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Rugby Forum - Vol 2, Week 40
Rugby Forum - Vol 2, Week 40
(The week that was, a South African perspective)
15 Nov 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

Editors Note

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Brilliant! Wrong, Merde! A schoolboyish Springbok team in which was vested so much hope let their supporters down with one of the worst Springbok performances since readmission. To achieve that kind of accolade is an accomplishment in itself cause South Africa’s dished up some terrible slop in the last decade. To paraphrase little Oliver, “please sir, may we have no more!?”

The dreaded match kicked off at an unholy hour for rugby and in their Federation the French must have a disciple of the late Doc Craven. Huh, I hear you say? Well, Doc (bless his soul) always made things as difficult as possible for the visiting team re schedule, time of play and all the peripheries knowing well that an unsettled team cannot concentrate on the task ahead. Now I hear the Springboks stayed in a fancy golf resort, practiced late at night and in secret so there was hardly any excuse or was there? As Otto Manfranchenchenson in A Fish Called Wanda exclaimed, “Disappointed!”

Where to know? Can the Springboks turn this tour around by beating the Scots, suddenly a tough game, and England at Twickenham? The Scots should not be a threat otherwise South Africa has truly sank into a steep abyss of mediocrity. England, well… after watching them almost lose to a plucky young All Black side I confidently predicted a Springbok victory, the only problem was the time of the statement – approximately 18:30 BM* in the evening! The Springboks have not won there in three years and based on both sides’ performances, history is bound to repeat itself. Positive thinking may assist Mr De Bono but hell supporters need more than a few bent teaspoons to regain the faith and a huge amount of pressure is on the shoulders of the charges taking on Scotland.

Australia was well beaten by a game Irish side and with conditions wet and cold the Irish eyes were smiling. It was probably the biggest upset of the weekend and it threw a huge spanner in the wheel of those thinking the Southern hemisphere is ruling the roost. For one, this humble writer needs to rethink the strength of his convictions regarding the strength of the Northern Hemisphere. It is very good news for the IRB in their quest for making rugby a global game. Rugby may finally have six or seven teams good enough to beat each other on any given day. A good team should always win on its home ground and only great teams win away.

The All Blacks almost beat the English at Twickenham and a lot of it was due to their steely resolve and pride. Face it their forwards were completely outclassed by a brilliant English pack and were it not for wonderful running from the backs, exploiting every little chance, they would have been hammered. England may have broken an important voodoo with this win, something that might make Mitchell regret taking his choice of second stringers on tour. Somehow I do not think so.

I write this column, three hours before my flight to London and the next RF will be a text version from an internet café giving you the readers a first hand account of the game at Murrayfield and Twickenham. If you want to respond or correspond with me, feel free to mail me at the following address, rugbyforum@hotmail.com and I will be sure to publish your opinions. Also due to a technical error I was unable to include any quotes or letters in this week’s issue.

Enjoy the games!

Lucas

lucas@rugbyforum.co.za

* BM = Before Marseilles

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Visit www.rugbyforum.co.za for statistics, all the quotes and an archive of previous issues

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"The silver lining that throbbed" by Tom Marcellus

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Despite the thorough beatings that she used to dish out to me when I was still a young 'un – remember, this was some time before I developed into the strapping, swashbuckling flyhalf of the under 15F's – I have always had a soft spot for my big sister. In my defence, I must admit that she was never an especially delicate little creature, and even as a girl, when she tried her hand at ballet, she resembled a hulking stevedore, stuffed into a mammoth panty-hose, rather than a budding Margot Fonteyn, with her Wednesday legs and pigeon chest.

Such cultural distractions aside, I must confess that my avowed devotion for the old gal was sorely tested last week, when I was reminded in no uncertain fashion by my sister that her wedding was to take place this past Saturday, and that my important duties on the night would prevent altogether (it was stressed, with a surly stamp by the bride-to-be of her powerful thighs) my catching even the occasional glimpse of the Boks' expected slaughter of the Frenchies.

Caught between a rock and a hard place – between my filial duties and my patriotic ones – I spent the next few days deep in thought, with my conscience under siege. Soon the day was upon me, but still no solution offered itself to this beleaguered pilgrim of the oval game.

