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Super 15 Rugby - 27 June 2015

Look, a lot of this will be reminiscence. I’m sick of going on about the grubber, left foot(s), working the blindside, passing to the right, the (stupid) spin pass, passing generally, accurate goal-kicking, the importance of the drop kick, line-out throws, the rolling mauls, making the extra man, off-loading in the tackle, attention to detail and so on. Without all of the above, of course, our national side can forget the World Cup. 

On selection, I didn’t think I’d have much sympathy for Heineke Meyer, but I do. What can he do but call up 49 (!) players to have an initial look at? Is this a symptom of desperation? Or politically correct? Or pragmatic ? Or all three?

NZ and OZ seem to have much better policies for ‘overseas’ players than SARU does. Is it true there are more Springboks playing abroad than at home? Whatever the case, how much can Meyer be expected to see and assess along with his aides? Where so many of our erratic players are concerned, it’s a gamble. As he said, a few days ago, “I’ve worked hard to cover all the bases.” The process now will be to pare down and eliminate. Those who are ‘not ready’, must be left behind. The World Cup is no place to ‘give youngsters a chance’. Take your best, your proven, players for each position. They are the ones who’ve earned it.

I’ve received a few proposed squads to represent us at the WC. Not very different from those I listed last week, but I did forget players like Bekker, whom the Japanese seem reluctant to release. Money rules. Someone also included Jano Vermaak as one of the scrumhalves. I’d forgotten about him; playing somewhere in Europe. The big problem for Meyer remains the locks. He recently referred to Venter of the Lions, a player who gives his all, but looks slight against the likes of Romano, Retallick, Thrush and co. I suppose the answer to that is ‘Who doesn’t?’

As to the coaching for ultimate victory at the World Cup, we have to rethink attack in every conceivable situation. Although our players run well at times and here de Allende stands out, there seems to be less guile and skill than honest effort. We have no-one like Ben Smith or Nehe Milner-Skudder or Folau. With the possible exception of Jean de Villiers, we have no one who straightens the line like Conrad Smith or breaks it like Nonu. Although South African teams have improved their support play during the Super 15 competition, we are far below the Hurricanes, the Highlanders, the Waratahs and the Brumbies in this regard. 

The try Perenara scored in the semi-final match against the Highlanders showed great pre-planning and then expert execution. They had obviously practised how to get two on one or better still three on one. They use Milner-Skudder brilliantly from fullback. So, in this move, the ball sped out to the right wing, came the half-break, the pass inside to a centre and then back to the middle where Perenara was waiting. They had sliced the defence open like a blade through watermelon.

I watched in awe as the Hurricanes gave a display of sustained brilliance, from the secure set-pieces to straight running, passing of the highest order, excellent handling (as a result), powerful driving, not only by forwards but by the Savea brothers, one on the wing, the other at loose-forward, Vito! and others. There was always a player, no, two players in support to run the right lines. I think the head coach has the mantra – ‘Faster, harder, straighter, slicker, more perfect than perfect.’ That seems to me their aim, to play the game better than we’ve seen it before. They’ve set the bar very high.

Of course, now we have the Championship Trophy where Meyer can try out his combinations. All teams will have this opportunity. They will also all be aware of the need to play hard and, at the same time, avoid injuries. Not easy. Therefore depth of talent is crucial. Remember how Stephen Donald, the fourth choice flyhalf for the All Blacks, played in the 2011 final and gave a display of goal-kicking that won the All Blacks the match.

The New Zealanders won that match, but played, I thought well below their best. They exhibited nervousness, retreated into a shell-like mode of conservative strategy, which nearly cost them the Cup. They won by a mere point. I recall hearing a talk by Nick Farr-Jones a few years ago where he said with a laugh, “I love it when the All Blacks peak between World Cups.” Let’s hope he’s right. 

I see the Wallabies are quoted by the bookies at 10 to 1: not a bad bet, I think, though most analysts seem to have written them off. So, as usual, the accepted view is that the All Blacks will win for the third time in 26 years. It is difficult to see them falling at the last hurdle once again.

But there is always luck, the bounce of the ball, yellow cards, penalty tries and referees like Bryce Lawrence, Warwick Barnes, Poite and others, waiting in the wings to give a show of stage nerves. No one tries to ref badly. It just happens.

Coaching is everything once one has the required talent. I was interested to read an interview with Victor Matfield in which he said he has a ‘personal coach’, who looks at everything he does, fitness, strength, training, playing. Well, I think that’s the future, as long as egos don’t intervene too much and team cohesion is not negatively affected. I would’ve loved to have a debrief with a personal coach who went through how I’d played, discussed decision-making, asked ‘why?’, commented on skills performance. 

The closest I got in Rhodesia was with Bob Rogers, who’d played fullback in the early ‘fifties. He was the only real student of the game I played under. He was astute in preparation. Before we played Matabeleland in one Black and White final at the Police Ground in Salisbury, he told me Joe Deysel, playing flyhalf that day, was taking the ball ‘seven metres’ behind the advantage line, and so we lined up accordingly and used the rush-defence. That was just one thing. He advised nearly every backline player on small details of his play and that of his opposition. We won well. (I know Kingsley Went thinks I never remember the matches we lost against the Matabeles, but I can tell you there weren’t many! (I once ‘got’ a headline for a match I never played in. I had flu’. The Bulawayo Chronicle wrote ‘Without Jardine, Midlands haven’t got a chance’. Very flattering. I was replaced by the Que Que flyhalf, Schalk Steyn, who played brilliantly for an away victory.)

