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|Volume 3, Week 5|
|Brilliant! Super 12 rugby is back and it is stronger, faster and wetter than before! The first week provided ample action with some dazzling, mediocre and downright poor displays but as a weekend, the rugby and there was plenty on offer provided this armchair supporter with enough hours of unadulterated entertainment. Of course there was to be some adulterated stuff and as usual some nana in this case a banana boy not only lost his head but also used it over vigorously! All in all it was a satisfying opening and as they say in some dodgy song, things can only get better.|
The business of predictions is a perilous past time indeed and most of the time one have to rely on assumptions, and as we all know assume is short for making an ass out of u and me! A promise was made though and the phrase “nuts in a vice” was thrown about so here goes, my Vodacom Super 12, 2003 prediction in final log positions (based on first round form, history and good old gut feel!)
1. Crusaders – The red and black machine is the most successful team in the history of the competition and has never lost in a final. They possess in Andrew Mehrtens one of the finest flyhalves in the world - as a big occasion player and match winner there are few better. They have started their season well and extended their unbeaten run to 14 matches (The Blues hold the record with 19 matches unbeaten) and with an All Black studded pack, a superstar in Richie McCaw they will be hard to beat for a fifth title in six years.
2. Highlanders – The men from Otago are a well-drilled and streetwise team under experienced coach, Laurie Mains. The influential Tony Brown is not yet available, his particular style of play epitomises the South Islanders efforts. Successful in this competition they have yet to clear the final hurdle but with a favourable draw in playing all the main contenders at home they will fancy their chances to break the duck this year.
3. Brumbies – The only non New Zealand team to win the competition they have played in all the finals for the last three years and with the personnel available should reach the semi-finals at least. During their first match they displayed the kind of grit necessary to be successful when they managed to beat the Reds with one less player. They also possess true world-class players in Gregan, Larkham, Smith, Paul and Roff and these calibre players inevitably prove the difference.
4. Stormers – This prediction is not based on bias or sentiment, the “men in black” have a powerful pack, an experienced coach and captain and enough flair in the backline to win matches. Gert Smal is the most experienced coach of the South African teams and if anything counts in the next thirteen weeks its experience. A few players in the team are world-class potential or has been branded with that tag in the past; Visagie, Boome, Krige, Fleck, Rossouw and Paulse and all that remain is to win those close, vital matches they seemed intent on losing in the past.
5. Blues – Since their glory years in the beginning the current NPC champions have struggled but their pre-season and first match form seem to suggest otherwise. An exciting backline with strong enough forwards should ensure enough victories but playing the tough sides away could hamper their semi-final spot.
6. Waratahs – The team with arguably the most experienced coach in the business, Bob Dwyer is a bit of an enigma – with somebody so forceful and knowledgeable in charge it is difficult to believe how they fell apart in the last couple of weeks of last year’s competition. That experience seemed to have broken their confidence. The “lightblues” also need to sort out their forwards, specifically their lineouts but with Phil Kearn’s one-eyed commentary, the boot of Matt Burke and the exciting running of Matt Rogers they will win their fare share although not enough to make it through.
7. Hurricanes – The perennial underachievers played very well in their first match against the defending champions and showed some admirable discipline for a side notorious for playing with 13-14 men most of the time. In Umaga and Cullen they have brilliance however their forwards have traditionally let them down. They will cause the habitual upset but will struggle to last the distance.
8. Reds – The Reds have a new coach and this fact alone make it difficult for a team who have struggled since the departure of Wilson and Eales. Blessed with a few wonderful players in Kefu, Tune and Latham they need more leadership to pose a successful challenge and their first match although in atrocious conditions revealed a soft underbelly. They should have taken the match by the scruff and buried the Brumbies with one extra man on the field but inexplicably did not.
9. Bulls – Yip, the Bulls will not finish bottom of the log this year, why? Rudi Joubert is an experienced coach who’s been through the ranks. It is clear he is intent on playing to his strengths and if that is 10-man rugby then so be it, if you win the match nobody asks how, only when you start losing the questions arise. In Victor Matfield and the young Geo Cronje they have the talent to upset any teams lineout plans and this is the most important attacking platform. With the educated boot of Louis Koen they will win a few more matches but against strong forward opposition their limited options will leave them wanting.
10. Chiefs – The Chiefs did not perform too badly against the Highlanders and their forwards in particular created enough phases to attack from. The traditional NZ wooden spoonists will struggle without inspirational captain Deon Muir and the loss of a few others may leave the squad a bit thin on the ground to challenge for higher honours.