Immediately after the ceremony itself, as happy laughter mingled with the mellow tunes of a string quartet, plucking away nearby, I found myself huddled with a posse of similarly distraught gents, conspiring over the occasional, stray polisiekoffie. While our girlfriends gossiped mindlessly, champagne flutes in hand – "Didn't she look fabulous, Daaaahling" – we exchanged furtive glances and hurried, whispered words. It was three hours to kick-off, and our backs were up against it.

Perhaps it was the disagreeable weather or our ever-vigilant girlfriends, or even the murderous liquids that we were guzzling at an impressive rate, but, despite our best efforts to conjure up a cunning plan, we found ourselves foiled. Thus, my co-conspirators and I eventually conceded defeat and reconciled ourselves to a Saturday sans the usual pleasures of rucks, mauls, eye-gougings and garryowens. B*ggerit! was our shared sentiment.

Fortunately, salvation was close at hand, and my girlfriend managed to ease my pain by cuddling my head tenderly in her heaving bosom. As my gaze wafted over the soothing undulations of her D-cup, my thoughts of Corné and his merry band, battling away on distant fields for the glory of het Springbokken, faded away, and the night, rather inevitably, soon began to degenerate into a delicious combination of fiery cocktails, blaring music and slurred banter.

Noble reader, you can surely imagine the consternation that arose on the dance-floor as pumpkin hour approached, when a swaying reveler somehow managed to read out an SMS through blurred eyesight confirming that the Boks had suffered their worst-ever drubbing at the hands of the dastardly Gauls. Anguished shrieks were soon drowned out by calls for urgent liquids, as, in our misery, we resorted to that tried 'n tested coping mechanism, pursued since the heady days of the Roman Empire – the worship of Bacchus.

Amphora followed amphora, and it was good.

As the full extent of the Boks' embarrassment revealed itself in the 'papers on the following morning, I had to afford myself an ironic chuckle, as I thought of all our fruitless efforts of the previous afternoon. We had been spared a gruesome sight, and although my head pounded and even the odd Marlboro-inspired wheeze caused me to grimace, it was a small price to pay.

And so to Murrayfield, the scene of Muller & Co's epic 44-0 triumph of 1951, when Scotland, of course, "were lucky to get nil". What chance another Massacre this weekend?

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Any Given Saturday by Desmond Organ

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Saturday’s test matches involving the big three from the Southern Hemisphere was a combination of pride, passion, weather and utopia. Pardon the pun, but the idea that the Northern hemisphere was lagging behind has now well and truly been laid to rest. The one real surprise was the ease with which the French disposed of the “pubescent” South Africans. Not that Irelands win was not surprising, but factor in the weather and you could not have received favourable adds from a punter. New Zealand was the pride and passion of the day and never allowed the number of newcomers to unsettle their resolve.

Fortunately I did not begin to write this piece on the announcement of the Springbok team late last week. I was already somewhat perturbed by the initial choices, a combination of players with little experience and others who have hardly played a full season of rugby. Combine this with the absurdity of the criteria that Straeuli put forward at the beginning of the tour and you will get my drift. I remember clearly that fitness, reputation and form were all part of the well-worded mind massaging that we were given. All I have to do is look at the center pairing initially chosen and I shudder. No previous international experience combined with reputation and hardly two complete games in the entire Currie Cup season. If Mitchell and Straeuli had something in common before Saturday, it is well and truly gone now.

No wonder that Boela Vermaak of Rapport has accused “Roelfie” of starting to speak Greek. In my mind it is more a case of inexperience starting to come to the fore. Mitchell had several years as an assistant in England before his current tenure; we in South Africa appear to believe that the word “puberty” has no reason to be in the Oxford English dictionary. I for one am starting to think of a new song to sum up the situation. Another performance similar to the one against France and we will all be singing: “ Roelfie Slim berg wil klim in die wye wereld in.” I listened to the excuses and mind massaging during the Tri Nations and I remember week after week in which kick off’s, speed to the point of break down and the inept lineout performances were ignored. Well the “ thick set lady” is now getting ready for a world tour.

