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|Volume 2, Week 36|
tick me over with a feather, only a day ago I was chatting to a friend
about how the great Springbok lock Mark Andrews will benefit the current
team with his experience and wise (bald!) head and the next I hear he
announces his retirement! Funny that because the week before something
similar happened with Andre Venter, we were debating the merits of the
“Iron Man” for the heavy European grounds and what happened? So, lets chat
about Joost… only kidding!|
Mark Andrews declared at the ripe old age of 30 years, for a lock that is more like middle age as some of the world's greatest continued to play well in their thirties. I’m referring of course to the McBride, Du Preez and Meads clan and make no mistake the Shark stalwart deserve to be mentioned in that upper echelon of world greats. Somehow Mark’s retirement is an affirmation of the amount of rugby played by today’s professionals and the effect on the human body. 10 Years at the top is a long time and one can only imagine the effect of all the rucks, mauls, tackles and skirmishes he survived (and not) in his day. The big man will be sorely missed and like a true great he has become the embodiment of the two teams he represented with distinction. Mark, go and enjoy your weekends!!
The results of the past weekend were not very surprising but the capitulation of the champions, Western Province was. The boys from the Cape are either loved or hated and very few people remain passive when their rugby exploits are mentioned. Love them or hate them they have been brilliant champions for the last two years and produced a highly effective and entertaining form of rugby for all crowds to enjoy. Bad luck WP try again next year.
The semi-finalists all registered convincing victories and none more so than the Sharks, playing in Durban they are a very difficult side to beat. The combination of humidity and fanatical home support make any visit a harrowing experience and it is this cauldron facing the Blue Bulls on Saturday. In any knock out match it is difficult to judge on previous form, as teams do not need to build towards a goal over few matches, it is all happening there and then. What helps of course is experience and familiarity and in these departments the Sharks have the upper hand. Two of the most capped Springboks of all time, both captains on the day, pitted against each other will make for a tough game however the Sharks must be favoured to win this one. If not for anything else they need to do it for their captain.
The other semi-final in Bloemfontein will be a close affair; both teams are playing wonderful attacking rugby. The forward platforms are solid and the Lions will not have total dominance like the past few weeks if one Os Du Randt can help it and with the Cheetahs playing in front of their home crowd, Rassie to motivate, Andre Venter to inspire and Kennedy Tsimba to dazzle the Free Staters might just be too much for the Lions. History certainly prove that the Lions struggle on this ground but as said previously, history runs out of the door in a knock out match – let’s hope this match is a knock out.
Go out there to the stadiums and support two of Springbok rugby’s greatest sons play their last games in this country. Enjoy!
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|The “Thick Set” Lady Sings by Desmond Organ|
|Rumour has it that a certain “Thick Set” lady has started
making preparations for a musical performance at the foot of the mountain.
Her ensemble is likely to include a performance of the classic- she’ll be
“signing” round the mountain when she comes. Unfortunately she will not be
leading a procession of celebrating Currie Cup fans.|
Putting the weekends results into perspective and understanding the impact on the game in South Africa is not quite that simple. Whilst many supporters north of the Hex River Valley mountains, homophobic or not, will be reveling in the fact that the semi finals will be contested by teams from north of the Western Cape, they may be surprised by the final composition of the touring group to travel to Europe at the end of the year.
The results of the Currie Cup and the performances of individual players will not be the sole determinant of which players are named in a couple of weeks time. I am quietly confident that Rudolf Straeuli has quietly made up his mind as to the majority of his squad, barring the unavailability of key players through injury.
If history is to repeat itself we may well have a few surprised supporters at the time that the squad is announced. There may well be a rapidly arranged performance from the producers of the “Thick Set Lady Sings”, to accommodate the celebrations surrounding the make up of the national squad. The selectors and the current coach have been remarkably efficient in managing the expectations of the media, whether it is player contracts, national selection criteria and the plans for the World Cup in 2002.
Mr. Straeuli has made it quite clear that several players that have not been utilized as a result of injury or provincial positional selection dilemmas; could quite well find them being selected. In addition he has not ruled out the possibility of using the tour to develop and estimate the capabilities of what he refers to as the fringe players. He has however, from what has been printed in the media, made it quite clear that fitness is the key determinant of whether a player is considered.
If one should be bold enough to undertake a quick analysis of the patterns of Mr. Straeuli's selection decisions then there is some clarity to be obtained. Whilst not professing to be an expert on matters related to the national coach; I believe that he considers the following criteria to be of the utmost importance when making selection decisions.