11. Sharks – The most successful SA side in the competition has gone of the boiler, coach Kevin Putt is inexperienced at even provincial level and one would have thought that after the Hugh Reece-Edwards debacle they would not make the same mistake. There are very good players in the squad but the absence of Andrews and Britz will be difficult to process and without an experienced captain (Smit will only be available in April) they are on a hiding to nothing. All indications of pre-tournament and first round form suggest they will be playing for pride alone but for players who are use to being “loved or feared” it is not good enough and all kinds of problems will materialise.
12. Cats – The Cats have lost their first home fixture and originally they were much higher on this list but their inexperience, serious problems amongst the tight five and another novice Super 12 coach may prove a bigger handbrake than everybody thought. Bob Skinstad and Joe van Niekerk are both brilliant and charismatic and with Bobo, Hall and Lombaard there is good enough talent, what remain to see is if they can boast Pretorius’ form or decide upon Tsimba as first choice. At the end of the day, the forwards need to dominate and at the moment that seems unlikely.
There we go then, roll on the Super 12 and feel free to send me your predictions or comments on mine.
Enjoy the rugby, live at the park!
|Visit http://www.rugbyforum.co.za/ for statistics, all the quotes and an archive of previous issues|
|Piscean Celebrations by Tom Marcellus|
|Not being the superstitious sort, I don't care much for star-signs and other similar types of mumbo-jumbo so beloved by dizzy schoolgirls and frustrated housewives. Even so, I have to wonder about such supernatural tosh, not to mention the presence of the guiding hand of the Almighty, when I consider that my 2 greatest sporting heroes share the same birthday. Which is today, in fact. What are the chances, eh?|
The first lady for a shave is one Hendrik Egnatius Botha – "Naas" to you and me – who was born in Breyton, Mpumalanga, on this day in 1958.
Now Naas was never your conventional rugger hero. Although adored, even as a spindly teenager, by the burly sun-ravaged masses from north of the Jukskei River, it was a number of years before his true genius as a player was fully recognised or appreciated by all local fans. This was especially true of our brethren from the foothills of Table Mountain, whose reluctant admiration Naas finally managed to extort by dint of his unsurpassed ability with a leather ball in his hands (with apologies to David Kramer).
I, too, must confess that my enthusiasm for Naas boiled on low heat for many years, especially when, time 'n time again, he and his mustachioed cohorts from the Nation's Capital tormented Divan & Co in the rarified air at Loftus (and b*gger Securicor). With his clipped Murder & Robbery Squad whiskers, buck-teeth, and self-admitted aversion for tackling, Naas was not the archetypal comic-book hero so easily admired by this arm-chair correspondent, who, at the time, voraciously read about the exploits of lantern-jawed English army officers named Tom, Charlie and the like, as they valiant fought off evil-looking scoundrels called Fritz and Hans, whose collective vocabulary was limited to exclamations of "Himmel", "Schweinehund" and "Der Teufel".
But back to The Baas.
The tide began to turn as early as 1980, when he made his debut for the Boks against senhor Porta's South Americans. Although up against the archetypal swashbuckling flyhalf in Porta, with his Latin flair, manic eyebrows and dazzling distribution skills, Naas still managed to stamp his youthful style on the opposition. No doubt, the soothing presence of such well known softies like Moaner van Heerden and Kevin de Klerk eased his pre-match nerves.
But his brilliance really began to bloom against Billy Beaumont's Lions later in the year, and his touchline conversion in the swirling rain at Boet Erasmus between the uprights to give the Springboks a 12-10 victory and an unbeatable 3-nil series lead, was mere confirmation to Bok fans that they had been blessed with a genius not seen in the Green 'n Gold since the long-gone days of Bennie Osler.
Opposition fans loathed him, but only because they would have loved to have him in their XV.
he next birthday boy is Mr RG Pollock, who, despite my youthful adoration, back then, for all things relating to het Springbokken, will forever remain my greatest sporting hero. Like "Jeeps", I was a right-hander who batted left, and it is from this simple co-incidence of birth that my die-hard loyalty probably springs. But, unlike this colossus of the game, I was a wretched ball-player, and was content to limit my participation in cricket to epic test matches between carefully selected World XI's, courtesy of a rolled Staedtler pencil.
Your editor, noble reader, will confirm my reverence for Pollock. It was London, Xmas 1995, and we had been reminiscing with gusto, over a few jars of those mysterious amber liquids, about the heroic exploits of Naas, Danie, Morne, Carel and the rest of the crew. By the time, hours later, we touched on the gentlemen in whites and the genius of that man Pollock, I was in deep trouble.
