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Will the Boks defend their title in 2011?

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AB Captain Ritchie McCaw

Image by nznationalparty via Flickr

 

 It was bound to happen. At some stage of his Springbok coaching career, Pieter de Villiers was going to get exposed. The time has come in 2010, where a shift in rules that favours the attacking team was completely missed by de Villiers.

The All Blacks were ready. They blasted off the 2010 Tri Nations in style, obliterating South Africa and Australia in the process. The Men in Black played intelligent rugby. They are holding onto their ball in their own half and backing themselves to retain possession and eventually create space out wide.

A large part of their game plan has been based around Ma’a Nonu who can carry the ball up powerfully as the second receiver. In contrast the Boks have looked directionless and have played with no real purpose, although nothing can be taken away from the passion they breathed into the Soweto Test.

Jake White’s game plan has come to an end. The strategy that won the 2007 World Cup is old school now and fresh ideas are needed…..and quickly.

Some of the senior men in the Bok team are looking…..well ….old. John Smit is captain courageous but Ritchie McCaw is more looking the part of a 2011 World Cup winning captain than Smit is right now.

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It would take a brave coach with certain knowledge that he will win the World Cup next year to fire Smit at this late stage. Pieter de Villiers is damned if he drops Smit and damned if he doesn’t.

Key combinations have still not been established in the Bok team. Just who the center pairing, the loose forwards and the front row are going to be in a year’s time is still not clear.

Playing “Barney” at prop is not a solution for 2011 and if he is not the first choice hooker then sadly it is time to let the old warrior hang up his boots. Just who will captain the Springboks then is an intriguing question.

Victor Matfield has lead the Boks before but has not dominated the line out internationally this year and may be under pressure from Andries Bekker for the number 5 jersey come 2011.

Another candidate being mentioned is fellow Blue Bull Fourie Du Preez. Much respected by both the players and the South African public nobody would argue with the choice.

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However, Fourie is a quiet man and the captaincy role may cause him to take his eye off his game. And if South Africa is to win 2011, it will all revolve around Fourie Du Preez being on top of his game without any added responsibility.

One other player that is in the mix is tough as nails Juan Smith from the Free State. The rugged flanker had a lot of input into the Springboks resurgence at Soweto and is also a well respected man in South African rugby.

Smith leads from the front and will never take a step backwards. We have learnt from the great victories of 95 and 07……it takes nerve to win a World Cup. Being led into a final by Juan Smith in 2011, nerve and a determination not to step backwards will be instilled into the Springbok’s quest to defend our title of World Champions.

Bring on the British Lions

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There is a story in the folk lore of Eastern Province rugby about the opening game against the 1980 British Lions that involved Dennis Campher a tough centre who had perfected the art of the crash tackle.

 EP had talented players in its ranks and they were up against a Lions team that many thought would win the 4 test series against the Springboks, who were back into international rugby for the first time since the 1976 All Black tour to South Africa.

Schalk Burger Snr fronted up the pack with Pote Human while the talented Gavin Cowley was at flyhalf. Dennis Campher the best crash tackler in the business was on his outside and Johan Heunis who was destined to become a great Springbok fullback in the 1980’s elder brother Chris, was also in the team.

The 1974 British Lions almost came unstuck against EP at one of the “Battles of the Boet Erasmus “

Cowley recalls playing in his 3rd match for EP and as a 20 yr old stood on one side as Stuart McKinney, Gordon Brown, Kerrie Van Eyk and George Barnard started a free for all.

EP was well known in South African rugby for winning the fight when the going got tough.  Although the Lions managed to win 28-14, the efforts of the men from Port Elizabeth earned them the right to play the opening game against the 1980 British Lions.

Teammates used to watch Dennis Campher warm up in the changing room with awe.  He would start head butting the wall then wrestle with team mates as motivation.

 Campher was known to be able to change a game.  Even the great Naas Botha was wary of receiving the ball when playing EP as Campher was known to push the law to the limit in his crash tackling defense methods.

 In a game against Northern Orange Free State at the Boet Erasmus stadium, the game was getting away from EP. NOFS were on the attack when Dennis Campher launched his counter attack.  Minutes later four Purple Panthers were lying on the ground writhing in pain after being tacked by Campher and the game’s momentum swung into EP’s favour

In 1980 he began screaming at a selector to open the changing room door because he was going to charge and sort out the British Lions before they even got onto the field. 

