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|Volume 2, Week 16
|Brilliant! A good friend regaled the
other night with a wonderful story on how he was selected for his old army
unit’s rugby team. Apparently the traditional dividing method when faced
with a host of unknowns was to establish what school they attended - my
friend, not being one of the toffs from Grey College, Maritzburg College,
Affies or any of the other top rugby schools in the country looked at the
groups of “names” and decided to fib his way in as an under – 21 player
based on one match for his local police side.
The old company sergeant-major, a bit deprived of rugby knowledge but strong on seniority and discipline duly obliged by selecting the “senior” players in the very first “trial match”. As befitting a man of his status in the old SADF he took upon himself to referee the match although he probably knew less about the rules than many of the current players (and that says a lot!). To make a long story short, apparently at the very first scrum the ball was cuddled neatly under the eigthman, a brute from Tukkies’ feet when my friend with the foresight of Allan Greenspan stole it from within the scrum (A penalisable offence, AJ Venter!) and sprinted a good 40 meters for a 4-point try while the rest of the players were meekly protesting to the chasing, out-of-breath sergeant-major. He was removed from the field shortly after his 5 minutes of glory yet when the announcement came, his name was right there as the first choice scrumhalf, edging out many a young Craven week hopeful!
The lesson here is that good timing at a trial match will bring its just reward and Rudolf Straeuli, Wynand Claasen and Francois Davids acknowledged a brilliant passage of play from Brent Russel in addition to looking at the form and pedigree of many of the contenders in the Super 12. The team, as announced on the pay channel M-Net (something that created its own furore on not being available to the masses - in true month of May socialist fashion) is essentially a good one. The so called “dead-wood” is missing mostly due to injuries and a few players were very lucky to be selected and others unlucky to be left out. Unfortunately that is how the cookie crumbles.
Rudolf Straeuli impressed with his calm and pleasant demeanour and his statement of “restoring the pride” went down well with the “elitist” viewership. No captain was announced but there is hardly a fear that a 51st Springbok captain will be appointed, either Skinstad will retain the position or it will go to his provincial skipper and friend, Corné Krige. The mixture of speed, skill, youth and experience can pave a new way forward for Springbok rugby, the young players however need to be tested in the rarified atmosphere of international rugby and if proven successful could be a remarkable investment for the future.
The Super 12 final will receive more than its fair share of attention as this is arguably the two teams who will contribute the most players to the golden and black jumpers of their country in the next few weeks. The Brumbies, regaining form at the right time are facing a very tough assignment and the match will be but the first battle in what is essentially a Cross-Tasman war this season after all the “niceties” on the political front. It will be very hard to bet against the Crusaders and much depend on their forwards and the likes of Mehrtens, safe words for any column! The Kiwis seem to be indestructible and at home even more so however I believe there is much to be learnt from history although both the Brumbies and Crusaders have it on their side. (First time champions have always won again, the Crusaders have never lost a final) My guess and neck? The Brumbies will win this one.
The world cup draw was announced and South Africa is pitted against the old foe England in the same group, the ranking system – based on previous RWC results ranked England a lowly sixth, behind Wales??? The “bogus” ranking might be the opportune moment for the IRB to sanction an official ranking system, if it is the Zurich rankings, so be it. It will at least allow countries and their supporters to evaluate their team and coach’s successes (or failures) and establish parity at the World Cups.
On the European front, Leicester has once again reached the final of the Heineken Trophy and the defending champions will face Munster in an Anglo-Irish battle at Cardiff, huh? The English champion side will be the favourites to retain their stranglehold on Europe.
The Women’s World Cup final is between England and New Zealand and although the event is not really receiving the coverage it deserves it will be well worth a look at how the two top sides in women’s rugby perform. The Silver Ferns, as the Kiwi side is popularly known has been installed as the favourites with some good performances from another Wilson, this time Tammi – “Goldie Locks” perhaps?
Enjoy the Super 12 final on Saturday morning and good luck to both teams, a battle royal it will be!
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|"Bring on the Dancing Girls!" by Tom Marcellus
|Phew! After all the bar-room speculation and fish-wife gossip
about the make-up of the 2002 edition of het Springbokken,
hand-picked to carry the green 'n gold banner into battle against the
Pride of the Rhondda Valley, the long awaited, fateful day is now with
Shaka & the boys – it's history.
As a fan of understatement, I must say that, the unexpected tribute to "Boots & All" aside, I was relieved at the way in which our new coach went about his business. In contrast to his bottle-blonde predecessor, with his penchant for leather accessories and indecipherable mumble-speak, Straeuli was matter-of-fact and businesslike. Although the cream suit had me worried for a moment there, his demeanour, which is not exactly giggle-a-minute at the best of times, soon allayed my fears, as it seemed to be saying "No more frills and side-shows, let's get down to winning rugby." The only blemish on the evening's performance was Gideon Sam's reference later on to "process", which suddenly caused my bowels to quiver mysteriously.
To the relief of this armchair aficionado, the squad seems to possess a delightfully hard-nosed, biker-gang quality, even with the inclusion of the irrepressible Skinstad and the dazzling skills of Brent Russell, who, with his blonde locks and zippy side-step, is surely Percy Montgomery's long-lost love-child.
The combination of the 2 young Stormers props, Human and Rautenbach, with the team's leather-headed enforcer, Dalton, up front, soothes any fears that the Bok team will not be competitive in the scrums. One hopes that the recently unveiled roughneck approach to Bok training that the new coach seems to be aiming for continues and that the chefs at the Police College bear this in mind when they are preparing meals for this burly threesome. Good strong boys like Bullet & Co need their sustenance – feed the greedy s*ds raw meat at every meal, I say!
