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Rugby Forum - Vol 4, Week 26
Rugby Forum - Vol 4, Week 26
(The week that was, a South African perspective.)
11 Aug 2004
[SARF]
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Volume 4, Week 26 Rugby Forum

Editors Note

Brilliant!     Yet another thrilling weekend await the discerning sports fanatic and partners will again have to grin and bear as the couchmiles are racked up in a stupendous display of box slobbery. It is the start of sport’s magnus opus, the Olympics also the PGA golf major and somewhere in between the ‘trivial’ matter of the All Blacks vs. the Springboks at Ellis Park. 

The All Blacks arrived on African soil after their first defeat of the year against an Australian side that was too smart and experienced in a ‘dead’ Bledisloe Cup match fittingly played in the Olympic stadium in Sydney. We all know the Bledisloe Cup is a marvelous tradition and for the younger generation of All Blacks and Wallabies it has become the biggest match outside of a World Cup final to participate in. It is a tremendous pity that there is no deciding match if the teams each win a rubber and the previous holder automatically retain the title… its more like kissing your fat aunty than kissing your sister.

The match was quite interesting and this armchair supporter quite enjoyed watching the difference in styles and how the various players performed. It was no surprise that George Smith was awarded the man of the match award, he always seem to hold a bit back for the Crusaders and the All Blacks. It must be the little tête-à-tête between him and Justin Marshall. Talking of which, Marshall seem to have a new best friend in Justin Harrison…

The tall ex-Brumbie has certainly taken over the mantle of town thug from Owen Finnegan in the Australian setup. Where Owen was a very competitive and effective loose forward all be it over robust he garnered a lot of respect from opponents. Harrison is trying to ‘intimidate’ outside normal play with an elbow on the face, pulling, shoving, pushing and if Marshall is to be believed, eye gouging. A year ago this would have been the ‘glowing’ report card from Eddie on the Springboks. Did the Australian press not harangue Jake and Bakkies unmercifully this year? On current form, the Australians need a careful look at their dirty or rather, to be PC, ‘off-the-ball’ incidents. Then there is holier than thou Stephen Larkham who is always quick to draw the fists yet accuse the Springboks of underhanded play? It is nice to see the wheel turn.

On the whole though, Australia deserved the victory and their splendid forward effort created opportunities to score the points that mattered. The All Blacks are looking a bit out of sort compared to the brilliant attacking force of a year ago. The New Zealand commentators are drawing comparisons between Henry and Mitchell with the former looking slightly worse off than the record setting team of a year ago. Mitchell’s men scored plenty of tries and they made the game of rugby look fluid, beautiful and simple. It is mostly the same playing personnel but different coaches and so far the All Black backs only scored two tries in the Tri Nations with Joe Rokocoko tryless!

All of this will be worth sand in the Sahara if the All Blacks dump the Springboks this coming Saturday. Last year in a phenomenal display of power the All Blacks annihilated the Springboks at Loftus and for every South African present that day it felt like shards of glass through the heart. The mess the Springboks was really in only came to the fore of late and one hope and trust they are out of it. The results so far in the competition certainly suggest that it will be a closer affair and with home ground advantage (real home ground and not the Perth variety) and the notorious highveld air the Springboks can turn the tables on their old adversaries for the first time since 2000.

It was at Ellis Park that Robbie Fleck was moved to inside centre and he managed to dummy and sidestep his way to two tries and the Springboks won a marvelous match 46-40. This writer happened to be at the stadium on that memorable occasion and will again make the trek to Johannesburg, hopefully to witness another Springbok victory. 

A quick mention on the Currie Cup, the Blue Bulls played magnificent rugby to hand Province a proper drubbing at Newlands in the kind of weather fit for amphibious creatures. However similar to the Super 12 match against the Brumbies earlier this year the Bulls had no qualms whatsoever with rain and a wet pitch. They even outshone WP on the counter attack, traditionally the Cape side's strongpoint. It also proved the old rugby adage that the game is won up front.

Gary Botha produce another highly accomplished display and the call for his Springbok call up has intensified. Especially after the national selector’s named unknown and inexperienced Bryan Habana in the Tri Nations squad based on his good ‘Currie Cup form’. The kid is a complete unknown factor to this armchair selector so therefore no comment can be made. We all know though what has happened in the past with youthful selections to the Springbok squad – the likes of a Joe van Niekerk was unearthed. Hopefully this young man is in the same league, as for Gary Botha, he has proven in the Super 12 and Currie Cup that he is in that league.

Enjoy this weekend’s sport and what the heck, Springboks by between 7 and 10 points to deny the All Blacks a bonus point and big Ernie to finally win a major this year. If all that happens, the square eyes, extra kg's and sore head will be well worth it!

Lucas


lucas@rugbyforum.co.za

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Mitchell outdoes Henry by Vinesh Naicker
The honeymoon is truly over for Graham Henry; all the talk we have heard of the knowledge gained by Henry, Smith and Hansen turns out to be just that.

