This week’s games I’ll try to comment on briefly and relevantly, taking FIVE aspects only for each.
1. HURRICANES VS CHIEFS: H 22 – CH 18 (WONDERFUL RUGBY).
Two top teams battled it out in windy weather so options to to go for goal were limited.
The match was chararacterised by skill, speed, energy, drive, determination and brilliant passing. The forwards of both sides must have been pleased that the backs seldom wasted good ball.
Young Damian McKenzie, at flyhalf for the Chiefs, attacked the gain line and gave his backs front-foot advantage. The OZ commentators criticised him for ‘doing it too much’. (I wonder what Nick Mallett would say? He goes on and on about what he calls ‘the failure of Catrakilis to attack the gain line’. Well, I can’t say I agree completely and I haven’t seen much evidence of Kurt Coleman doing it any better for the Stormers. In any case, if this is a constant priority, why pass the ball to the second line of attackers, behind the dummy runners, at all?? They always receive the ball well behind the gain line. There is more than one way to cross the advantage line.)
Terrific attacking play by Nonu, Savea ( both brothers), Gear and Kane, marked by confident counter-attacking play, well-executed grubbers and exhilarating passing and off-loading. (Nonu’s try from an interception sealed victory for the Hurricanes.)
It’s significant that the Chiefs had to play with five loose forwards owing to injuries to their locks. This gave the Hurricanes a terrific advantage at scrums and they used the double –shove to good effect.
2. SHARKS VS WARATAHS: SH 18 – W 33 (HARD-FOUGHT BUT SHARKS IN DISARRAY).
The Sharks scrapped hard. There is no gainsaying their guts and effort . But their display was haphazard, lacking in overall control and ‘unsettled’. It looked as if they were desperate at times. The call was for cool, calm, calculated possession and retention of the ball at every opportunity. The truth is the Sharks were too erratic on the day, despite some fine play.
Ashley-Cooper’s try 50 seconds into the match was a body blow. But, to their credit the Sharks kept at it and worked their way back to 11-13 shortly after the break.
One doesn’t want to criticise referees unfairly. They are also fallible. I mean, think about it. The players have little room to talk! They can’t keep the game going for more than 1/12 minutes on average before someone commits an error. But.......referee Rohan Hoffmann’s performance, in this match, could be called a joke if it wasn’t so serious. As I saw it, he was rattled early, lost faith in his judgement, did a ‘Paul Honiss’ before half-time when he told Wentzel, the Sharks skipper it was half-time so they could kick the ball out, only then to award the Waratahs a lineout!! (Honiss, remember, was the beaut who told John Smit, in a test against Ireland, he could talk to his team while Ireland had a penalty. While Smit was talking to his whole team, O’Gara, the Irish flyhalf tapped the ball and ran in to score. Smit protested to no avail. It cost the Boks the match. Years later, Honiss apologised. Inexcusable.) I’m sure the Sharks then lost faith in the ref and it showed.
The Sharks battled on, played really well at times; look at Steyn’s try after slick passing and running off the ball. Cronje’s offload to Steyn was out of the top drawer.
The visitors have every right to be critical of a very poor refereeing display, but that’s not why they lost. Their basics were just not up to standard – erratic passing, poor throws at the lineout, generally sound scrums, bad decisions at critical times and so on. (The box kick is little more than a way to give the ball away and if the opponents are great counter-attackers, it can be suicidal. Its use has to be completely rethought. It hardly ever leads to advantage for the kicking side. Watch and note what happens. Do any coaches measure what happens after this kick? Some clearly do. On the whole it’s an example of very casual coaching. It’s tolerated because it’s done. Crazy! Don’t the coaches know that wings are now routinely coached to catch the up-and-under and most do it well? On defence it has its place of course, but sparingly. Please.)
I thought Cronje and Ungerer played very well. Cronje ‘made’ two tries through great tactical kicking and passing. The quick long grubber to Ndungane! But, and I’m not nit-picking here, he kicked away turnover ball in some attacking situations. On such small errors do matches turn.
3. BLUES VS BULLS: BL 23 – BU 18. (BULLS GAVE IT AWAY)
Let’s not mess around in assessing why the Bulls lost, by going through all the erratic defensive mistakes, the overuse of the box-kick, the indifferent distribution, the chaotic mauls – no tries from five attempts!!!
The Bulls lost this match in the first five minutes when two shots at goal were turned down by their captain, Spies, and two rolling mauls were unsuccessful. I know one can never be sure how play would have proceeded from the resumption of play after say, the first penalty had been goaled but.........for heaven’s sake, this is about securing victory. It’s about taking points on offer! Only when bonus points come into the equation does it make sense not to kick penalty goals. What the hell are the captains and coaches who countenance this sort of decision-making, doing?!
