screen. Infringements that we are penalised for go unpunished when perpetrated by Anzac sides. I recall that when the Super 10 was still alive Free State were penalised 20-0 by the Australian referee and I'm sure you'll agree this is a physical impossibility. No side at any level can play 80 minutes of rugby and not be penalised once!

Currently the most biased ref is Paul Honiss who is a disgrace to the game and I don't think an S.A. side has won a match when he has officiated. Not only do these biased referees swing the games strongly in favour of the Anzac sides, but most importantly they destroy the morale of our local teams. In any sport controlled by a referee ( squash, water polo, soccer, boxing) the players suffering from negative bias soon lose their cool and concentration and fall prey to error-ridden performances. It is quite possibly, as the intercepted "Japie" e-mail suggests, a conspiracy between the Anzac refs.

The salient point I wish to make is that biased refs frustrate our teams whose concentration and morale collapses resulting in even worse performances.

The solution? Neutral referees. Bring in French, British, Irish and Argentinean refs and let's have some fair play.

I think a campaign should be started by a column such as yours to drive the point home to SARFU that without neutral referees the Super 12 will die and we will all be the losers.

Barry Falkson

Dear Ed,

I agree 100% with Geoff Hull regarding his summary about the Refs applying the rules of rugby. Like he said there are thousands of incidents one can come up with, but when, when is anyone going to do something about the unfair treatment SA rugby is getting from these ar......? 

Needless to mention the e-mail "To teach the Japies a lesson" that accidentally landed on the SARFU's computer meant for Aus only of which Riaan and Co DID NOTHING ABOUT! (spineless bunch) That after the world has been told SA "poisoned" the AB's before the kick off for the 1995 RWC final! 

Man, I would have called for a International Rugby Court case on this e-mail thing. I feel the same not want to watch anymore as this is just completely out of control. I'll give you an example. The game between the Sharks and Waratahs last week, the ref shouted loud to the Waratahs with Sharks attacking their goalline "you're off-side get back get back!!" Hey. I might not be the most intelligent person that walks this planet but to me off-side is off-side huh? Did he not say them they are off-side? Where was the whistle? Even the Aus commentators made a comment about it but obviously quickly put a dampener on it. Then there was the incident, not sure if it was against the Reds when John Smit (Shark captain) asked the refs how about a penalty try when the Reds infringed 3 times defending their line? How about this one - some time ago I cannot remember, it might have been in 1997/8 where then NZ ref, Colin Hawke punished the Stormers 14-0 penalties against the Reds after I think it was Corne Krige heard Colin Hawke making a comment like : "I'll get the South Africans back" but this issue was immediately smothered.

Without a shadow of doubt SA rugby gets all the stick when refs applies the rules. I also checked when Refs calls both captains he always looks at the SA side explaining what he wants. It became high time for neutral refs and say what you like but I still prefer the NH refs because at least they apply the rules to the letter. I rather play like that than the present situation. I always maintained in the tackled player situation going to ground "How long is to long? (holding on the ball) Seems for SA rugby "IMMEDIATELY" with Aus and NZ an hour! This is totally unexceptable. SARFU should stand up and be counted.

At least Rudolf Straeuli is citing players for the ill treatment dished out to our players on the pitch like the last game against Waratahs citing that player stomping Cartens. He said he was going to do this and good on you Rudolf, turn the tide! The time has come. Rudolf you have our 100% backing on this my friend go for it!! Damm, wish we had more guys with balls (in admin of SARFU) like Rudolf to stand up for his players.

FRANS.

Dear Ed

Surprise, surprise! I'm not too worried about SA's Super 12 teams' performances this year. And, I believe, I have got at least three solid reasons for my optimism:

1. Virtually the whole Springbok team is sidelined through injury. At the Stormers we've got Toks, Kempson, Bobby, Fleck and Breyton out with injury. And that is without mentioning the likes of Chris Rossouw, Neil de Kock, Pieter Dixon and others. The Cats are without, amongst others, André Venter, Vos, Rassie and Joe Van Niekerk (a whole Springbok "quattro"). The Sharks are without stars like Butch James, Trevor Halstead and Mark Andrews. The Bulls, for what it's worth, are sans Joost. Compare that with the Australasian teams who, instead, are almost injury-free; in fact, a lot of their players who were out with injury last year (Mortlock, Burke etc.) have returned.

2. The last time SA had such a horrendous Super 12 was in 1998. We went on to clinch the Tri-Nations title that year, remember? Not only that, a fact that seems almost surrealistic today, the Springboks went through that tournament unbeaten! Yes, who can believe today that we beat both the Wallabies and All Blacks on home turf that year? Could that have been as a direct result of our poor Super 12 performances? Maybe, just maybe, the Springboks will be better rested this year than the players from the opposing teams when, hopefully, most of our injured stars return in time for that tournament.

3. The handful of Springbok stars who are not on the injury list are performing superbly. Percy Montgomery, Pieter Rossouw, Corné Krige, Victor Matfield and De Wet Barry, for instance, are showing wonderful form. Some other stalwarts, such as Hottie Louw, Cobus Visagie, AJ Venter, Craig Davidson, Lucas van Biljon, John Smit and Willie Meyer have all been performing admirably amongst a smattering of inexperienced youngsters. Exciting new talent (future superstars) has emerged in Bolla Conradie, Adrian Jacobs, André Pretorius and the like. I also like what I see in a number of other young players, whose names escape me, such as the young captain and eighthman of the Bulls, the 20-year old outside centre of the Cats and one of the Bulls' flankers. [As an aside, I also appreciated the Bulls' spirited performances in their last two outings; if they can only now keep the players and coach together for a few years in a row, I believe they can become a top-class Super 12 team.]

Yes, there are a number of concerns. The way that Lucas van Biljon has been managed by the coach-elect of the Springboks, is nothing short of scandalous. The fact that Nicky van der Walt (which I rate highly) does not make his starting lineup at the Sharks is disappointing. Most worrying of all, is the woeful performance of the Sharks' backline. But if Straeuli has any sense, he will "inherit" most of the Stormers' backline from Carel du Plessis (and add Jacobs and Pretorius) and also appoint a visionary backline coach (du Plessis or Danie Gerber) and... problem solved!

Lastly, I have to agree with your correspondent Geoff Hull in the Week 8 edition: There is no doubt that all South African Super 12 sides are getting the short end of the stick from Australian and New Zealand referees (with a few notable exceptions such as Scott Young). Just look at the way Cobus Visagie was repeatedly penalised as the streetwise Bill Young kept pushing him inwards, and the shocking manner in which Willie Meyer was yellow-carded earlier in the season. Actually, the Super 12 refereeing problem goes deeper than that... just look at the way the Hurricanes and the Chiefs get all the 50/50 decisions going against them. Sometimes I get the impression that the referee (wittingly or unwittingly) had decided beforehand which team "should be" the better one and consequently (possibly inadvertantly) does not allow the other team to "play". Plainly put, he "polices" the one team more vigourously than the other. Alas! Hopefully we shall see some (more neutral) Northern Hemisphere referees during the Tri-Nations.

Anyway, amongst all the cries of "crisis" and more, I say like Alfred E. Neumann: "What? Me worry?"!!!

COLIN VAN RENSBURG

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Let us know what you think!

You can add BT to the list of Rugby Authorities that think that SA rugby is in the crap!!!

BTW, apologies to Lucas, we had to truncate some of the letters off this one as it was too damn long!!

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