But we were undaunted, and by the time dawn eventually broke on that bleak London morning, we were still debating the merits of his 125 at Trent Bridge, despite the fact that we were both hallucinating and dribbling, and suffering occasional bouts of extreme nausea.
And you have to admit, it takes a rare genius to inspire that sort of tenacity.
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|That’s Why They Call it Entertainment by Desmond Organ|
|From the confused confessions of a Cat’s supporter to the euphoria of a Welsh “recovery” to the mindless acts of enthusiasm of AKA, I thought head butting was legal, a fair weekend with which to celebrate the greatest game on the planet. Well that is what many would have you believe; I on the other hand fear the impending death of the game, as we currently know it.|
For many years in this isolated rugby backwater called Chicago I have reveled in the delights of limited access to live coverage and replays of international games across the globe. Not for one minute did I think that I would find myself bored to death by the so-called game of rugby union that was delivered in dribs and drabs at Ballymore, not that the ball handling clinic that was delivered in Paris was any better.
What then are we to make of the state of the game in this year of glory?
Quite simply put the game is being hastened towards a rugby league look alike, too many backs are way offside, forwards are no longer committed to the rucks and mauls and the offensive patterns are like a modern version of gladiatorial warfare. Watching the English line up in defence is like a large tsunami unearthed by some massive rupture in the earths inner crust. On the positive side the English do commit forwards and have developed some incisive running patterns off the ball carrier, which many think are the work of some genius. Not so, they are simply playing the game as they know how, dominate in the forwards and utilise the pace out wide.
Their defensive patterns are dictated by the predictable patterns employed by many of the Southern Hemisphere teams. The fact that the Irish and French are the only real contenders to a similar pattern of play is somewhat rewarding. If the drivel that was dished up in Ballymore is rugby union then it is time for us to re-look the laws of the game. Despite the eventful heroics of natural ball players like Chris Latham and Sterling Mortlock the balance was like a well-choreographed rugby league match. On several occasions there were no more than three players at a ruck and maybe four at a mall, the rest were on vacation in the backs or committing infringements which are not on the list of new law interpretations dished out by the rocket scientists at the IRB.
I eventually committed the cardinal sin of engaging in a game of trivial pursuit to offset the disappointment that comes when you feel that you have been robbed. Now that I have probably convinced many of you that I am cynical beyond comprehension I will attempt to find some level of comfort from several of the other clashes that took place.
The fact that the Stormers and the Bulls effectively used their forwards to belt the opposition is a rewarding site as it might just indicate that South Africa is realising that the game begins with this foundation and progresses from there. How the Sharks are able to field an almost unchanged tight five a season later and get their arses reamed is beyond me. Me think that the magician that was unfurled by the management in Durban might not be the real deal. But just maybe the lack of continuity in coaching is being brought home to roost. The most humorous comment that I read over the weekend was the following: “The Cats deserve Tim Lane as much as he deserves them.”
The referees have been elevated to a position of untouchable authority and rugby officialdom is right to protect their integrity. I would just like to see them blowing the game along some traditional lines. I am quite sick and tired of skew feeds to the scrum, but then again if the only purpose of the scrum is to plan the next rugby league type attack, who cares? Players are deliberately rolling into the opposition forwards in the hope that somebody will ruck and get penalised. The interpretations of roll away after the tackle and remain on your feet in the maul are so confusing that nobody knows what is a ruck and what is a mall.
Hopefully I have stirred some long held memory of the game that dwells in the people who receive this weekly effort. In parting for this week I would like to leave you with a reminder of who the “rocket scientists” of the week are, in no particular order of importance.
Matt Burke – I never tackle high
AJ Venter – Head butting Robbie Fleck would earn you a medal anywhere else in the world
Ben Darwin – I can hit harder than you
Patricio Noriega – I liked the article on Rugby Heaven so much that I lost control
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|Newsflash: Australians don’t like rain by Vinesh Naicker|
|Chiefs (16) vs. Highlanders (29)|
The Super12 kicked off with this clash in Hamilton. The basis for the Chiefs this season is the Waikato team which contested the final of the NPC last year, but there just seems to be something missing when the Super12 rolls around, the passion that these players exhibit when playing for their province is just not reflected in their on-field performance for the Chiefs.
The main highlights of the game for the Highlanders was the kicking of Willy Walker who was standing in for the injured Tony Brown at first five and the solidity of Paul Williams at fullback. Paul is a son of the great Bryan Williams, but much bigger than his father. Standing at 188cm and 95kg at the age of 19 this guy is a huge prospect for the future. He was rock solid in defence on debut.
