And so my apathy makes a comeback


I have never been so uninterested in rugby as I have been between the end of the World Cup/Currie Cup and the start of the Super 15 tournament this year. I wasn’t really able to say why except to maybe suggest there was a little bit of rugby burnout after having watched every single game in the Sharks and Springboks tournaments the whole year. It made for more than forty four rugby matches analysed in excruciating detail. That also doesn’t include watching other random games of other teams. In the end, for both the Sharks (in the Super 15) and the Boks (in the World Cup) the referee decided to blow his own rules on the day to allow the other team more of an advantage and win the match.

Am I suggesting that shoddy refereeing cost the Sharks the game against the Crusaders? To be honest… no. The Crusaders would have won that game regardless of what the referee did, but it would have been more of a spectacle had he decided to be consistent in his rulings. He did cost the Springboks the game against the Wallabies with uneven calls in the rucks. Maybe it was frustration toward an environment where one individual could so influence the game. After all, I have noticed that I don’t watch the cricket or am so interested in the sport (as so many others also appear to be) after Hansiegate

Roll on the Currie Cup final with the Sharks playing against the Lions. Did the referee unfairly influence the game? No. And yet we still lost to a team which had less superstars than the Sharks supposedly had. It’s not a knock against the Lions, because they deserved to win. The Sharks arrived at the match probably expecting to be able to walk the result and in the end were humiliated by the Lions. Maybe it was this lackadaisical performance which frustrated me.

Ultimately, it meant that the off season wasn’t as frustrating as it usually had been for me. I was able to find other things to do and not be bothered with the lack of rugby. I wasn’t even concerned with the kick-off of the Super 15 when the Sharks took on the Bulls, a team who lost almost all of their superstar players. And guess what? We blow it and lose the game! In fact, the next time we won was two weeks later against the Lions who thumped us in the Currie Cup final. We won, but it was unconvincing, especially considering that the Lions had been hit heavily by injuries and had 15 players out injured. We beat the defending champions, the Reds, the next week but only after they went to a 17-0 lead and then lost their backline to injury in the second half.

Roll on, this last week and the game against the Waratahs. It was the best game of rugby we’ve played all year and we still lose. We were leading all the way through the game until the last three minutes before the Waratahs scored a try in the corner to steal the game. There have been many excuses, but that’s what they are – excuses. Was there an element of exhaustion from jet lag? Of course. But we lost the game because the coach had a brain explosion and made substitutions for the sake of substitutions. Our best defender and the player least affected by jet lag (at least visibly) was Meyer Bosman. What does John Plumtree (Dumbtree) do? He sends out the shepherd’s crook and yanks off Bosman for the defensively inept Marius Joubert. The man has the defensive nous of a wet tissue in a hurricane. After that the Waratahs were able to almost break our line at will and scored points a plenty. Could we have scored more points? Definitely. Our captain decided that instead of focusing on the basics and passing normally he wanted to throw passes out the back of his hand, which no one expected – not even his own team mates.

My solution:

  1. Chase Marius Joubert as far away from the team as possible – even into the sea so he has to swim back to South Africa; and
  2. Drop our illustrious captain until he learns to do the basics first.

 

It’s my believe, therefore, that my apathy, is due to my team’s failure to respect the game of rugby and the basics needed to play the game.

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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.

Derby Day


Tomorrow is going to be a big day in South African Rugby for the Super 15. We’re entering the second half of the competition and the Sharks are three points behind the Stormers in the South African conference. If we can win tomorrow it will mean that we will leapfrog the Stormers into the pole position in the conference. This is also the second meeting between the two sides this year after the Stormers came to Durban three weeks ago and beat the Sharks 16 – 6.

While many supporters would argue that the Sharks were without the already talismanic Patrick Lambie at flyhalf; we had the opportunities to win the game and couldn’t convert them into points. The positions have been reversed this week with the Stormers flyhalf, Peter Grant, ruled out with a knee injury. With Patrick Lambie back, it essentially means that both teams are almost exactly the same which contested the Currie Cup Final six months ago; a game the Sharks won 30 – 10. The difference is that the game is now being played in Cape Town instead of Durban.