The Springboks are going to need a similar “gees” up front to beat the 2009 British Lions.

Somehow the Australians have got their scrum together and it was an unpleasant sight watching Springbok hopeful Jannie Du Plessis being shunted by Ben Alexander in the Sharks vs Waratahs game over the weekend.

John Smit stabilized matters when he replaced Du Plessis but the series against the Lions could be won or lost up front.

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(Above:  John Smit, South Africa’ s World Cup winning captain will have to earn his spurs as a tighthead prop against the British Lions)

This view is echoed by Willie John McBride the victorious captain of the 1974 British Lions who said “I still think the team that scrummages is the team that prospers because you are going forward and you dictate the next play’.

“And that worries me a wee bit. I haven’t been impressed with the scrummaging during the Six Nations” he said in an interview with Paul Ackford “

 The Springboks have to dominate up front and the front row tussle could become a highlight of the series. 

Should the Bok front row be able to put the heat on, the British Lions can be beaten.  Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield will dominate Lions captain Paul O’ Connell who is being touted as the enforcer for the Lions.

 It is difficult to imagine Juan Smith, Schalk Burger and/or Heinrich Brussow not making an impact in the test series with Pierre Spies and Ryan Kankowski also keen to make their mark against the British Lions.  The last two tests are being played at altitude…..we have taken our home ground advantage………..Bring it on…….

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(Above:  Pierre Spies will be determined to make his mark against the touring British Lions)

The team sheets for 1980 Eastern Province vs British Lions game were:

Eastern Province:

J P Pretorius; H L Potgieter, D Campher, H Lotz, C Heunis; G S Cowley, M R O’Shea; D J Olivier, J P Delport, J Ferreira, G Human, S W P Burger, M van der Merwe (captain), N Snyman, A Johnson Replacements: G van Zyl for Lotz (26 mins); T Kankowski for Potgieter (27 mins)

Scorers Tries: Heunis, Campher Conversion: Cowley Penalty Goals: Pretorius, Cowley

British/Irish Lions XV:

B H Hay; H E Rees, R W R Gravell, P J Morgan, M A C Slemen; W G Davies, T D Holmes; G Price, P J Wheeler, F E Cotton, W B Beaumont (captain), A J Martin, J Squire, J R Beattie, S M Lane Replacements: D L Quinnell for Lane (2 mins); J M Renwick for Davies (29 mins)

Scorers Tries: Slemen, Holmes, Rees Conversions: Davies, Renwick Penalty Goals: Davies (2), Renwick Dropped Goal: Davies

Referee S Strydom (Orange Free State)

Check out scrum.com for more rugby news.

Is this the end of the road for Super 14 Rugby?

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The SANZAR partners, comprising of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia have not reached agreement on what format the Super 14 competition should take.  Time is running out as they have to meet with television broadcasters by the end of June to hammer out a broadcast deal.

 The South Africans agree with the expansion of the competition, but want the Southern Kings to have the additional franchise.  Australia wants the franchise to be based in Melbourne.

The Aussies and the Kiwis also want the competition to extend into June and enter the “Tri Nations window”.  This would mean weakened Super rugby teams at the business end of the competition.  South Africa wants an earlier start to the competition to cater for the extra fixtures an expansion would bring.

I have to agree with the Aussies that starting the competition earlier would be problematic.  Heat exhaustion can play a major role in games played in January and will detract from the fast pace of the game that we have come to expect from Super rugby.

Extending the competition into June is also not a viable solution though.  We cannot have teams missing their international players when vying for semi final spots and neither can we compromise the Currie Cup.  Although I must admit that the Currie Cup becomes a better product to watch when the Springboks return from international duty and play for their provinces.

The current format of Super 14 rugby is not working either.  No matter how much one loves rugby, trying to watch 5 games on a Saturday is also overload.  Never before have I left the TV on and gone and done other things around the house and quickly return to watch when a try gets scored or Bakkies Botha moers somebody.

And who gets to watch the Friday morning games?  Doing the Sunday morning highlights does not work for me.  Rugby was meant to be watched live and so many a good game goes by unwatched by South Africans.

The Aussie and Kiwi fans have it even worse.  Many of the games played in South Africa are screened in the middle of the night overseas due to time differences.  How many of them get up to watch games?  I have a sneaking suspicion that there are more viewers in South Africa per game than our overseas cousins, which is why SA gets to have so much sway in these negotiations with the broadcasters. 

