Rugby is becoming so ho-hum


Anyone who follows my blog and knows me, knows that rugby is a large part of who I am. I am a Sharks supporter and I am a Springbok supporter. But 2012 has really changed for me and by that I mean that life has got so busy that there isn’t enough time to do anything which doesn’t add value or provide some sort of entertainment or relief. I will always enjoy my sport but sometimes it is important to separate oneself from constantly watching and to define your own identity without the tag of Sharks/Springbok supporter. If your team loses it doesn’t mean that you are a loser.

The Sharks started 2012 off rather badly and lost several of their matches before they finally turned the corner and started to win and they started to win with the kind of excitement that made rugby entertaining. Keegan Daniel would flick back passes to Paul Jordaan who would cut back through the defence to score a try under the posts. That’s just one example of the kind of entertainment you would get while watching their rugby toward the end of the Super Rugby season. At the end of the season they made it all the way to the Super Rugby Final having to fly back and forth between the Antipodes and South Africa three times to reach that final. If they had won the final it would have been a fairy tale ending because no one had ever been able to do it before.

Did they win? No. They were beaten (and well beaten) by a team that had been the form team of the whole competition at home – The Chiefs. The Chiefs deserved to win and congratulations to them and their fans for the victory. We had just moved into our new house and there was a load of work to do to get everything ready so when it became obvious the Sharks weren’t going to win, I switched off the TV and got to work. There’s just not enough time any more to do anything that doesn’t pay off in the end or entertain.

Besides the Springboks were going to be playing a week or two and if anyone would be able to win, it would be the Springboks. Heyneke Meyer selected the best from the options that he had (well most of the best, but fans are always going to differ with the national selector on who should play) and gave them a game plan. The Springboks won the first match of the new Rugby Championship in Cape Town against the Argentineans 27 – 6. A good decisive win although they only scored three tries and missed out on the fourth try for a bonus point. The game plan was the most sterile, dull game plan possible. Good bye to the adventure and skill from the franchises and hello to the game plan of kick the ball as far and as hard as possible and hope the other team makes more mistakes. The Springboks didn’t deserve to score four tries. And not scoring four tries against an Argentinean team in South Africa was close to sacrilege. Keegan Daniel the creative flanker/eighth man for the Sharks was forced to try and play a bash-it-up, no brain game plan and he doesn’t suit that sort of Neanderthal tactic. Patrick Lambie, one of the most creative and attacking players in South Africa, was forced to sit on the bench and watch the whole fiasco without getting a single minute on the field.

After that game, I resolved that I would not care if I missed the next game against the same Argentineans in Argentina the following week. We had friends over for a braai (barbeque) the next week and I ended up missing most of the game which ended in a 16 – 16 draw and I was fine with it. The coach complained that the players hadn’t followed through with the game plan although it was the same one from the previous week. Patrick Lambie again got to ride the bench for the whole game without setting foot on the field. Keegan Daniel was dropped to the bench before the game to make place for a mediocre crash baller who was average at best I hear. The Argentineans had come ready for the same tired game plan as Cape Town and only a charge down try to Francois Steyn saved the Boks from actually losing.

This weekend the Springboks take on the Australians in Perth, no doubt with the same limp game plan and tired back line. Keegan Daniel was dropped from the Springboks and was instrumental to help the Sharks win in their Currie Cup match against the Cheetahs. Patrick Lambie will no doubt be confined to the best seat in the stadium and watch the sideline while valuable position is hoofed away.

And me? I’ll tape the game while I help my dad build a dining room table and if I hear that the game was worthwhile I might watch it. If I hear that the Wallabies anticipated the game plan and blunted our grunt and beat us, then I can delete it and carry on with my life and not worry that I had just wasted about 100 minutes of my life.