Both teams have very different paths going forward toward the end of the competition and the rest of the competition will certainly affect their final positions. The Sharks have done their travelling to the Antipodes and all of their remaining games will be played in South Africa and while there are several games which won’t be played in Durban, it certainly helps that the team doesn’t have to climb on a long haul flight to the other side of the world. They have also only had one bye with another rest coming up in the next few weeks. The Stormers have had both of their byes (even though their first bye was stupidly in the very first week) and they now have to get through the rest of the competition without any further rest.

It might not sound as though it would be too much of a factor but if one looked how tired the Sharks and lethargic the Sharks looked after their tour and having played for eight weeks straight, you realise just how much of a factor that can be. It’ll be another motivating factor for the Stormers to try and bring the Sharks down and give themselves a push because if they lose this week, it might be the start of a long, long second half of the tournament for them.

But no matter what happens tomorrow between these two teams, it is clear they are the two best South African teams in the competition and come the end of June and the playoffs, these two teams will definitely feature.

Sharks Super 15 Preview


The time has come for the Super 15 to get underway this week and I cannot wait. It has been far too long since the last time a ball had been kicked-off, a try scored or converted. The last End of Year Tour to the Northern Hemisphere was about as exciting as watching paint dry. The writing was on the wall before the team left that this was going to be a bore session. They picked the right players and then persisted in leaving them on the bench or played them out of position or didn’t play them at all. But that all ends as the players go back to their respective franchises. Pat Lambie will be back to playing at flyhalf and hopefully tearing opposition defences apart.

Patrick Lambie

The Sharks played in a warm-up tournament toward the end of January and if anything can be read into the results then Sharks fans have a lot to worry about. We ran out on the Tuesday and lost 41-10 to the Lions who had finished the Super 14 in 2010 at position 14 and currently hold the record for the longest losing streak in Super Rugby history stretching to fourteen or fifteen games. Admittedly, there has been a lot which has changed in the Lions setup with more players being signed, a huge influx of money through sponsorships and a new coach. The Sharks say they were not too motivated for the game and I can understand how it might be difficult to motivate yourself for a game which doesn’t count for anything and in which you might be injured. The Sharks came back on the Saturday when we played the Stormers, who were incredibly underdone and if we were where we were last year when we won the Currie Cup we should’ve put them away from a good ten to twenty points. But instead we made multiple changes in the last ten minutes and ended up losing by a single point.

Thankfully the biggest difference is that this year the team has been able to concentrate more on the field with the courtroom antics of 2010 behind them. Of course, there was that attempt by the Lions to lure Beast Mtwarira to their union with a ludicrous salary. But sanity prevailed and he decided to stick with the team which propelled him to the big time.

The speed merchant, Lwazi Mvovo

The 2010 edition of the Super Rugby competition did not go so well for the Sharks with them having lost the first five games of the tournament in a row before they finally picked up some form and pushed through, only losing to the eventual champions the Bulls in their last eight games. A similar start can end up being catastrophic this year again and hopefully everything has been put in place so that this will not be repeated. The Sharks did come right to the end of last year and managed to win the Currie Cup for the second time in three years beating both the finalists in the semis and the final to secure the trophy. Supporters of those teams would have you believe it was because of the tournament being played with under-strength teams with the Springboks not being involved. BUT they won’t mention the fact that the Boks were back in the semis and the final, so the Sharks beat the Super Rugby squads to win the Currie Cup.

The Sharks start the tournament with two games at home before they embark on the four-week long road trip to the Antipodes. This is probably the best possible start the Sharks could have hoped for. This way, we get to get the road trip over and done with and know that the rest of our games will all be played in South Africa. But they also get to escape from Durban in a time when the humidity would make the running rugby they play incredibly difficult. Hopefully, we can get the tournament going with a fine win against the Cheetahs over the weekend and set ourselves in for a great run to the finals weekend.