Another critical error was made by the talented Pollard when, under pressure, he was forced on to his left foot, missed touch and the Blues scored. As David Campese remarked, “So what if it’s his left foot? He’s an international flyhalf. He should be able to kick with either foot EQUALLY well.” On this matter too, coaching is sloppy and amateurish. Players like Coetzee of the Lions, Erasmus of the Sharks, Jantjies of the Lions, Coleman of the Stormers to mention a few, are uncomfortable with the ‘other foot’. Hell, this is a professional game! What’s going on?
Play leading to Serfontein’s try, two breaks by Engelbrecht and beautifully timed passes, was excellent and Serfontein did very well to score against tough defence. (Serfontein’s great-grandfather, Jack Slater, played for the Boks against the All Blacks in 1928 on the wing and later was headmaster of Kingswood College, Grahamstown.)
The use of and reffing of the rolling maul has to be reconsidered. Last week, I think, I expressed boredom at Pocock’s hat -trick of tries. Take the ball, hide, manoeuvre, fall over the try line – big deal. Now this last week, suddenly rolling mauls are being stopped, most of them by players diving across the line of attack e.g. Faimaiuna for the Blues, others coming in from the side, others pushing/pulling the maul down and no penalties. I’ve never seen so many mauls fail. Have the refs been told something we don’t know? It was eerie. One week all your mauls work, the next none! What’s going on? Of course, one must acknowledge that the more alert coaches are working hard on legal defensive techniques to stop the maul. Despite heroic efforts towards the end, the Bulls could not defend against sustained pressure which led to a great Moala try.
4. REDS VS REBELS: REDS 46 – REBS 29 (A GAME OF TWO HALVES! WHO GOT THE JABS AT THE BREAK?)
Only joking, but the Reds played out of their skins in the second half. The Rebels didn’t know what hit them. All the basic skills were performed at a very high level.
Genia looked transformed after 40 minutes – the Lachie Turner inside pass try, the effective tactical kicking, the beautifully timed passes
They won because, surprise, surprise, they kept possession and speeded up all aspects of their game. I cannot speak too highly of O’Connor on the day or Gill (again!) Sautia as well.
The Wallabies now have Hooper, Pocock, Gill, Higginbotham, Hodgson to look at and I’m sure I’ve missed a couple.
A wonderful forty minutes for the Reds.
5. LIONS VS BRUMBIES: L 20 – BR 30 (LIONS INCONSISTENCY, POOR BASIC SKILLS; BRUMBIES VERY PROFESSIONAL)
The Brumbies won well. They looked like a side that ‘had to win’. They were sharp, disciplined and focused throughout.
Warren Whiteley said in the pre-match ‘interview’ – why do they have them? – the Lions were going to concentrate on their ‘basics’. Well they did nothing of the sort. Their fundamental skills were all over the place – handling awful, passing worse, line-out throws erratic (Coetzee’s hospital pass ‘to’ Vaea, who trotted over, was inexplicably stupid.)
I was pleased to see the first box kick occur in the 31st minute of the match. Somebody’s been thinking.
de Klerk was poor on the day, passing badly, slow to breakdowns, no sniping. Then when scrumhalf Cronje came on, he passed his first ball at Jantjies’ or was it Mapoe’s head! What he did was stand up as he was passing! Basic error.
Why don’t the statisticians record the number of ‘bad’ passes. Eight out of ten of them cause handling errors. We all know what a ‘bad’ pass is : any pass which causes the receiver to check his stride. It’s not rocket science to record them but on they go with their ‘handling errors’ and with the meaningless aggregate penalty goal scores – never for a moment thinking it might be interesting to know who kicked the most from the touchline on the angle and how many were ‘sitters’ in front of the posts.
It’s the 21st Century for heaven’s sake, the digital age!
Lions scrambled back to 20 – 30 when they finally woke up and watched the ball. Great tries from Jaco Kriel and Andries Coetzee, but the horse had bolted by then.
I stopped watching the Cheetahs vs Highlanders game – TV fatigue. I’m sure they all tried hard. I probably missed some good rugby.
Look, I think it’s time for what I’ll call ‘micro-coaching’ with the three-quarters.
If scrum coaches can talk in detail of line of shove, position of inner and outer shoulder, position of feet, technique with head and neck etc., why the hell do we watch backs lose the ball week in week out because they are not coached in the details of passing – in open play, under pressure, long passes, short hand-ons, off-loads and my favourite hate of course, passes to the RIGHT. Where is the attention to detail? (I’ve just read a biography of ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’. Gilbert ran all the rehearsals. At one dress rehearsal, he bollocked out an actress, saying, ‘In your second solo, there were three words I couldn’t hear!’ That’s the sort of micro-teaching I’m talking about. Quite reasonable. Why should the forwards work so hard for the backs to f... things up unnecessarily?
Where the hell did the ‘spin pass’ come from? It’s slower, except for long passes at the back, harder to catch in wet weather, leads to more passes too high or low. When the good teams are on the run and spreading the ball, they ignore this stupid affectation; they just pass the bloody ball on as fast and accurately as possible. The message is clear – get rid of the bloody thing accurately and rapidly. (Is another ridiculous import from the USA and American football??)
Enough! My blood pressure’s going up.