2. Match winning potential
3. Positional capability
4. Squad system
Fitness appears to have been at the sole of several decisions from the coach. The decision not to appoint a captain for the entire Tri-Nations and the decision to delay naming a permanent captain can be seen in this regard. It is quite clear that he believes that naming the best possible combination may outweigh the importance of individual capabilities.
There is a shadow of doubt hanging over the availability of key players like Corne Krige, Joe van Niekerk and Hendro Scholtz. The rumours around Rassie Erasmus’s foot injury have been broadcast widely. I am quite convinced that a due of Joe van Niekerk and Rassie Erasmus or Joe van Niekerk and Corne Krige will definitely be on the plane to London; hopefully it will be both of them.
Match winning potential has been something that was re-introduced into the team at the beginning of the trials that were held this year, the commencement of national training days should also be seen in this regard. The combinations that are utilized at Provincial level may not be considered to be of value at the national level. The approach adopted by Kitch Christie is likely to be followed in that the team that plays on any given day must be able to overcome the opposition.
Many people criticized the failure to include Hottie Louw in the national set up. I am not so sure that there are that many people that are continuing to brandish the billboard asking for his inclusion. The emergence of Brent Russell as a match winner was clearly evident towards the end of the Tri-Nations, yet it is in the role of impact player, barring injuries to starters that Straeuli has chosen to utilise him.
In his decisions around positional capability we have also seen some definite trends. The selection of players like AJ Venter and potentially Selborne Boom has more to do with where they cal alternate and still add value than it does to their specific capabilities in a specific position. This was also the case with Ollie Le Roux’s selection as a reserve hooker. The return to fitness of John Smit and the most unfortunate injury to le Roux will probably see less of this in the front row. One should also not forget the ability to mix it up with the toughest as component of positional capability. Jannes Labuschagne fits quite perfectly into this definition.
The use of the squad system is something that Rudolf Straeuli clearly believes in. It was evident at the time that he was coaching the Sharks that he preferred to make use of this approach to rest players before certain critical matches and to prepare the team best suited to meet the opposition. Despite the limited success of the Sharks in the Super 12, the process has been continued by Kevin Putt and may have a lot to do with the success that the Sharks have enjoyed in the Currie Cup.
There are indeed very few teams that can continuously perform in all levels of competition in a calendar year, the Canterbury Crusaders may be an exception to this, but let’s wait for the end of year All Black tour before we confirm that as a certainty. We know for sure that up until now it has not been the case with the Sharks or the Stormers. Possibly the Transvaal team that won the Super 10 was the last genuine South African candidate for such an accolade.
A personal favourite of mine and hopefully of the coaches is the attitude of the individual players. I include this as a component of the selection criteria because of all the South African coaches I believe that this is what separates Rudolf Straeuli. He has so far avoided the controversy that surrounded coaches like Andre Markgraaf, Nick Mallet and Harry Viljoen.
This has been achieved in part because of the frank discussions that he is rumoured to have had with several players. The decision of Clyde Rathbone to depart the South African scene, despite taking full advantage of the opportunity and privilege to represent and captain his country, came after discussions with the national coach. He has shown that he will not be dictated to by players, whilst continuing to make himself available to discuss the confluence of personal and national interests.
This could well be the deciding factor in several positional decisions and may even override the preferences and opinions of his assistant coach. The one thing that South Africa does not need is a group of over achieving personalities undermining the importance of representing your country. We have seen enough of this from the coaching level down to the make up of the support staff to render it undesirable at all costs.
Next week I will attempt to provide an analysis of the medias choice of who should tour at the end of the year, taken from the words of the writers themselves through a comprehensive analysis of what they have said about the players during the Currie Cup, up to and including the semi-finals.
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|Round robin draws to a close by Vinesh Naicker|
week saw the final round of the NPC for Division One and Three and the
semi-finals for Division Two.|
Wellington vs. Auckland
This was a must win game for both sides. With Wellington sitting in fifth place and Auckland in fourth at the start of the round, it was obvious that the winner would be in the semi-finals and the loser probably out.
Auckland started well, their tight five dominating Wellington and marching the ball up field. Wellington, as has been their speciality in recent years, broke out with two long range tries. Auckland fought back with a try and two penalties to go into the break down 13-15. However in the second half it was all Auckland, with the Wellington forwards unable to cope. As usually happens lock in that sort of situation Dion Waller spat the dummy and got sent off for ten minutes for continual infringements. Auckland who were on a roll scored three tries in that time. Dion was replaced when his ten minutes were up, but Auckland had the game sewn up 47-27. Dion is off to Japan next season and so it was not a good way to say good-bye to NZ, but it was perhaps representative of his general style of play and indicates why he was never in the All Black frame.