And in the Midlands, we won every game Ronnie Hill claims, with anguish and passion, owing to the partial refereeing of one Mike Blanckenburg. I thought he was excellent. He was manager of the Standard Bank in Fort Victoria and I taught his daughter, Margaret, at Fort Victoria High School, who received very good marks ...for consistently high class work!

Do you remember your coaches? How good were they? I was coached as a boy in Grade 6 by Chum Osche, whom older readers will recall as a wing for Border and the Kenyon Springboks on the 1951/2 tour of the UK. He scored the winning try against Wales in the left corner; I can still ‘see’ it on a black-and-white newsreel; Wales were once again denied at Cardiff Arms Park for a 6-3 victory. 

Osche’s idea of motivation was to hit us with the twine tied to his whistle and, if that didn’t work, with the whistle. Then I had Ted Allen, a teacher at Cambridge Junior School and sports broadcaster in East London. He based everything on negative remarks and I broke both wrists, courtesy of his foolish method of teaching tackling – ‘you line up, you run’,’you tackle’. Both arms were pinned straight to the ground; hospital. 

At St. Andrew’s Prep, I played for the first team for two years, with some outstanding players; my scrumhalves were successively Walter Kitcat, whose brother was a famous Rhodesian fullback after WW2, and then David van Coller, later a top businessman, who was first class. The coaches were the headmaster, Griff Mullins and his deputy, Ted Rivett-Carnac. In contrast to the humiliating approach of Ted Allen, here everything was designed to reinforce the positive. It worked for me and made a profound impression through my entire career in rugby and education.

Later, at Selborne, my Latin master, Alan Barker, coached me in the 2nd XV. He never failed to acknowledge good play. The first team coach, my excellent English teacher, humiliated me after one game for the firsts where I tackled Geoff Dakin of Grey (I was ‘16-going-on-14’ and Geoff was ‘18-going-on-25’) although he reached out and touched down for the winning try. (Where were the right flank and No. 8? You were allowed to ‘break early’ in those days.)

Pearson went beserk on the train back to East London, told me I was a disgrace to the team, the school and my family. My father went to complain. I don’t know what ensued. All I know is I was back in the 2nds for a match against Butterworth Ist XV the next week, played all right and Alan Barker, in his quiet unassuming way, patted me on the back as we came off and said, ‘Forget last week. Don’t let it get you down. You played really well today.’

Many years later, when I was deputy-headmaster of Churchill School in Salisbury, where I assisted Peter Snyder with the first and second teams – the finest coach I worked with – I was ending a long career over 12 years (!) playing for Rhodesia from 1959 to 1970 (with two years off in 1967/8 – sick of travelling). I wrote a letter to George Pearson, who was then Headmaster of Victoria Park High School in Port Elizabeth, to introduce two Churchill boys who were emigrating and going to his school. At the end of his reply, he made a vague comment, suggesting maybe he should have tried me at flyhalf with the gifted Keith Crossley at inside centre. 

During my career, I often had this problem with rivals who were fast running pivots – like Ian Bond. It is strange, in his case though, that, after school at Prince Edward, where he was a match-winner, he only ever gained proper recognition at inside centre, where, I think he played his best rugby. Later, as a Bulls player, Ian represented the South African Gazelles, one could call them a Springbok B team, at inside centre. 

In Rhodesia, when I was the flyhalf ‘in possession’, he was always snapping at my heels with the Rhodesia Herald as his chief sponsor. Who could blame them? Against weaker teams, he was devastating and equally so in broken play. I recall being dropped from the Midlands team for Ian before the 1963 Black and White tournament to be held in the Midlands. For some reason I took my boots with me when I motored through to Shabani to watch the Saturday matches. 

Midlands were up against Manicaland and Ian was opposed by the veteran former national flyhalf, Marty Timms. Now, I was never quick but I was quicker than Marty.....I think. Ian could have given both of us ten yards or more in the 100m and won easily. Well, Ian had a ‘shocker’, letting Timms break past him twice. Manicaland won comfortably. A Midlands selector saw me at the ground, asked me if I’d play on the Sunday and Ian was played at inside centre. So it goes.

The Australians arrived that year and played vs a Rhodesian XV at Kitwe. Ian was at flyhalf. After Rhodesia lost, I was once again, brought in at flyhalf for the international at Glamis Ground. Ian was outside me. We lost narrowly – I kicked too much in the first half – Ian and I working a terrific dummy-scissors in the second half ; I  went through the gap and threw out a long pass to the right wing, Chris Nell, who put it down under the poles. Ian converted; 5-12. (Please forgive me if I’ve told this story before, but this was a brilliant Australian side who drew the series with the Boks. It happens these days.)

So, for the Championship matches, it’ll all be up to trainers, conditioners, psychologists and coaches. Those who have the best and respond the best will win the ‘Tri Nations’ and the Cup. I hope it’s us.

(Ross Robertson phoned me last week to say he certainly wasn’t the forward who ‘blasted’ the Mashonaland backs for a poor performance against Manicaland in 1970. Well, apologies Ross! I must have been ‘creatively imaginative’ again. And, as I couldn’t even remember whether Clyde Rutter or Alan Kluckow was the scrumhalf that day, how can I protest? Sorry.)

Neil Jardine 

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