So what is the answer?  Well it’s plain to see what the Australian agenda is.  They do not have a domestic rugby competition and couldn’t care about the Currie Cup or the Air New Zealand Cup.  So Super rugby is where it’s at for them.

Both South Africa and New Zealand must protect their domestic competitions and cannot be pushed around by the Aussies on this point.

Personally the ultimate in rugby is a test between the Springboks and the All Blacks.  But too much of a good thing is also not a good thing.  Maybe the Tri Nations must be expanded to include Argentina, Samoa and Tonga and this 6 nations tournament gets played every 2 years.  Old fashioned tours can be played in the off year where we can play 3 test series against Australia and New Zealandin rotation.

The Super 14 should be expanded to include the Pacific Islands teams but gets played on a regional basis at first.  Then the top teams go through to a Super 6 or a Super 8 competition, while the bottom 8 or 10 teams fight it out in a “plate competition”.

This will broaden the base of rugby in the Southern Hemisphere without compromising the domestic competitions.  And if the Aussies and Kiwis don’t agree……..well lets go it alone…….we have been there and done that before……….

2011………..Are the Boks ready for the Rugby World Cup title defense?

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Being an arm chair selector has in advantages. The Springbok team that you select will probably never end up playing together and you never have to justify yourself like Pieter De Villiers.

Selecting my team to play the British Lions got me thinking about 2011. All the talk right now is about the British Lions tour and rightly so. This is only their third visit to the shores of South Africa in the past 29 years with the other tours being in 1980 (won by the Springboks) and 1997 (won by the Lions).

Nobody can really think past 2010 Soccer World Cup and it is an honour for South Africa to be the host nation. But rugby people seem to be forgetting that 2009 marks the half way mark in the reign of the Springboks, the current rugby World Champions.

 In 1997, the last time the Springboks faced the British Lions, we were also two years off the 95 World Cup victory and South African rugby was in disarray. Kitch Christie, the world cup winning coach was gone, as was his successor Andre Markgraaf. Carel Du Plessis, who coached the Boks during the last Lions series, also got the boot before the 99 Rugby World Cup. 

 Are the Springboks that well prepared this time round, in their second defense of their crown? We felt let down by Nick Mallet in 1999 when the Boks last tried to defend their title and the question has to be asked whether history will repeat itself. Part of the problem at the 1999 World Cup was the issue of captaincy.

After Gary Teichman was dropped as skipper of the Boks, an uneasy vibe developed in a highly successful team. Players started feeling that if the skipper could be dropped, then everyone else was vulnerable as well.

By 2005 Jake White had a fair idea of who was going to be in his squad for the 07 World Cup and his faith was in John Smit as skipper. Victor Matfield, Os du Rand, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Fourie Du Preez and Percy Montgomery were all seasoned campaigners by the time Jake got his team to France.

Will John Smit be our captain in 2011? If he isn’t, then I suggest that we are already in trouble come crunch time in New Zealand.

There is little doubt that, barring injury or an alarming loss of form, Richie McCaw will be leading the All Blacks in a World Cup they will be desperate to win on home soil.

Smit’s position in the team may even be in doubt in 2009, let alone in two years time. He is already being played out of position and is not the world’s best tight head prop, although it must be said he has not done a bad job either.

Looking past Smit, who could possibly be the skipper for the Boks in 2011? Victor Matfield has been the stand in skipper when Smit has not been around but seems to play better for the Boks when he can just concentrate on his own game. He is also being pushed by a hungry Andries Bekker who may sense that he could force himself into the Boks starting line up over the next 2 seasons.

Jean De Villiers is a great player but has been injury prone over the years. The focus will be on whether De Villiers can last until 2011 and it will be a bonus for the Boks if he does. Building a team around De Villiers as captain would be a mistake however.

The Lions and the Sharks are both captained by players who are not part of the Bok set up. Cobus Grobbelaar and Johan Muller will probably not be part of the plans during the next three seasons and can probably be discounted.

That leaves Juan Smith, the tough as nails flanker from the Cheetahs, who is playing some fine rugby in the Super 14 as a possible Rugby World Cup 2011 captain. Smith will be turning 30 in 2011 and will be at the peak of his powers. Duane Vermeulen will also be knocking at the door and Smith will not have it all his own way.

 However, should he be selected as captain, then he must be backed by the coach, with Vermeulen being selected as part of the squad, based on his form in 2011.