Taranaki vs. North Harbour
Neither team had much to play for except pride, as whatever happened they had no chance of making the semi-finals and were both going to finish mid-table.
Taranaki started the season off by beating two Super 12 franchises Auckland and Otago, however unexpected losses to Wellington and Southland put paid to their season. North Harbours problem is that they have a lot of young players and lack mental hardness, they were ¾ of the way through the season before they settled on a flyhalf. The only thing on the line was pride and as expected Taranaki eventually put North Harbour away to win 24-19.
Bay of Plenty (BOP) vs. Waikato
Nobody expected BOP to beat Waikato but they needed to earn whatever bonus points they could to avoid relegation. All Waikato needed was one bonus point or the win to finish top of the table.
BOP started out well with the firm intention of scoring four tries but inevitably Waikato ground them down and put on the points. It was anything but a polished performance from Waikato, who clearly had their minds on next weeks semi-finals. In the last seconds of the game the BOP right wing was unable to hang on to a perfectly weighted cross field kick from the flyhalf which would have given them two bonus points for four tires and finishing within seven.
Waikato won 33-21 but have injury concerns with halfback Duggan straining knee ligaments and All Black lock Royce Willis tearing a calf muscle, which means he won’t be playing again for Waikato before he heads off to Japan next year.
Canterbury vs. Otago
Based on the results of the Wellington vs. Auckland game the only thing Otago had to look forward from a win was to qualify third and end up playing Canterbury again. However this was the last Ranfurly Shield challenge of the season and Otago haven’t held the Shield since 1957. There is an old Shield saying “the only way you can win the Shield is to attack.” Otago pulled out all the stops and really took it to Canterbury. The rain levelled the playing field somewhat limiting Canterburys use of their fast wings and the game was in doubt right to the end. However as inevitably happens Otago yielded to Canterbury 16-13 and the Shield did not change hands.
Southland vs. Northland
Both of these teams were in the relegation zone, Northland needed a win to avoid relegation and Southland needed a bonus point.
For one of the few times this season Northland unleashed their two Fijian wingers. These boys delivered and scored the necessary tries. Southland, through a last minute try to their halfback, managed to finish within seven points and earned a bonus point.
We were treated to the unusual picture of both teams celebrating at the end of the game.
The 27-20 win to Northland meant they both finished ahead of BOP who has to play a promotion relegation game against next weeks winner of the Division Two final.
Hawkes Bay vs. Nelson Bays
Balie Swarts Nelson Bays teams season came to an end in their semi-final game against the Hawkes Bay. Hawkes Bay hasn’t lost a game all season and eventually demolished Nelson Bays 30-3.
Next weeks division one semi-finals sees Waikato vs. Otago and Canterbury vs. Auckland.
John Mitchell apparently has been planning for the end of year tour. So much for All Black traditions. It is obvious he is not taking it seriously and doesn’t intend to win many games. Taine Randell (the worst captain in All Black history) is set to be captain again. Front-line players unlikely to tour are Tana Umaga, Aaron Mauger, Justin Marshall, Scott Robertson, Richie McCaw, Reuben Thorne, Chris Jack, Simon Maling, Royce Willis, Tom Willis, Anton Oliver, Dave Hewitt and Greg Sommerville.
Mark Hammett and Andrew Mehrtens will probably have to go due to injuries to other players in their positions.
With Taine in charge, and so many test incumbents out, the tests against England and France will be very hard to win. Even the lowly Welsh could cause some difficulties.
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|That’s it by Mark Foster|
Currie Cup round robin is a thing of the past and like all kinds of
history it is easy to comment on happenings after they occurred. The final
round of matches was of excellent quality and it is clear that the
front-runners are hitting their straps at the right moment in time. The
weekend that was:|
Blue Bulls 45 v Falcons 0
The game was a no brainer for the Falcons, with nothing riding on the result there was precious little to play for. The score reflect the interest and the team that usually produces some excellent tries were way short of their entertaining best. The Blue Bulls however, inspired by Jaco van der Westhuizen displayed some wonderful running rugby and scored excellent tries to cheer up the Loftus faithful. It must be added that the Falcons played the final 15 minutes with only 13 men on the field.