For the Chiefs the standout player was Marty Holah who excelled in the All Blacks November tour, he carried on his great form but was penalised a few times at the tackle ball area. I think the way the referees are ruling this will see some players confused for a couple more weeks.
In the end the Highlanders triumphed through superior organisation and the boot of Walker.
Waratahs (18) vs. Blues (31)
I’ve got to admit I picked the Blues to lose this one, what with the injury to Carlos Spencer and the fact that they were playing in Sydney,
However in the end the Blues won handsomely for three main reasons. Firstly, Orene Ai’i had a superb game at first five, he did nothing wrong all night and his no look pass to Rokocoko to put him under the posts was as good as anything Carlos has done.
Secondly, the back three of the Blues has speed to burn, I doubt if any other team in the tournament can match them for pace. Caucaunibuca showed fantastic top end acceleration to score the first of his two tries.
Thirdly, the Waratahs, and as it turned out later in the weekend the entire country of Australia, are totally inept at playing in the rain. Tom Bowman must have knocked the ball on every time he put a hand to it and most of his team mates weren’t much better.
One thing that has to be mentioned was the professional foul (head high tackle) by Waratahs captain Mat Burke to prevent a try. The referee quite rightly binned him but I thought it was quite sickening how the Australian commentators tried to make excuses for him despite the evidence of all the replays. Those guys really are one eyed.
Cats (26) vs. Bulls (34)
This game turned out to be the battle for the wooden spoon last year. Despite the Bulls winning the Currie Cup last year I think a lot of people were surprised when they won this one.
It was kind of ironic that Cats reject Louis Koen played such a huge role in defeating the Cats. His three drop goals and numerous penalty kicks are ideally suited to the 10 man rugby that the Bulls play.
Although Andre Pretorious seemed to play well in the first half and the Cats led going into the half time break (20-12), he seemed to panic when the Bulls came back in the second half. It looked like a good option when Tim Lane called Kennedy Tsimba in to replace Pretorius in the hopes of settling down the back line. Now this is the first time I have seen Tsimba play and I have to admit I was not impressed. He did everything wrong, from forcing a pass within 1 metre of the Bulls goal line to giving away the subsequent penalty for playing the ball on the ground (which relieved the pressure in the Bulls 22) to kicking the ball away pointlessly when the Cats needed to retain possession to score tries and win the game.
I suggest that for the short term good of South African rugby i.e. the 2003 World Cup, Andre Pretorius needs to remain on the field for the whole 80 minutes. He needs to learn to operate in a losing team and behind a beaten pack without panicking, and the Super 12 is a good training ground for that. If he can retain composure behind a losing pack then he will be better able to strike when opportunity presents itself rather than the flustered manner in which he currently does. Make no mistake England and France will both have very good packs in the World Cup and the Springboks may be on the back foot for much of the game. If Pretorius is used to operating in situations like that the Springboks have a much greater chance for success.
Stormers (40) vs. Sharks (18)
There were two aspects to this game that really baffled me. Firstly, why was Brent Russell on the bench? I mean Butch James at first five. The guy demonstrated that he still can’t tackle, still can’t run, and can barely kick. The Sharks were a totally different outfit when Russell took the field, due to his phenomenal ability to find space he creates doubt in the minds of the opposition which causes them to hesitate in defence. The majority of the Sharks points seem to have been scored when he was on the field. Can Putt be stupid enough to leave him out of the starting first five slot in the next game?
Speaking of stupid, how dumb was AJ Venters headbutt on Robbie Fleck. The guy is his Springbok team mate for gods sake. If there was one thing that Springboks fans could have said came out of the thrashing the Boks received from England last year, it was that AJ Venter stood up and came of age as a rugby player. His headbutt on Fleck shows that in fact nothing was gained out of that game it was just “a good old fashioned ass-whooping” as the Americans would say.
Well deserved win to the Stormers who outplayed the Sharks in all facets.
Crusaders (37) vs. Hurricanes (21)
The undefeated champions of last year put another notch on their belt. The game showed that the Crusaders were rusty, but like the champion team of last year they did just enough to win.
Brad Thorn played well at lock in tandem with Chris Jack. For the Hurricanes it looks like another year of “same old same old”, the only way that this team is getting into the semi-finals is if Tana Umaga carries them in on his back. Christian Cullen saw no ball and I will be surprised if he sees much all season, his All Black prospects look pretty shaky.
The Reds (19) vs. Brumbies (22)
The match was played in driving rain and the tactics of both teams once again convinced me that Australians really have no clue how to play rugby in wet conditions. Both teams tried to run the ball from all over the park and turned the ball over on numerous occasions.