Hottie Louw's omission was an obvious surprise, given his fine form in the Super 12, but, to be fair, Labuschagne, displaying the unquenchable appetite for graft that is his trademark, certainly made the most of his limited opportunities at the trial match.
Come Test day, the composition of the loose trio will be intriguing, with the hard-nosed, grizzled duo of Krige (a certainty for the first test) and Venter contrasting with the looser, more serene talents of Skinstad and Van Niekerk. The incumbent skipper, by general consensus, is a back-door selection, and by that I'm not casting any aspersions on his genteel upbringing in the Natal Midlands. Riding his luck once again, the skinny fellow managed to sneak in passed Sowerby, despite his lack of game-time and (by his blessed standards) a rather plodding performance on Sunday.
Who knows, perhaps the coach's new-found reticence over the captaincy issue will allow the mercurial but prodigiously talented eighthman the opportunity to revive his flagging form and to even retain the captaincy? But then maybe I've watched one Oliver Stone movie too many – in any event, such a move would cause rioting from Lusaka to Paarl to the "boerewors" stands outside Newlands, so one hopes that sanity, not to mention the Grizzled One himself, prevails.
The one big issue that I fear will have me guzzling the Horlicks with gusto on many a Friday night over the next few months will be goal-kicking. Although he kicked 4 out of 5 on Sunday, Pretorius does not exactly bring truckloads of confidence to the party when he is required to line up beyond spitting distance from the poles. Shees, let's hope that the young 'un will manage something resembling that 80% record when he's up against unwashed sheep farmers from Te Kuiti and Wanganui, but don't hold your breath. And as for Russell, I'm sure that Cabous' fabled grandmother is a better striker of the ball. With her left boot.
But let's rather not be a stick in the mud. The backline seems full of verve and dash, with its happy blend of youth and muscled endeavour (via Tarzan Snyman), the pack has a brooding, ominous quality about it, and for the first time in yonks there was no mention at a Bok press conference of "go-forward", "method" and "vision". That alone fills me with hope.
The final, compelling confirmation that a new approach to the way that the Boks are to take up the cudgels is upon us came when I read yesterday's Business Day. The concluding paragraph in what was a lengthy analysis of Straeuli's squad stated simply that "A former hooker was selected as the team's doctor".
Understated mongrel – just as it should be.
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|The Grand Finale by Mark Foster
|The great old saying referring to a fat lady and singing has
been around for a long, long time although totally indifferent to sport.
Well the fat lady has sung over the Super 12 and the two protagonists or
should we say heavyweight contenders left in the ring is the old champ and
the current champ. There is little or no doubt that these two teams
thoroughly deserve the opportunity to do battle for the crown of the most
prestigious provincial competition in the world.
The mighty Crusaders disposed of a strangely erratic Highlander team who made a host of uncharacteristic errors. Against a team of the Crusaders’ quality you need all hands on deck and experienced ones to boot and it was no wonder Laurie Mains’ injury deprived team struggled against a team bristling with stars, experience and more dangerous confidence. The loss of Brown and Oliver was probably one of the main reasons for their defeat despite the sterling efforts of Jeff Wilson. Immortalised as “the Golden One” after his subsequent retirement he was the epitome of rugby skills and grace – he will be missed.
The Crusaders have an incredibly well balanced team and the outstanding feature is the way in which every player goes about his business – there seem to be clearly defined roles interspaced with the genius of Richard McCaw and Aaron Mauger, all under the control and guidance of master flyhalf Andrew Mehrtens.
Reuben Thorne and mates now stand 80 minutes away from winning their fourth title in five years, a remarkable achievement especially since finishing second to bottom on last year’s log, they will be hard pressed in the fortress of Christchurch. Strangely, this is their first final on home ground; their previous successes all came on the road.
The Brumbies have reached their fourth final and as defending champions have history on their side however against a team that’s never lost in a final the going is always going to be tough. George Gregan’s men easily disposed of a shell shocked Waratah team although the light blues played some good rugby.
The Brumbies contain a host of world-class players and for them to walk away with the crown will need the likes of the Guv, Finnegan, Harrison, Smith, Larkham, Mortlock and Bond to play at their impressive best. The biggest threat to their title chances are the intimidating away fixture coupled with the Crusaders’ rucking and mauling techniques. Superior in the lineouts and with the ability to control phase after phase patiently this match will be a rugby connoisseur’s dream!
The final has no bearing whatsoever from a South African perspective but for quality entertainment these two teams are the best in the business and with one of the best big-occasion referees, Andre Watson it will be a memorable event. My money? The Kiwis!
|Springbok XXII (selected for the first test vs Wales)
thought Straeuli said he was going to pick players that are on form.
Skinstad is definitely not on form and that points to a serious case of
Asked if he would think of coaching - Hennie Le Roux said he preferred golf. "I'd rather hit the ball than be the ball,"
To tell the honest truth, I would've preferred a hooker with a perfect throw, the fighting spirit of a fox terrier, who knows the laws inside out, and decent enough to take my 16 year old daughter (if I had one) out at night. Henri Burger
I'm not going to have a gun held to my head and I'm not going to communicate through agents. I'll speak to the players, their chief executives and coaches. Rudolf Straeuli
Before his team's record 96-19 defeat - We really don't want to put on a below-par performance against the Crusaders because they can wipe away opponents. Bob Dwyer
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