BBBEEEEAAAASSSSTTTT!!!!

Super rugby (or Superugby, as it’s been rebranded) has been changed up quite a bit with their being three “subpools” alongside the main round robin stage with a team from each country (South Africa, New Zealand or Australia) guaranteed to get a home finals game. The finals section is also extended to include the top six teams on the final log (provided there is a team from each country in the six). The top two automatically get home semis and wait for the winners of the quarter-finals. Teams three through six play each other to determine the winners. Thereafter, it’s the standard semi-final and final rugby as we all know it.

Of course, the week’s break for the top two teams can be both a positive and a negative. The positive is that the team can get a little bit of a physical break and there is a chance some injured players can return to the team. The negative is that they lose a bit of steam and continuity and then have to play against a team which has already fought for its life once and is used to being in the same position. It will really be up to the team management to utilise the break in the best possible manner.

Sharks’ chances: I’m always reticent to go out and predict that my team will win the whole bangshoot but if we can get a solid start and gel properly as a team and have the right game plan, I’m sure that we’ll be able to stand up to the likes of the Bulls and Crusaders come crunch-time.

Finally! The start of the Super 14 is upon us!


After almost more than three months without rugby, the Super 14 will be kicking off on Friday. It feels as though I have been going stir-crazy in the off season. It has felt as though the last three months have been three years. I don’t think being gang-audited in the beginning, middle and towards the end of January has helped any either. But the best part of the year kicks off on Friday morning (SA time) when the Blues take on the Hurricanes in Auckland. And I’m not going to be able to watch it. I have to go to work and earn the dough required for life between the rugby. I don’t think it really matters that much. I have to wait until the very last game in the round before my team plays – The Sharks. They have had a shocking build-up to the Super 14 having lost both of their warm ups against The Western Force and The Stormers. And The Stormers fans have been gloating as though they have won the whole tournament already. They are supposed to be one of the standard bearers of South Africa but a little part of me hopes that they trip up and land on their faces (as usual).

The reasons for everyone writing off the Sharks are simple (and why I don’t think they’re too bad):

  • We have no recognised flyhalf. We don’t have a big name in the position as simple as that. He’s supposed to be the lynchpin for the whole team and we don’t have a superstar there. We had signed Juan Martin Hernandez from Argentina to be our flyhalf but he didn’t even make it to the Super 14 after he picked up a back injury in the off season and has had to have a back op and will be out for the whole tournament. We scrambled and signed Steve Meyer from the French team Perpignan. He’s played for the Sharks before and while at Perpignan he played second fiddle and probably learnt a bit from the best flyhalf there is, Dan Carter from The Crusaders. Our backup is Monty Dumond, who is a player who I don’t rate at all and don’t think he makes a proper Currie Cup flyhalf never mind a Super 14 flyhalf. But Ruan Pienaar has recovered from his pre-season operation and he was our starting flyhalf last year although his preferred position is scrumhalf, so he’ll do in a pinch. And before Morne Steyn stepped up in a big way last year, he was the first choice Springbok flyhalf. So we are not in any trouble there.
  • Our centres are either too light or just bashers in the view of some critics. Riaan Swanepoel, who is no doubt the starting inside centre is a robust man who will try and force himself over the gain line and while he’s not the most creative force in the backline, he is strong and a good defender. Waylon Murray, our outside centre, is fast and strong and cuts the line like butter. Adi Jacobs (who almost has a century of caps in the Super 14 for the Sharks) can play both inside or outside centre and is quick, creative and a distributor. He can unlock defences like almost no other player but needs a little help with defence (although he showed in 2008) that he does not shirk away from the duty).
  • Our tighthead, John Smit, is a retreaded hooker. He’s also the national skipper and the most capped international captain of all time in Rugby Union. Last year, until the semi against the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup and the End of Year tour our front row (which is also the Springbok front row) demolished all who stood before them. Except for Australia in one game, but out of nine games it’s not a bad return. I’ll attribute the end of the season as fatigue.