On the positive side we can point to the results in the other two games and hope that any given Saturday means that the Springboks still have some chance to restore pride. Australia appears to be more likely of bringing a change in fortune to the hopes of the Southern Hemisphere. Straeuli's cynicism about how France should have put at least 50 points up against a team hit by injuries like the Boks were could come back to haunt him. I will certainly be the first to acknowledge that there has been a miraculous turnaround should it not occur. Boela Vermaak urged the rocket scientists at SARFU to rid themselves of the Aussie influence at the end of the Viljoen era. At the rate at which things are going we could be looking at high school candidates for positions in the three quarters. Playing people out of position against world-class opposition is madness.

What really irks me the most is all the furor around contracts at the end of the Currie Cup season, well maybe we should have waited for the first performance of the “pubescent lady” signs before we paid for the tickets. A year ago I was fortunate enough to travel to Twickenham to watch the game against England. A great experience marred by the manner in which we played on the day. Last night I thought about canceling the tickets and hotel reservations for the next two games simply because it may not be value for money. As a die hard I will make the trip, refusing to lose sight of the fact that it could always be different on any given Saturday.Join the SARUGBY news and discussion group for the fastest sarugby news and the most intense debates around the South African game. Send a blank email to sarugby-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

Is there such a thing as a good loss? by Vinesh Naicker As expected NZ went down to England during the weekend. The most surprising thing about it was that the AB’s almost won.

The stage was set and the game scripted but England and the All Blacks almost muffed their lines. England declared their intentions with the selection of their team. The replacement of Neil Back with Lewis Moody confirmed that England were intent on keeping the ball with the forwards and would play a no-nonsense kicking game only giving the ball to their backs when they had to.

NZ by picking young mobile players in their pack, indicated that they had given up any intention of contesting set piece ball and were prepared to live off the scraps. As has been apparent since 1997, when the failed experiment began, the fact is that you are unlikely to win a game with only 30% possession. How many times have we heard the mantra “It all starts with the forwards.” Having conceded the forward battle NZ were always going to struggle. Yet the expectation was that they would provide spirited opposition due to the amount of young blood in the team.

Yet despite being destroyed in the set pieces NZ almost won.

The points of note in the game were.

1. Andrew Hore consistently found his jumpers Ali Williams and Keith Robinson until late in the second half, when Brad Mika replaced Robinson. Mikas inability to jump meant that the ball inevitably went to Williams and allowed England to contest possession, leading to Grewcock intercepting the last NZ throw into the line out on the England 5 metre line. Hores success in finding his jumpers at international level after only having worked with them for a week serves to highlight Anton Oliver and Mark Hammetts deficiencies after four years as the top string hookers.

2. Marty Holah was the standout forward in the game. His tenacity and energy in pursuing the ball kept NZ in the game.

3. Randell and Broomhall played well when they were subbed on 60 minutes into the game.

4. Referee Jonathan Kaplan. Overall his performance wasn’t something that would have had Van Zyl waddling onto the field but two things stand out. Firstly, he penalised NZ several times for going off their feet, including Blair once for going to one knee and not releasing immediately, yet he constantly allowed Englands forwards to lie on the ball and play it back with their hands, fifty-fifty calls perhaps but the final penalty count favoured England. Secondly, with 10 minutes to play and the All Blacks 31-28 down and 5m in front of the English goal posts he awarded the scrum to England. Now with McDonnell having driven the ball forward into the tackle and the ball clearly visible on the All Black side this decision was bordering on criminal.

5. Ben Blair. It was a huge call by Mitchell to start Spencer because it meant that he was forced to choose Blair as a goal kicker. Spencer may be in better form than Mehrtens at the moment but no one could argue that a Spencer-Blair combination is superior to a Mehrtens-Cullen combination. Blair seems to have a huge heart but alas his physical stature is not the same. The game against England highlighted his defensive inadequacies and also that he is unable to step or swerve at high speed, which is almost a prerequisite for an international fullback. He seemed to play to the limit of his abilities this weekend but I suspect that even an out of form Cullen would have added an extra dimension in attack and on defence.