One cannot write off John Smith either. He will be 33 at the next World Cup and could be aiming to make 2011 his swansong. Either way, the calls need to made now and the decisions backed by all the role players. The Boks have a title to defend.

Welcome back Schalk Burger

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One of the highlights in Super 14 rugby this past weekend was the welcome return to form of the big Springbok flank, Schalk Burger.

 Time and time again opposition players were hit back in defense during the Stormers vs Highlanders game and many of these tackles were made by Schalkie, without any help from his team mates.

 

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It was Burger at his best defensively and it certainly contributed to the Stormers upset victory.  Andries Bekker made his presence felt and added the grunt to the Stormers pack, that has sadly been missing this Super 14 season.

So who is now in contention for a place in the Bok team?  Well since the days of Jake White, consistency has been part of the winning formula and Pieter De Villiers has wisely continued along that path.

Lets look at the last Springbok team that played. It was on 22 November 2008, in that crushing victory over England (something we shouldn’t let the British lions forget either).

Conrad Jantjes

JP Pietersen

AD Jacobs

Jean de Villiers

Brian Habana

Ruan Pienaar

Ricky Januarie

Beast Mtawarira

John Smit

Jannie du Plessis

Bakkies Botha

Victor Matfield

Schalk Burger

Danie Rossouw

Pierre Spies

Reserves:

Jacques Fourie

Francois Steyn

Brian Mujati

Chilliboy Ralapella

Heinrich Brussouw

Andries Bekker

Ryan Kankowski

 

Who will make the 2009 Sprinbok XV?

Fullback:

 

Conrad Jantjes has not been in great form this season; admittedly he is part of a losing Stormers set up that is more set on defense than attack.

 

However, it is time to settle Francois Steyn in the team and with the abundance of centers in South Africa; Steyn is moved to the number 15 jersey for evermore.

 

Right Wing:

 

JP Pietersen has been a try magnet again this season and takes his rightful place in the team.

 

Left Wing:

 

Jongi Nokwe knows how to score tries.  The Free State flyer is no stranger to the try line and has scored some fine tries during the Super 14. 

 

The man wearing the number 11 jersey is Brian Habana who is also hitting form again and cannot be left out of the Bok XV.

 

Habana retains his place with Nokwe on standby.

 

Outside Center

 

Jacques Fourie has been devastating for the Lions but has been injury prone.  AD Jacobs was had a solid season but has not been helped by an indecisive Sharks backline with Francois Steyn at flyhalf.

 

It is always good to have a combination in midfield and with that in mind I am going for Fourie for the number 13 jersey.

 

Inside Center

 

Jean De Villiers made the number 12 jumber his last season but has also battled to strike form in 2009.  Wynand Olivier from the Bulls has been in great form and with the idea of hitting the Lions hard in midfield to open up the space for our wingers, a new combination will be given a chance.  Wyand Olivier and Jacques Fourie will be the new center pair.

 

Flyhalf

 

Ruan Pienaar is coming back from injury and is Pieter De Villiers’ first choice for the flyhalf position.  He will also be the goal kicker in the team.  Should he still be injured, Morne Steyn from the Bulls will start.

 

Scrumhalf

 

Fourie Du Preez remains world class and will regain his place in the starting line up.  Ricky Januarie has had an indifferent Super 14 and will lose his place, with Rory Kockett making the bench.

 

Loose Head Prop

 

The Beast is becoming a folk hero from the battlefields of Dunedin to the hard playing fields of Kimberly.  He has still not hit his peak yet and is still developing as a prop.  He will maintain his place. Guthro Steenkamp and Heinko Van Der Merwe have also played well this season.

 

Hooker

 

John Smit will start in the number 2 jersey and will captain the team.  Bismarck Du Plessis has been inaccurate in the line outs and needs to work on his discipline.  Chilliboy Ralapella is also in the mix and will make the bench should Du Plessis be injured.

 

Tight Head Prop

 

This position is a bit of a problem in SA rugby at present. Jannie Du Plessis will start and probably be replaced by John Smit at the 50 minute mark.

 

Locks

 

I don’t think there will be any arguments from the armchair critics about who should play lock for the Boks.  The old firm of Botha and Matfield will be critical to South Africa winning the series, with Botha adding the mongrel to the pack.

 

Andries Bekker will be the third choice lock.