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Getting Back into it

Getting Back into it

I have to admit that for the longest time after the World Cup last year I felt seriously uninterested in rugby.  Maybe it was just inevitable after a year in which rugby was completely oversaturated the sporting calender.  The 2012 version of the Super 15 starts on Friday when the Sharks take on the Bulls in Pretoria and up until Monday I wasn’t too interested or cared too much that it was about to start.  But this week, with the knowledge that rugby is starting again I’ve started to feel excited again.

Eastern Province Kings

Luke Watson - future captain of the Kings

It’s going to be a very interesting year indeed as whichever South African rugby team that ends up at the bottom of the South African log will be ejected from the competition to make space for the Eastern Province Kings.  Should this happen?  Absolutely not! All of the teams in the competition are top flight rugby teams in the premier division of the Currie Cup, while the Kings couldn’t even win in the First Division.  In terms of strength, they don’t belong in the competition.

So far are they being forced in?  It’s an easy answer – political expediency.  The Eastern Cape is seen as the area which develops the most black rugby players.  I suppose that could be understood to give transformation a bit of a boost.

The laughable thing is that when the question was posed how they are going to be competitive in the premier regional rugby competition in the world, the answer was that they were going overseas to get players who were coming to the end of their contracts in the Northern Hemisphere.  What happened to all of the development?  All they’re doing is grabbing players back from the north – many of whom are white.  So much for the vaunted transformation.

Changes

Captain Keegan

Gone is Captain John Smit and the old man at the back, Stefan Terblanche.  Keegan Daniel has been selected as the captain for the team for the season with Bismarck du Plessis as his vice captain.

Players like Tim Whitehead and Riaan Viljoen who will add some strings to the Sharks bow.  Tim Whitehead is a particularly pleasant boon to receive as one of the Sharks’ biggest areas of weakness in the past few years have been the centres.  Tim impressed so much that he has hopped ahead of some of the more senior players to start on Friday against the Bulls.  JP Pietersen, our star wing has also shifted in to cover outside centre and with his pace can make life very difficult for the opposition.

Riaan Viljoen, a fullback with a booming boot, played age group rugby for the Sharks before moving on after finding his way into the senior team blocked by Frans Steyn.  Steyn has moved on and Viljoen has come back.  He slots straight into the starting team at fullback on Friday and will be sure to send great return kicks against the Bulls who love the tactical kicking game.

It’s back.

Congratulations to the All Blacks (and Conspiracy Theories)


Well, Rugby World Cup 2011 came to an end on Sunday when the All Blacks defeated the brave French 8 – 7.  The only difference being a penalty that Stephen Donald got over.  Or did he?

Before we go any further – let me say congratulations to the All Blacks for winning the World Cup.  The New Zealand public had been building the pressure on their team for 24 years since the last time they won it.  But then I’m going to add a caviate to my congratulations and say they deserved to win, but maybe they had a hand from the referees in being able to win.

People can say that the South African public like to believe there is a conspiracy theory against the Boks all they want but this game didn’t involve the Springboks. The referee was South African though but reports to a New Zealand boss.

There have been so many games in this Rugby World Cup where the referee had a direct influence on the result of the match that there are many people questioning whether the whole result was rigged right from the beginning.

The Springboks came into the World Cup on the back of a victory against the All Blacks.  Their first game was against the Welsh which we narrowly won by 1 point.  I can’t remember the score but the game was close.  Many people wrote the Springboks off as a team that wouldn’t trouble the All Blacks when the time came.  But then the games against Fiji and Namibia came and going into the last week of round robin play in the pools arrived and the Springboks had a better points difference than the might All Blacks and the All Blacks messiah, Dan Carter, was ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a groin injury.  The last game against Samoa was a scrappy, niggly affair where the referee turned a blind eye to the intimidation and off-the-ball tactics of the Samoans who were more interested in picking a fight than playing rugby.

The Springboks lost their biggest asset in the backline, Francois Steyn, to injury from the game for the rest of the tournament.  Due to Australia losing to Ireland in their pool, they were destined to meet South Africa in the quarter finals.  Many said that Australia had lost due to the incompetent handling of the scrum by Bryce Lawrence (remember the name).  Bryce even came out after the game and admitted that he had been poor in his handling of the game.