6. The English crowd seemed quite puzzled when NZ chose to kick the ball out for a line out, early in the game, instead of kicking for goal. I suspect that Nick Malletts comments about the lack of intelligence of Springbok supporters would have been better directed at the English. They also cheered when England chose to kick a penalty instead of going for a try and yet booed when NZ made the same decision some minutes later. Boorish behaviour from rugby crowds seems to be on the increase in the last few years.

7. Jonah Lomu. I’ve got to admit I’m a fan of the big guy. I’m a bigger supporter of Lomu than I am of the All Blacks. Basically, whenever he has been asked to deliver the goods he has. In the last two world cups Jonah has fronted up when, and that’s something no other All Black can say. Once again Jonah demonstrated that given the ball in a one-on-one situation or even two-on-one situation he will score 4 times out of 5. I think it was Matt Burke who once said that nothing gladdens an Australian heart so much as seeing Jonah out on the wing not being used. On this occasion NZ gave Jonah the ball and although space was limited he scored two tries and made at least one other bollocking run. It’s good to see Jonah doing what he does best.

8. NZ muffed several chances to score through inexperience and bad handling. For example Andrew Mehrtens had a shocking first 15 minutes when he came on. One dropped ball from Mehrtens allowed England to score a try immediately. England by contrast scored from almost every opportunity they had, and yet NZ still almost won.

Although it is always disappointing when an All Black team loses, to have expected this team to win would have been blindly optimistic. Based on what I have heard about how the Tri-Colors dealt to the Springboks I fully expect the NZ team to lose again. Hopefully the pride in the black jersey will allow the team to be competitive and to run the French close, a loss will not be the end of the world. Losing to Wales, however, is not an option.

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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

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Carnage in Marseilles by Mark Foster

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The Springboks were dealt their heaviest ever defeat against France by a determined team-effort from Galthie and his Gaelic warriors. The Springboks were never in this match and from the word go a penalty against Corne Krige signalled the way this day would go.

The French scrum renowned as the best pack of forwards in the game today, displayed just why they carry this tag. The poor Springboks were out-muscled, out-jumped and ultimately probably out-thumped in all the set phases. Make no mistake this was not suppose to be a weak Springbok team, form players made up the numbers but inexperience counted against them.

At the back the Springboks were pitiable, they received ball on the back foot admittedly but the amount of unforced errors were pathetic. Spilled passes, not finding touch and direct touch finders did not help any cause. The defence was not bad and it was only French flair that accounted for two brilliant tries, one from a magnificent counter attack when the Springboks looked set to score and another from a well judged grubber into empty space.

The Springbok forward opted not to compete on any of the opposition lineout throws and Vic Matfield’s absence was sorely felt. The French jumpers devoid of any pressure bar an attempt to maul them cleverly used all the time to provide quick ball to their splendid backs and with Betsen, Harinordoquy and Magne roaming the Springboks played right into their hands. It was a tactical nightmare and one have to question the game plan employed and why there was no backup.

The Springboks displayed an old tendency one thought was erased in the Tri Nations to leave the ball carrier for the vultures, the French back row punished the isolated player and Mr Rolland had very little option but to dish out a penalty. Of those there was plenty but they were mostly deserved and the only complaint against the Irishman/Frenchman was the sending off of Bakkies Botha who was way to busy adapting to the pace of the match to play dirty at all.

This was a well-deserved victory for the Frogs and with Gelez again proving the thorn in the Springboks side they look a very strong team to beat.

The Springbok players at a glance:

1. Lawrence Sephaka – 4 The young prop received a decent lesson in scrumming from Pieter De Villiers and the French right shoulder was never under pressure, this will certainly contribute to his learning process. Hopefully his injury was not tour threatening.

2. James Dalton – 4 The “elder” statesman was shaky in the lineouts, normally his strength and this cost the Springboks vital possession. As part of a front row that got drilled he never had the time to show any of his other skills.

3. Willie Meyer – 4 The big guy was under tremendous pressure and hardly had time to carry the ball or do any of the kind of runs we saw in the Currie Cup. A tour ending injury signifies the beating they received, a very tough day at the office.

