Captained Rhodesia 1962 – 1969
Rector of Michaelhouse. (1978-1986)
"Rugby is a thinking game – its’ not a running or a kicking game. This mania for running with the ball and playing open rugby at all costs is stupid – you must adapt yourself to the circumstances and play to your strength"
Now 50 years later Niel Jardine writes for Frosty ...
Well, in my neck of the woods, the talk over the last few days has not been the closely-fought contest between the Kings and Lions in their first promotion/relegation match in Port Elizabeth. Nor about the fierce matches between the Chiefs and the Crusaders with an awesome comeback by the former in the second half. It's all been about the Bulls narrow and self-inflicted defeat to the Brumbies at Loftus Versfeld.
Overall it was an evenly played match with great coaching evident and superb application from two dedicated teams. To my surprise, the Bulls battled in the scrums and then, later on, in three crucial lineouts. The game was played at a terrific pace with some amazing defence, fearless and skilled. But of course, it is undeniable that the Bulls lost through three of the most unintelligent decisions I've ever seen a captain make. ( The worst was by the England captain in a Six Nations match last Northern hemisphere season, when five or more points were needed for victory and he instructed his kicker to 'go for poles' thereby giving victory to his opponents on a plate. Afterwards in the interview, he made some bumbling neanderthal attempts to explain, as though any explanation could make any sense. IQ? So stupid it's difficult to believe it ever happened.)
In the Loftus affair, the whole disastrous matter rested with the Bulls captain, Dewald Potgieter. He rejected three kickable penalties in favour of a line kick aimed at the five- metre area, a decision only he could have understood. It was hardly a strong opportunity. The packs performance had been more or less even. And these decisions were made in the last ten minutes of the game when it was imperative to put points on the board. But the decision was made three times in this period to kick for touch and hope for a maul-try. (This tactic works well when one side is much stronger than the other, but in evenly contested matches my stats tell me the success rate is just under thirty %). Why? Well because the opposition, coached by experts, analyse how to stop the forward momentum of their opponents without 'pulling down ' the maul. On most occasions they prevent the grounding of the ball over the tryline. (May I agree again with my New Zealand counterparts that this move is illegal. Those leading the maul obstruct the opposition, cross the tryline and the carrier falls over the line to score. Much back-patting all round. Fair enough. It's in the laws of the game....but...)
So in the Loftus game, the Bulls lost three lineouts in a row, either by poor throwing in or disjointed mauling. And whose idea was it to send on a relatively inexperienced hooker to replace the calibre, skill and commitment of Chiliboy Ralepele at that stage in the game? Incomprehensible! After a furious instruction from the Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, the 'waterboy' came on to tell Potgieter they had to kick for goal. They did and took a narrow lead. Too late. Nine points had been squandered by decisions not to take the points from kicks by a player Jake White ( Brumbies coach) described as the best goal-kicker in the tournament. Potgieter said in the post-match interview that he had 'discussed' the decisions with Morne Steyn who also concurred they should kick for a lineout in the hopes of gaining seven points. What was the captain thinking when he consulted his kicker? These were decisions for the captain, not for a player to make! Dewald Potgieter should have read the game and made his decision alone.
It must be said that if the Bulls had succeeded with the first penalty there was no guarantee they would play much in the Brumbies' half thereafter and kick penalties again. That we'll never know. But, ironically for the Bulls, they did get into the opposition half of the field and did get two more kickable opportunities. Both rejected. However much Dewald Potgieter may rationalise his decisions, there can be little doubt that not 'taking the points' cost his side the game. Those ill-judged decisions will be with him for life.
I can't wait for the final between two skilful and determined teams. (Comments on 'grubber kicks, diagonal strategies etc will have to wait until next week).