It’s probably time to put the year in perspective. So far this year the All Blacks played a fantastic first half against England, since then their performances have largely been downhill. A tired and aged England team were accorded much more respect than they deserved, as shown by the drubbing they received from Australia, before they were sent packing home.

Deposed All Black Coach Mitchell had one failure last year and that was against Australia in Sydney when Australia had their backs to the wall. Henry’s All Black team faced these same opponents a year later with the same results. Not only were the forwards once again ineffectual but the much vaunted “flat backline” structure has meant the backs have scored less tries this year than last.

It should now be readily apparent that Marshall is no longer the answer at halfback, if he ever was; his retention this long has only been papering over the cracks. Go back and look at the start of last weekends game, before Marshall was injured, when the All Black forwards were at their dominant best. They had go forward ball and were rumbling upfield and turning over quick ball for the next phase. Why was this? Because they were taking turns getting the ball out of the base of the ruck themselves. Once Marshall got involved at this phase again, play slowed down and their momentum was lost.

If the All Blacks had a large effective forward at number eight then they would no longer require someone like Marshall to play in the 8.5 jersey and NZ could then find a genuine quick clearing, long passing halfback. Neither Rush or Tu’ali’i seem to be the answer in this regard, both are relatively small, mobile, ball playing forwards who do not have the ability to get genuine go forward against an international team. They are at their best when they are link men. Until they do get such a big line breaking player in the number 8 jersey, Marshall’s (or Kelleher’s) job will be secure.

Marshall was apparently injured in an eye gouging incident early in the game. He said that he had blurred vision and could not see out of one eye for at least 20 minutes of the game. For him to remain on the field and continue to provide the pathetic service he did was either the height of arrogance or of stupidity. It is highly debatable whether Marshall is a better full back than Kelleher when he has both eyes working, with sight in only one eye he did nothing but hinder the chances of his team mates by remaining on the field instead of calling to be substituted by Kelleher. That selfish decision was the turning point in the game for the All Blacks; they lost all their forward momentum from that point on. The sin-binning of Williams was only of secondary impact in that regard.

Spencer, as has been the case since Smith started experimenting with the “flat backline”, was largely ineffective at fly half. Mehrtens, when he came on was only a little more effective than Spencer, but let’s face it the deck was stacked against him. Spencer has been running at fly half in all the recent games and training sessions, Mehrtens had to come on against an Australian team that were firing. Furthermore all Mehrtens had to work with was a “Cyclops” at halfback and an inside centre with a broken rib outside him.

I know that Mehrtens has been picked ahead of Spencer for the game at Ellis Park but frankly there is not much hope that he can turn around the fortunes of the backline. With injuries to Tuitupou and Carter, and only one full training session available to them before the game against a rested South Africa, there are not a lot of changes that can be made to their structure and patterns. The major reason for Mehrtens to be given the fly half spot has to be for his goal kicking. In the high altitude at Ellis Park any penalty from 50 metres has to be a chance and Henry cannot afford to risk it all on Spencer’s often wayward boot. The may well be the only scoring opportunities the All Blacks get.

What else went wrong for NZ? I have already mentioned the lack of a powerful number eight, Marshall’s selfish decision to cripple his team, and the continuing failure of the mystical “flat backline” structure to manifest any visible value. However, for the forwards the other main points of failure were the lineout and kick-offs. In both areas when the NZ players went up for the ball they usually just tapped the ball back instead of grasping it, obtaining control and then looking to see where they were releasing it. By tapping the ball back, more often than not, they handed over possession to an Australian player who was lurking there just waiting for the ball to be batted back. Burger did the same thing to the All Blacks in the previous game against South Africa and not only have they not learned from it they are worse than before. The entire forward packs effort is a lot looser and less committed than it was six games ago, they seem to be getting progressively worse instead of better, as if having beaten the English pack they have done all they need to do for this season. The recall of Ali Williams to the team was a good indicator of this, while Maling is a grafting player but without a lot of x-factor, Williams is a player who likes nothing better than to run around with ball in hand, or do the jazzy stuff as he puts it.

If I sound really negative about the team it is because I am disappointed by both the basic lack of on field rugby intelligence continually shown by the All Blacks, and with the ongoing lack of coaching improvement. I have yet to see any improvements in the coaching abilities of Henry or Smith from their time overseas; I leave Hansen out of the equation because the scrummaging of the All Blacks definitely seems to have improved.

A number of people have said that we never gave Hart or Mitchell the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and improve as coaches; they were both dumped unceremoniously after their abject failure. Well from what I have seen, neither Smith with his past All Black coaching experience, or Henry with his Wales and Lions experience, has improved visibly. We were all happy with the initial squad selection, attitude and performance of the team but we haven’t seen them progress from there. Before the first game against England Henry said the squad was only 40% of the way to where he wanted them to be, I would suggest they are now at 30%. South Africa by contrast is vastly improved from last year, and it is apparent that they have all the elements necessary to turn up their performance another notch. With all due respect to a tired Irish team, South Africa are still looking for that one great victory against a worthy opponent to reward the faithful and to signal that they have come of age. It could well be at Ellis Park this weekend, all the factors seem to be lining up for it.