4. Bakkies Botha – 4 The debutant had a bit of a problem in the lineouts, mostly French player’s hands all over his ball and the pace of the match looked a bit quick for the inexperienced player. His sending off was undeserved but it cost his team a hammering in the scrum, injuries to both props and the ungainly sight of a disintegrating Springbok scrum.

5. Jannes Labuschagne – 6 The big man tried his heart out and did a tremendous amount of work in covering, stemming the French mauls and once providing a good run up the middle for some forward momentum. A bit alone in his efforts.

6. Corne Krige – 5.5 The captain was involved in the murky depths but hardly played his usual influential match. With the French support magnificent and their clearing of the fetchers phenomenal he was one against many. The tactics were probably advocated by the coaching staff however as captain he might have influenced the team’s strategy when they saw the French was not mauling from lineouts but carrying wide.

7. A.J. Venter – 5 The hard man of SA rugby found there are plenty of hard Frenchies doing duty in the national team and although he defended very well it seems he was a bit slow to the point of breakdown to assist in turnovers. His future is lock but he may be too short to compete and struggle to keep.

8. Joe van Niekerk – 6.5 Probably the best Springbok forward and one of the few in the team to have played a satisfactory match. However like his much criticized predecessor Bob, he found the going tough behind a retreating pack. His defence was excellent and he covered the ground like a natural eightman. His try was the result of good support and well deserved.

9. Neil De Kock – 6.5 Another one of the shining lights and his experience at WP behind a losing pack helped tremendously. He was one of the few players to put any pressure on the French kickers and this almost resulted in a try. His service to Pretorius was good under the circumstances and his defence tiresome.

10. Andre Pretorius – 5 The young pivot was under tremendous pressure and never really received the ball on the front foot. His kicking game was not good, too many balls were out on the full or not into touch. The French defence was also very shallow and he played the correct tactic of Garryowens but there was not enough pressure from his teammates. Missed one kick at goal but had very few opportunities for points.

11. Brent Russell – 4 Brent was done a disservice by selecting him at wing, his space was closed up and his natural abilities stifled. Too many uncharacteristic handling errors made this a nightmare test for the young man. He is not to be written off though and will bounce back in predictable fashion.

12. Adrian Jacobs – 5.5 He defended well and with precious few opportunities on attack managed to shift the ball with his tremendously gifted hands.

13. Jean De Villiers - Was injured after 5 minutes after a good cover tackle.

14. Breyten Paulse – 6 Hardly had any ball but looked for work and defended well, he almost scored after a clever grubber from De Kock but was beaten by the French cover. Did very well in the Springbok try to release to Big Joe.

15. Werner Greeff – 6 A strange day for Ellis Park’s hero, his kicking direction was shocking yet he found some enormous touch finders. His defence as always was strong and the few runs he had he was dangerous. A pity the Springboks could not get enough ball on the front foot to let him attack the advantage line.

Replacements:

Marius Joubert – 6.5 The late replacement on the bench and early replacement in the game played very well and with the limited ball always looked dangerous and beat his man to create space. He tackled very well although a few were late but no high tackles as he has been criticized for in the past. A good outing for a class player, he deserves to start.

Lukas van Biljon He was bought on as a prop during uncontested scrums and thank goodness for this law or the Springboks would have suffered more injuries. Tried a few bollocking runs but it hardly helped in a match where Green had no momentum.

Wessel Roux He made his appearance after Willie Meyer’s departure and looked solid enough however shortly after there was no contest so he did not get enough opportunity to test himself against the best. Lucky him!

Pedrie Wannenburg Did not see enough to comment.

Marco Wentzel Did not see enough to comment.

Butch James Did not see much of him apart from a ferocious cleaning out of the man over the ball for which he was penalised, if only the Springbok forwards took a leaf from the young Shark with his aggression, the game would have been different.

Bolla Conradie Did not see enough to comment.

Match rating – 4 This was a poor Springbok effort and they know it, Enough said.

Referee rating – 6.5 Generally Mr Rolland played very well, as said the Botha incident was a mistake but he kept control of a match that given the circumstances could have erupted in a brawl.

Springbok Man of the Match: Joe van Niekerk

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