The only two things of note in this game was Chris Lathams freakish try in the 26th second of the game and the impeccable kicking of Stirling Mortlock. If Mortlock had kicked his typical 60% instead of the 100% he did on the night, the Brumbies would have lost this one.
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|Happiness in Defeat, a Joke? by Giampaolo Tassinari|
You just have to take your hats off and acknowledge your opponents’ cleverness. At least in this the Italians did well and fully admitted to be unable to counter the quickness and superiority of the Irishmen. They came, they played and they went back home as the victors.
|Super 12 Log & Weekly XV|
RF Super 12 XV:
15 Chris Latham (Reds), 14 Joe Rokocoko (Blues), 13 Stirling Mortlock (Brumbies), 12 Robbie Fleck (Stormers), 11 Rupeni Caucaunibuca (Blues), 10 Orene Ai'i (Blues), 9 George Gregan (Brumbies), 8 Adri Badenhorst (Stormers), 7 Marty Holah (Chiefs), 6 Richie Collins (Hurricanes), 5 Brad Thorne (Crusaders), 4 Victor Matfield, 3 Faan Rautenbach (Stormers), 2 Keven Mealamu (Blues), 1 Dave Hewett (Crusaders)
|To be sent to the sin-bin moments after I'd come on wasn't exactly planned. It was probably Guinness Book of Records stuff. Phil Christophers after the England/Wales clash|
France endlessly talk of discipline. Concentration is not such a bad word for their backs to learn either. They will need it in Dublin. Stuart Barnes
In the past three years, England have set out on the Six Nations trail like a juggernaut, only to find an accident waiting along the road. David Hands
We just want to win a few games overseas to raise the morale of the South African public. That is extremely important, it is not just about the Stormers, it is about getting the national confidence up. Corné Krige
We want to understand their decisions. We want to be ready to face their reading of the rules because we have discovered a lot of discrepancies and we want them to help us. Jo Maso on referees
It was on the line.........are you blind! Wendell Sailor commenting to Stuart Dickinson about a ball that had been kicked out on the full
It's an expensive one, because we didn't get anything out of the game at all in terms of points, but at least we got something out of it. Bob Dwyer after his teams defeat against the Blues
|Super 12 Fixtures|
(Previous year's score in brackets)
|Letters to the Editor|
A J Venter's actions in the Sharks - Stormers game
After watching the Stormers versus Sharks game last Friday at Newlands, I went home and watched the same game on video, because it is a bit difficult to see everything, 500 meters away from the game. I was a bit perplexed about Mr Tappe Henning's decision only to give a penalty against AJ Venter. It should have been a red card at least, not even to mention a yellow card.
That head-butt was as blatant as anything that I have ever seen on a rugby field. I am sure if it was a NZ or Aus ref he would have been gone for either 10 minutes or the whole game. It is really strange that our players always try and kill their Boks teammates in the local derbies. Our players must know that we will be marked by overseas refs and learn to think with their brains instead of their hormones.
Well, I am actually glad that AJ was not carded, because I would rather that the Stormers win against a complete Shark team, (as they did) than a depleted team. It means more for the Stormers confidence than a win against 14 men would have meant.
Keep on with the good work.
|Hi Lucas |
About our rugby
I agree with you that we must support our teams / our players even if they need the occasional kick up the back side from the arm chair coaches, like in the cricket add " I moved you up and down the order ...etc " at the end of the day they are the only teams we have got . I have mouthed off to you about the Lows I expect us to achieve but if I am honest deep down I desperately what to be proved wrong so on your encouragement I will try to be true Green & Gold or what ever colour our Super 12 team on the day is. Thanks for keeping us motivated.
of the Sharks
I screamed with laughter this morning when I received an e-mail from my nephew in Cape Town. He says the Sharks have been renamed 'The Gums,' as they're absolutely toothless! The laughter may have become hysterical, as
the Sharks performance wasn't inept, it was a demonstration of total inability.
The AJ Venter issue is very simple. He must be suspended for the full 12 week period allowed within the rugby rules. His intended head butt on Robbie Fleck cannot under any circumstances be justified and Tappe Henning should
also be reduced in his refereeing status. How could Tappe have let AJ stay on the field? I don't care if AJ had his foreskin pulled over his head at some previous maul, his appalling action could have killed Fleck by smashing
his nose into his brain. Unacceptable and SARFU must firm control of their nethers (it would be a first!) and ensure Venter receives the most punitive sentence possible.
As well as the Stormers scored, there was nothing I saw that brought me to the edge of my seat to spark confidence for the year ahead. The Cats and the Bulls were as putrid as the Gums, and watching the Antipodean and major
European sides in action filled me with dread.