The Bulls forwards, spearheaded by Matfield, Leonard and Botha was rampant and it was probably a good boost before the semi-finals against the Sharks. One of the better players in the team this year, Anton Leonard has emerged as a strong ball carrier and his sojourns are very important in the Bulls game plan. Derick Hougaard had a tame evening with the boot and will need his kicking touch back before the coming weekend.
Natal Sharks 78 v Griquas 7
This was nothing but a good old-fashioned thrashing, like relegation teammates the Falcons, Griquas had absolutely nothing to play for. The Sharks however managed to keep composure and drill them at every occasion. The tries were breathtaking and in rapid succession, not for a long time have we seen wings score tries after good distribution and elusive running. Tereblanche, Loubscher and Kayser reveled in the open spaces and many devastating forays were launched from their own 25.
The game did not matter much after the Sharks scored 4 tries within 10 minutes and the Griquas players can hardly be blamed for succumbing to this blitzkrieg. The game may not have been the ideal workout for the Sharks before a semi-final and they can expect a lot more problems from the Bulls on Saturday.
Pumas 41 v Cheetahs 68
The highest accumulative score of the weekend and it can be expected of two teams willing to run the ball at every opportunity. The Cheetahs did not roll over the Pumas, they were made to work hard for a long time and at halftime the score was reasonably even (19-23). The Free State forwards began to dominate their opponents and with awesome scrumming power drove the Pumas back and with this kind of ball Tsimba and the rest of his backline was just too good.
An excellent victory and a highly entertaining match, the Cheetahs look to be real contenders for the crown, they now need to win the games that matter. Against the Lions on Saturday it will be tough!
Lions 50 v Western Province 13
As a friend’s descriptive four letter word SMS, 20 minutes from the end testified, WP were given a sound beating by the Lions. The first half was a tight tussle between two equally determined outfits, WP scored an excellent early try and looked like they could accomplish the near impossible however the stronger Lions forwards began to dominate and the loss of Werner Greeff did not help their cause. As much as WP tried the impressive mauling of the Lions, spearheaded by the old “geezer” Willie Meyer, doomed them. The Lions backs receiving ball on the front foot created havoc and particularly impressive was the young fullback, Jaque Fourie. He runs excellent angles and with loads of speed to burn is a dangerous opponent for opposing teams.
WP were outclassed on the day and the Lions display was their most impressive of the season. This was probably the best semi-final warm up they could ask for, a mauling of the current champions who included no less than 12 Springboks before a dangerous trip to Bloemfontein.
|Final Currie Cup Top 8 Log|
|His record is phenomenal and so is his ability. You can see
what he means to the Natal pack and he is respected by every top lock in
world rugby. Ian McIntosh on Mark
He was a truly great Springbok. We had immense battles against him. He was mentally very tough. He broke the Springbok mould for locks because he was athletic as well as physically strong. Ian Jones on Mark Andrews
I want to see what weekends are really about. Mark Andrews
South African rugby doesn't have to stand back for anyone. Rudolf Straeuli
I'd rather not say anything about Harry Viljoen. Andre Venter
Every time they play our anthem I realise how lucky I have been to be able to be a Springbok and what a privilege it has been to represent millions of people, their dreams and ideals. Andre Venter
All those who pick a rugby team for the future never choose their best team for the next match. Stephen Jones
In September I read a lot of their (England players) columns on websites and newspapers in which they were looking forward to the World Cup. I told them that it was one hell of a presumption to make, and that they might want to try to get a game against the All Blacks this autumn first. Clive Woodward
|WHY THE BOKS WILL WIN THE WORLD CUP: South Africa is destined for glory in Australia next year. To find out why, buy the new issue of SA RUGBY magazine, on sale now, or visit www.sarugby.com|
|Letters to the Editor|
A very interesting perspective from Colin van Rensburg on the changes to the Currie Cup system from next year.
It would be great to be able to have a "right of reply" from the powers that be, on how they believe that they will be able to continue to unearth the young talent, that the "old system" undoubtedly exposed for us through the enlarged "gene pool".
I've got a suspicion that the only answer you'll get is................."well the other leagues will still be playing a very important competition.............", or words to that effect.
We all know that that is nonsense.
If the players in the smaller Unions had always been getting the exposure they needed in the "other important competitions" outside of the Currie Cup, there would never have been a need to change to the enlarged Currie Cup format in the first place.
There will always only be ONE Currie Cup.
I hope that there is a plan in place.?.!.?
Tim du Plessis.
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