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Quotes
You're never ready for Carlos's surprises. He's one of the greatest attacking players of this time.     Eddie Jones

I think he is one of the best players in world rugby, he is unique in that I believe he could play anywhere from one to 15, he has all the skills.     Steve Hansen on George Smith

So, if you'll forgive the French, personally I find the very idea that the Wallabies should employ a third-party code-cracker sweating away in a dimly-lit bunker to decode the opposition lineout calls in the first half, and bring them a cheat-sheet at halftime an absolute fu..ing anathema!      Paul Waite on www.haka.co.nz

We want the points for the victory and nothing less. Once you say that you will be satisfied with two log points out of the match, you start budgeting for failure and that is not something the Blue Bulls do.     Heyneke Meyer

Just tell Eddie we're going to change our calls at halftime.      Graham Henry

Richard (Loe) was a dirty, mean bas.tard that I enjoyed playing against because I knew that if I was playing against him, the rule book was thrown out the window.       Sam Scott-Young

Whatever they put in that kid's biltong I wish I'd had some of it when I was growing up. I wish I had some of it now.       Matt Rogers on Clyde Rathbone

We'll definitely be listening to their calls and have a good look at their variations, but we'll have to ensure we win our ball first before focusing on them.       Gert Smal

It's hard to say whether somebody goes out there intentionally to do something to someone, but he (Justin Harrison) has got a history of being one of those niggly, annoying players.      Justin Marshall

People who know me know of my honesty and integrity. My teammates support me as does my coach, and at the end of the day that's all that matters.       Justin Harrison

Justin Harrison survives on nuisance value and has the physical presence of a twig.         Chris Rattue

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


Letters to the Editor
Hi Lucas

Astonished we were on last Saturday's game against the "Wallabies", or should we call them the "Wannabees".

Lets look forward, and not backwards, to what we want to achieve.
1. We want a all round nr 9, that serves the nr 10 with much faster ball, for the nr 10 to make decisions on the filed.
2. We want a backline that runs up on defense as a unit, and in a straight line.
3. We want a hooker to find his men in the lineouts, at a 90% strike rate.
4. We want to get forward in scrums and win our own ball.
5. We want a loose trio that works together as a well drilled pack, focusing on ball retention, and winning opposition ball.
6. We want speed and muscle on the outside.
7. We want to keep the ball in hand - at all times.
8. We want less high tackles.
9. We want output based SARFU player contracts.
10.We want referees that are not biased.

Simple isn't it !!
With regards to above mentioned lets look who will be the contenders on current and past form!
1. Definitely Neill de Kock. Van der Westhuizen cannot make decisions -Funny enough, Marius Goosen is nr 1 on my list.
2. Practice makes perfect, but get rid of van der Westhuizen(sorry mate). 
3. Gary Botha - there is absolutely nothing wrong with the current locks !
4. A partner for Os, maybe John Smit.
5. A partner for Burger - Luke Watson is the name, but then we should look for a tall no 8 - Joe Van Niekerk (fit) is the answer.
6. Paulse had his time, De Villiers is a centre, not a Wing. Go and look in the free state, and in Natal.
7. Practice makes perfect, go for lessons with Nick Mallet.
8. Practice cannot make this perfect, ask Naas Botha.
9. Speak to SARFU
10. Get "Piet van Potch" back on the field, that seemed to work for a few months.

Thanks for a great letter
Hein

Hi Lucas

Nice forum but I don't like the negativity. fine we should've won but we didn't. if u look back to as recent as 6 months ago, rugby in SA was in a mess. people as pessimistic as they were, were predicting the end of the game in SA. they would never recover. maybe those were just words of emotion at the time but to see SA rugby recover as quick as it did is an achievement in itself. there needs to be consistency in terms of discipline, lineouts, scrums and all the rest but the biggest victory i think was the selection of Jake as coach. to me it was breaking tradition. a tradition of previously top players being perceived as top coaches and no-one else. and then for Jake to call on Percy and Jaco was yet another tradition broken. and SA rugby is all the better for it. i use the word tradition coz i feel much pride was taken in the fact that if u didn't play in SA u couldn't be a springbok. it was a sense of power for the guys at the top. 

And Clyde. well who can blame him for going where he was better looked after. at the end of the day, as much as players say theyd die for their country on the field, the financial backing is the ultimate decider. 

go springboks go as a new era for the good game dawns in SA. lets hope the politicians at the top don't stuff it up again.

Thanks 
Jasen
by

Let us know what you think!

Hopefully the boys in Black can maintain their record against those nasty Boks too, you deserve a win but you can get that against the Aussies next week!
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