Bryce’s father, Keith Lawrence, had a bit of a brain fart in the nineties when as a referee he sent an e-mail to the Australian referee association (and copied in the South African referee association) saying they needed to “teach the Japies (South Africans)” a lesson. Bryce comes from such brilliant stock, doesn’t he?

Funnily enough, Bryce Lawrence was appointed to the South Africa/Australia game.  Why would a referee who admitted to being poor be elevated to referreeing one of the biggest games in the tournament?

The South African quarter-final was another poor referreeing performance by the same Bryce Lawrence who allowed the Australian’s David Pocock to spoil and break every rule in the book. Now I don’t blame Pocock – as the fetcher his task is to bend the rules as far as the referee will allow.  Bryce just let him bend them until they were completely broken.  Something he didn’t allow the South Africans to do.

South Africa lost 9 – 11 and were on their way home.  Admittedly, we could have avoided this fate, if we’d only taken one of two penalties in the first half instead of kicking to the corner.

If South Africa was viewed at such a fate, the only other team which had beat the Boks (other than the Australians) would be just as dangerous and that was Wales.  Wales had beaten Ireland to advance to the semi-finals against France.  France, their opposition, had been viewed as a weaker team as they had already lost to New Zealand as well as Tonga.

The referee for the Wales/France semi-final was Nigel Owens. Nigel Owens – the same tosspot who had made such a hash of the South Africa/Samoa game.  He went into the game trying to make amends for a showing which had been too lenient by being far too pedantic.  Eighteen minutes into the game the Welsh Captain, Sam Warburton, carried out a “tip tackle” on French winger, Vincent Clerc.  Did it deserve a card?  Yes.  Did it deserve a red card?  I’m not so sure.

France went on to win the semi-final by a single point and there is no doubt that if Warburton hadn’t been sent off they would have been in the final and viewed as a much harder opponent than France.

The IRB, in my opinion, are a bunch of stuck-up snobs who have different rules for different teams.

England was guilty (and admitted to it) of swopping balls when former wunderkind Johnny Wilkinson was kicking for posts against Romania.  It’s an actual rule in the law book that teams aren’t allowed to do this.  The punishment?  Absolutely nothing.  Why would you punish the country which is really your home base? In the same week, a Samoan player wore a branded mouth guard – his punishment?  A $10,000.  It seems as though the IRB favour money over following their own rules.

The same IRB have also turned the All Blacks into a protected species better than any other team playing the game.  It’s a rule (although God only knows why) that the opposition team has to line up at least 20 metres away from the All Blacks as they perform their dance, the haka.  The French broke this rule when they advanced to the halfway line (10m) during the haka and they were fined  £ 10,000 (that’s £ 1,000 a metre).

So congratulations to the All Blacks for winning the RWC 2011 FINALLY.

And congratulations to Paddy O’Brein and the rest of the referees in ensuring they did.

 

 

The World in Union


The rugby world boils over today as the 2011 Rugby World Cup kicks off at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand today. The opening game is the game between the hosts, New Zealand and the Pacific Island nation of Tonga. The gulf between the All Blacks and Tonga will be too big for the Tongans to upset the All Blacks but the Pacific Islanders, like their neighbours Fiji and Samoa, can be rather physical and the All Blacks should hopefully (for them) make it through the game without any injuries.

New Zealand, so many times, the undisputed best team in the world between World Cups have a tendency to choke on the huge occasion of the World Cups and have only won it once, in the inaugural tournament in 1987. The similarity between that tournament and this one is that the tournament is being held in New Zealand. The crowd will have a huge influence on the tournament and any team, if they do knock the All Blacks over would be well-deserved champions. The problem the All Blacks have demonstrated (and even their fans are worried about this) is that they are heavily reliant on their flyhalf (or first five-eighth as they like to call it) Dan Carter. If he’s injured the All Blacks lose a distinct advantage and may struggle afterward.