A lot of people are saying that the loss of Frans Steyn will affect us badly. But I don’t think it’ll make that big of an impact. Let’s not forget that this is the same man who couldn’t kick the ball out in 2007 and cost the Sharks the Super 14 title, who never passed the ball and tried to do everything by himself even though he had a world class backline outside of him.

In the off season, the Sharks signed Willem Alberts and Louis Ludik from the Lions but there have been legal issues with the Lions stating that the players are in breach of contract and have refused to issue clearance certificates for them to play for the Sharks. The contracts state that they need to go to arbitration if either party is unhappy with the contract but the Lions Union refused to go to arbitration and have been insistent on the players returning. SARU had refused to get involved and said the two unions need to sort it out (which the Lions have been uncooperative and have tried to strong arm the players). Eventually the Sharks were forced to play Willem Alberts in one of the warm up games to force SARUs hand. The Lions lodged a complaint with SARU and a mediator was appointed. The hearing happened today and the mediator dismissed the complaint as invalid. Now both parties have to go to court to resolve the issue. With the season starting on Friday, there is not a lot of time before that can happen. Somehow, even though the complaint was dismissed as invalid we (The Sharks) aren’t allowed to play these players. That seems to be so retarded. If the controlling body of rugby says that a complaint is invalid, surely life can move on while the courts sort through the shit.

But I’m sure that the Sharks will do better than anybody suspects or expects.

Here’s to starting out


Wow, so many things to say.  First of all, I have never done this before so here’s to starting out.

Shark boys
My son and I wearing the colours of our team, the Sharks

I am a massive rugby fan, particularly of the Sharks and the Springboks (from South Africa).  The Springboks are currently ranked number 1 in the world and are also the current holders of the World Cup.  The Sharks, unfortunately, not so high and mighty.  The Currie Cup final (South Africa’s domestic rugby competition) was over the last weekend and my team weren’t even involved in it.  Everyone had expected them to be there but they had been knocked out in the semis two weeks ago by the Free State Cheetahs, our hoodoo team.

The Springbok squad was also announced on Saturday after the final and there were definitely some bolters in the squad – probably the biggest being the fact that the number 2 and 3 hookers for the Bulls are considered better than the first choice hooker but it’s definitely a political choice and not a merit selection.

There are also plenty of rumors that Heinrich Brussow, the find of 2009 and the player who probably beat us twice single handedly has signed on for the Sharks for next year.  If you can’t beat them, get them to join you…  People will accuse us of buying players but they forget it’s a professional sport and money talks.

I’m the financial manager for  a company which imports the majority of all recreational fishing equipment into South Africa and have been there for almost three months and am really enjoying it so far.

The Family Stokker
Myself, my wife Tarryn and our son showing support for the Boks before they beat the All Blacks

But my real passion is after hours when I can spare the time to concentrate on my dream of becoming a writer.  I have finished my first manuscript, a novel called PECAN HILL, for which I have high hopes.  Unfortunately so far there are no bites from the agents to whom I have submitted, but I have to remind myself that I will eventually get there.  I have to remind myself that everyone struggles to break in and that both Stephen King and Dean Koontz (two of my favorite authors) had their first four books rejected before they sold their first novel.  I’m hoping I don’t need to write another three though.

I’m wrestling with the decision to publish PECAN HILL as an ebook and skip the whole trouble with finding a publisher.  I’ve been looking at what books are being sold as ebooks and they’re all non-fiction, HOW-TO books.  Maybe I’m a little old fashioned with my fiction but I like to hold my books or my ipod if I’m listening to an audiobook.  Speaking of which, I have recently finished Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box and I really enjoyed it, one of the best audiobooks I have listened to.  My next one is Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule.

Bye for now