I was startled, shocked really. I was watching the Lions demolish a brave Jaguares team. Elton Jantjies, playing well, making good decisions, setting up tries, was kicking at goal badly. He missed again and again. Up stepped Ruan Combrinck, the beautifully balanced right wing, who was having a great game. He placed the ball and kicked for poles with his right foot, missed a couple, then, to my amazement, for his next attempt, Combrinck, placed the ball and kicked the place kick with his left foot. It came close. He is the only player I have ever seen who can kick punts, grubbers, chips and place kicks with either foot. Incredible!
Jonny Wilkinson clinched the 2003 World Cup for England with a right foot drop, his ‘other’ boot. This happens, but only Ruan Combrinck has taken this skill to a higher level. Jantjies failed with three kicks at goal because he was ‘falling away’, a common fault with kickers who are off target. Lionel Mapoe was devastating on attack and the loose forwards relentless in pursuit. (About place-kicking, two of the greatest exponents the world has ever seen in recent times were Neil Jenkins of Wales and Percy Montgomery of South Africa. They had a set routine which they practised to near perfection, their heads still over the ball, body-weight balanced).
In this match, the Lions ran rampant with an exhilarating brand of rugby. It was all there. The basics were sound, the support outstanding, the passing and offloads accurate: Lions 45 - Jaguares 22. The same could be said of the Sharks in their match over the Southern Kings who lost heart during the match. Lambie was on top form and the forwards provided a wonderful platform for the backs to romp home by 53 points to nil. Paul Jordaan was a clinical finisher. Lambie’s goal kicking was immaculate in the wind.
Of the other matches in Australasia, I saw a marauding team of crusading attackers spread across the field as they overcame a game but under-confident Waratahs, out of touch and out-gunned. I was surprised to see what seems to be a new tactic from the Crusaders – a group of props and locks gather in midfield during broken play and with unerring passing, work their way upfield, and then distribute to the outside backs to attack and finish. Romani and Whitelock are handling like three-quarters. The Chiefs were too good for the Rebels with another massive talent from the Pacific – nothing ‘pacific’ about him – Tamanivalu, crashing over early on.
The match I enjoyed watching most was the tussle between the Bulls and the Stormers. In what some could fairly call a dour battle upfront and in the rucks and mauls, the rhythm went to and fro. Tempers flared, no quarter was asked or given. The exchanges were at times, brutal. Marcel van der Merwe had the better of Oliver Kebble in the scrums and this seemed to produce some psychological advantage, but it did not translate into tries.
With Tian Schoeman’s timely drop in the last minutes, the victory was sealed for the home team. It was a ‘close-run thing’ as the great Duke described the battle of Waterloo. (The truth is, if Blucher and the Prussians had not arrived when they did, just in time, the British would have lost).
Both coaches used their ‘Prussians’, i.e, their replacements, astutely, but to no dramatic effect. The tempo was presto forte forte throughout and there were some glimpses of brilliance among a series of basic handling errors. It was stress and attacking/defence tactics which made ball-control difficult. I couldn’t help thinking that with two NZ teams playing there would have been at least six tries scored. But in this match there were but two. Why?
Well, I don’t think we have yet begun to grasp and seriously apply the concept of fifteen-man rugby. Only the Lions seem to have twigged that everybody has to practise all skills and be aware of positional play. All loose-forwards on show at Loftus played with impressive energy and strength. I must say Schalk Burger looked younger than his years, he is full of running and very tough under pressure. But they play too much off him and, hence, the backs do not get enough ball going forward. Kolbe was ‘invisible’ for the first 25 minutes and then moved into gear when chances came. He reminds me of Gio Aplon, who when given the ball in broken play, moved like a trout released in a stream.
So we had a fine try from Piet van Zyl, after a good chip from Serfontein and a powerful breakthrough from de Allende for the Stormers. The flyhalves, both talented, missed 12 points at goal, but this did not affect the final outcome. As Naas Botha remarked, ‘The flyhalves were marginalised, more or less, left out of decision-making.” Not a good ploy, I agree. Both coaches should think again.
Till next week, may the victories be with us in the beloved country.