 

Open Side Flank

 

Schalk Burger is starting to look like the Schalk of old and may do enough to make the starting line up.  Heinrich Brussouw has been in outstanding form for the Cheetahs and could even make the team ahead of Schalk on present form.

 

Blind Side Flank

 

Juan Smith has got guts and plenty of it too.  Playing in a losing team is not easy but the big Free State flank is always in the thick of things.  He will be pushed by Duane Vermeulen but regains his number 7 jersey.

 

Number 8

 

Who to leave out is the difficult question for the South African selectors.  Pierre Spies will retain the jersey, with Ryan Kankowski and Luke Watson breathing down his neck. 

 

The Springbok team to face the British Lions looks like this:

 

15: Francois Steyn

14: JP Pietersen

13: Jacques Fourie

12: Wynand Olivier

11: Brian Habana

10: Ruan Pienaar

9:  Fourie Du Preez

8:  Pierre Spies

7:  Juan Smith

6:  Schalk Burger

5:  Victor Matfield

4:  Bakkies Botha

3:  Jannie Du Plessis

2:  John Smit

1:  Beast Mtawarira

 

Reserves:

 

Rory Kockett

Jean De Villiers

Jongi Nokwe

Bismarck Du Plessis

Guthro Steenkamp

Andries Bekker

Heinrich Brussouw

 

Breakdown:

 

Bulls: 7

Sharks: 8

Lions: 1

Stormers: 3

Cheetahs: 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bring the ruck back into rugby

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Well, after a bit of a break it is time to start blogging again. The jolt that the Cheetahs gave the Sharks in their Super 14 rugby clash is probably just what I needed to get off the couch and behind the keyboard.

 The boys from Bloemfontein really took it to the Sharks and were well rewarded for their efforts. So what have been the outstanding moments of the Super 14 so far in 2009?

 

Well, the ELV’s haven’t helped in the slightest at the breakdown. Each week we see different interpretations and to be honest I do not actually even know what the rules are anymore. What the IRB needs to do is to reintroduce rucking at the breakdown.

 

A bit of good, old fashioned mountaineering will soon sort out players falling over the ball, players being on the wrong side of the ruck and players with hands on the ball much quicker than the ELV’s will ever be able to do. Give the ref’s a bit of discretion about what is dangerous rucking and what is “legal rucking”.

 

Then we will see teams like the Bulls get good, quick ball that Wynand Olivier could play with and with deadly finishers like Brian Habana lurking, the Bulls would be difficult to beat.  Imagine Bakkies and Danie Roussouw cleaning out the ruck by going over anybody lying on the wrong side. 

New Zealand rugby has also suffered from the sanitisation of the ruck under the new laws.  Touring teams of the past knew that when touring New Zealand they would be taken out on the ground if preventing the ball from coming out by lying on the All Black side of a ruck. 

The hard men of the game would again take their righful place.  Brad Thorn from the Crudaders, All Black Ali Williams and other big men like Schalk Burger and Juan Smith would flourish under the old rules.

Too many times this past weekend we had to witness cynical play as teams are prepared to sacrifice a free kick to give their defensive lines time to settle.

 

Adam Thomson from the Highlanders impressed as a stealer of the ball who stayed on his feet and competed well. Juan Smith stood out but I wonder what has happened to Schalk Burger this season?  One hardly notices Burger on the field but in fairness the Stormers pack is soft up front, forcing the loose forwards to tighten up.  Maybe Schalk feels “whistle whipped” under the new rules.  It would be interesting to know how many of the yellow cards Schalkie has picked up over his career relate to the breakdown.  Too many, one would imagine. 

 

Jonathan Kaplan had a bit of a shocker in his game over the weekend, but was not helped by his over exhuberent touch judge who made some odd calls. But the Aussie and Kiwi commentators made up for bad refereeing in no small measure.

 

Stu Wilson calls a spade a spade and we really need to hear more from the former All Black winger. From dissing a New Zealander for not having the guts to take a high ball to asking if there is a mould in South Africa that enables us to churn out monster packs, the Kiwi is a class act.

 

Phil Kearns and co also have their moments and are not as bias as the Aussie commentators of the past.

 

Can the Sharks and the Bulls go all the way? Hopefully the Sharks got their wake up call and will march onto the semi finals, while the Bulls just need some consistency to their game.

 

MOMENT OF THE WEEKEND: Bakkies Botha blowing kisses to Phil Waugh after the big man dealt out a bit of medicine……….