I don’t really know what to say about the Stormers vs Brumbies game, except the one side was prepared physically, tactically and mentally and the other were under-coached for this vital encounter. One can’t explain it through assumptions of ‘Western Cape hubris’; they know how to play well and one has to acknowledge the Stormers were top of the South African ‘conference’. So what happened? They gained enough possession which is, of course, essential, but it’s what you do with the ball once you get it that counts. The home side looked bereft of ideas though de Allende was in devastating form. The visitors’ backline were full of ideas and ‘ran off the ball’ with tremendous skill and timing. They also ‘finished‘ well, something the Stormers just couldn’t manage. Towards the end the image of a hare caught in the headlights came to mind.
(I recall a match I played for Mashonaland in 1969 or 1970 against Manicaland in Umtali. My scrumhalf was either Clyde Rutters or Alan Kluckow. Outside me were some talented backs. Our forwards were great. We/I wasted the possession. We lost narrowly. In the dressing room afterwards, Ross Robertson, lock (Prince Edward School, Mashonaland, Rhodesia) was vocally very critical of us. What could we say? He was right. Ross phoned last week to tackle me about my comment that Spies had ‘played his heart out’ for a losing Bulls team. I have to concede he is right. Looking at the match again, I notice, Spies played only in spurts. Fast and big he certainly is, but what other skills does he have? None I can really mention. He is not a candidate for the World Cup in my judgement.)
The Brumbies won because they had prepared moves, were inventive in loose play, performed with terrific confidence and had done their homework. Their defence was fearless and effective. How superbly they ‘worked the blindside’! The first Tomane try came from yet another brilliant grubber – off his other foot – by Nick White: the dummy feint, the ball dropped correctly, the weight just right. I wonder how often he’s practised that?! Then two more tries in 15 minutes from Tomane on the blind side.
Surely it’s easier to defend that side? There’s less ground to cover for one thing. You have to question the thinking, running and tackling of the No.8, blind side flank and the defending wing. Kolbe’s positional play was below standard; terrific runner though. Whatever they did, it didn’t work and Tomane is a great finisher. As I watched the game, I couldn’t help admiring the efforts of the Stormers to stem the tide, to counter-attack, to retain possession. But with such poor lineout play – even with the likes of Etsebeth and Carizza – it was a set- piece disaster. Scrums weren’t great either. There was effort but little cohesion.
Did they do their homework properly, real analysis, each facet of the Brumbies’ attacking play anticipated and defence organised accordingly? Did they ‘play’ and practise ‘what if’? I don’t think so. On the contrary, every man in the Brumbies seemed to know his duties, to run into gaps when possible, to drive with purpose and offload accurately. Passing was of the highest order. The same goes for support and concentration.
The Highlanders continue as the side with the verve, self-belief and all the fundamental skills. They come across as try-hungry. I have never seen a better blindside try than the one worked by Aaron Smith and Waisake Naholo in the first half – all of forty-five metres at speed, a duet of interpassing with no-one overrunning and each pass right at the navel. The timing was masterly. I sat in awe of the standard of play by both sides. The Chiefs were fairly beaten despite some great play. So it’s four antipodean teams in the semifinals – no surprise to me or anyone else who has watched the last rounds with any semblance of critical analysis. (I still don’t know what John Mitchell was talking about a few weeks ago when he said the Brumbies play a ‘South African template’ game. If so, I wish some of our teams played ‘it’!) The semi-finals should make riveting viewing. I’d love to be in on the planning and mental preparation.
Below is an attempt to select a Springbok team for the forthcoming Championship Trophy. I shall assess strengths and weaknesses, try to identify game-changers, compare goal-kickers, look for solid defenders, dependable scrummagers, the most effective lineout men and hookers who can throw the ball in accurately at 90% of lineouts. Then, of course, one has to look for those who can ‘break the line’ and those who can ‘finish’. I’d also want a reliable drop-kicker. I’m assuming injured players like de Viliiers and Lambie will be fit. (I have a slender knowledge of those who play overseas, so there will be gaps in my judgement and thinking.) Unlike Haroon Lorgat, he of the dubious claim that he never phoned Andrew Hudson before the Cricket World Cup semi-final – wait till the truth comes out about that! – I shall ignore ‘colour’. We’re 21 years into our independence – I’m not patronising any black or coloured player. By the way, where are the audited accounts re money spent on ‘transformation’ in places like Border and EP, the home of black rugby? No prizes for guessing. Who is tracking and guiding the gifted players from Dale, Queens, Selborne, Grey, Despatch etc.?
No-one who is a ‘one-footer’ will make my squad, so Willie le Roux better get practising with his right boot. (I remember, years ago, discussing this with a left wing, who played for Mashonaland and the Rhodesian side. Dave Bawden argued he didn’t need a left foot. Habana, I’ve mentioned before, should be on the right wing; on the left with his relatively non-existent left foot, he is a target for an intelligent flyhalf. It makes me think of the marvellous try scored by Nadolo for the Crusaders ten days ago; left foot grubber a metre in from touch, re-gathered and over. Habana will never be able to do that with confidence only in his right foot. He should play on the other wing!!
Fullbacks: Willie le Roux (despite comments above – he ‘can’ kick with the other foot, but I’m pushing it); Jesse Kriel
Wings: Hendricks, Senatla, Pietersen, Combrinck: no Mvovo? no Leyds?
Centres: Jean de Villiers, de Allende, Serfontein, Vorster; no Francois Venter? no Burger Odendaal???
Flyhalves: Handre Pollard, Pat Lambie; (no place for the best goal-kicker, Catrakilis)
Scrumhalves: Sarel Pretorius, Cobus Reinach, Faf de Klerk; no Fourie du Preez?
Props: Tighthead – Jannie du Plessis (can’t tackle, pass or run!); Oosthuizen; Malberbe?: Loosehead – Mtarawira, de Kock? Adriaanse? (not my strength!!)
Hookers: Adriaan Strauss; Bismarck du Plessis;
Locks: Etsebeth, Hattingh, ....I’m battling....
Loose Forwards: Vermeulen, Kriel, Coetzee, Burger, Kolisi, Prinsloo, Whiteley, Jacques Potgieter; no Carr?.
I know I’ve left out some obvious choices, but there can’t be too many. Not many of the above would make a NZ team. I think backline coaching in this country is the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime.
Let’s argue and discuss. Please give me your teams.