This is the seventh Rugby World Cup and the trophies are concentrated in the hands of four countries: Australia (two), South Africa (two), England (one) and New Zealand (one). If either Australia or South Africa win the tournament they would be the first team to have won it three times with the added bonus to the Springboks (South Africa) that if we win the trophy again, it would mean that we would be the first team to successfully defend the trophy ever.

There are twenty teams in the tournament, but if we’re realistic there are only a handful of countries who will have a chance of winning the whole bangshoot. The teams are really the Tri-Nations teams (South Africa, Australia and New Zealand) and England and France. However, if you’re completely honest, you’d have to eliminate the two Northern Hemisphere teams from the equation as they have just never been able to tour well to New Zealand and aren’t used to the conditions. South Africa and Australia as touring nations will be used to New Zealand after sending a couple of months there every year while touring for the Super Rugby and Tri-Nations tournaments.

So let’s get this thing underway and GO BOKKE!!!

I Feel Sorry For The All Blacks


I am a rabid Springbok fan but I have to admit that I feel sorry for the All Black rugby players. These rugby players carry with them the hopes of a whole nation to overturn a 24 year drought in the World Cup. They have come so close so many times only to fall short each and every time. New Zealand dominates the periods between World Cups only to fall short at the big event.

The World Cup is being held in New Zealand this year (quite possibly for the last time EVER), so it would be the perfect time for them to win the World Cup. Every team is a different proposition in their home country and the All Blacks are no different. The only question is whether they can handle to pressure heaped onto their shoulders. The pressure would have only become more after the loss on Saturday. The loss means that they go into the World Cup on the back of two losses and surely people must be starting to question whether they have the ability to be able to win it this year.

I will reiterate that they will be a different team at home but they have never had the kind of pressure they will have on their shoulders while playing a game at home. I can’t help but wonder how the All Blacks will react if a must-win match when they’re eight to ten points down. Will they try to throw miracle passes to try and breach defences. If so, there is a good chance they’ll pass an intercept try and then it’ll be good night nurse.

Like I said, I feel sorry for the All Blacks.

Ban the Haka?


The 2011 Rugby World Cup is a mere 27 days away (at the time of writing) and excitement levels are building. People in the North might like you to believe that teams like England and France have a chance of actually winning it this time around but let’s be honest: there are only three teams capable of lifting the William Web Ellis trophy on 22 October 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand and that’s the Tri-Nations countries of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

The SANZAR deal has provided South Africa and Australia the opportunity of regularly playing in New Zealand for the last 15 years. Both teams know how to play in the Land of the Long White Cloud and win there.  Northern Hemisphere teams have a torrid time of it down in the Antipodes. South Africa has beaten New Zealand (the All Blacks) in New Zealand in 2008 and 2009. What are the chances of the Boks pulling off another infamous victory?

But this isn’t about the World Cup (yet), this is about the suggestion of ex-Wallaby Greg Martin to ban the All Blacks haka (pictured right). His reasoning is that it provides the All Blacks with physical superiority because of the war dance. I don’t believe for one instant it provides them with a physical advantage. My belief is that it provides the ABs with a psychological advantage over their opponents. Especially since rulings which started last year that teams are not allowed to do anything else other than simply stand and watch the haka. Opposition teams who have turned their backs on the haka have been fined for their disrespect.

This smacks of favouritism in my eyes. Altering rule books to allow one team to have to face a challenge in a certain way is an abuse of power [Psst, the person who passed such judgement is the head of referees, one New Zealander named Paddy O’Brien]. Conspiracy theory? Maybe.

Under the current “legislation”, the Springboks facing down of the Haka at the 1995 World Cup Final as a team while the ABs performed the war dance would have been fined.

Do I agree with Mr Martin?

No.

BUT, I believe that if the haka is allowed then every team facing it should be allowed to face it as they wish, even if it means the Scots wearing kilts and mooning the ABs at the end.

The ruling to allow the haka and favour one team over all others is pure discrimination.