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 Rugby Fans ...
SHARKS 33 – WP 19
Western Province were unbeaten in the competition when they went into this game. They were the favourites to take the trophy. For them it was a home game with all its attendant advantages. There were 54,000 spectators at Newlands in Cape Town, most of them WP supporters. Their coaching staff, led by Allister Coetzee, had proved themselves astute in strategy and masterly communicators of the basic skills. They had a fearsome reputation as defenders and recognised as a dangerous attacking unit, with some brilliant exponents of running play.
Deon Fourie with his boundless energy, had proved himself a worthy captain and showed he had lost none of his tireless aggression and drive. Their opponents, the Sharks, had an impressive season after a careless start. They, too, had proven professional coaches with deep experience, led by Brendan Venter and Brad McLeod-Henderson, and a team of dedicated players, many of them internationals, five in their scrum.
Like many, I expected WP to win. They had proved themselves. All they had to do was keep calm, play the basics well, hold their own in the tight phases, get their share of ball from broken play, dominate the line-outs, (which most thought they would), avoid indiscipline, goal their penalties and rely on their successful game-plan. This they had done throughout the season and it had brought the much-desired final at home. So what went wrong? The reasons emerged as the game progressed: over-confidence early on, (perhaps because of hype and the heavy mantle of being favourites), a discernible loss of composure after McLeod's intercept try, clumsy reception of kick-offs and their own poor kick-offs, inconsistent passing and handling, erratic tactical kicking and some self-defeating moments of indiscipline.
WP also failed to dominate the tight scrums, with the Sharks forwards showing marginally more cohesion. (The tired old canard that 'it all depends on the 'front five' was trotted out by the 'wise men' of Super Sport TV without meaningful reflection. On and on they parrot this nonsense, season-in-season-out. Because of this, I watched the scrums carefully and particularly what ensued after each scrum. Answer: not much of any significance. There were only 14 scrums in the match. That tells its own story. Both sets of forwards did well on the whole, with the Sharks having an overall advantage. But again too many scrums were ragged. The 'Front Five' did not influence the outcome of this game, because in modern rugby, attack from broken play is the decisive factor and drop goals and successful tactical and place-kicking have become devastatingly important, often the difference between defeat and victory.) Lineouts and ensuing mauls remain fundamental means of attack with their own required control and skill, but the truth is mauls are becoming less and less successful against equally-balanced opponents. Defence coaches have learned how to counterract them. (To complete the argument re the tight forwards, believe me, next season we'll hear the same old endorsements of the legendary 'front five'. It's as though media commentators, who are, one acknowledges, shrewd experts, are hostage to some of the rugby myths of yesteryear. They are intelligent analysts, but in this regard, suspend their thinking-skills where the tight forwards are concerned. Their eyes glaze over, they smile knowingly, and their brains move into neutral.)
Astonishingly, WP were outplayed in the lineouts. (What happened to the talented Etsebeth?) Pieter-Steph du Toit was magnificent but then the Sharks tactics at lineouts had been worked out with effective attention to detail and every forward was aware of each plan. The Sharks also had the edge in broken play, did well in tight phases and, as the match went on, kept their composure, used tactical kicking to pin WP in their own half and played their game-plan for the full 90 minutes. There were some key turning-points in the match: McLeod's early try, Bismarck du Plessis's stupid offside at a ruck (again!) which denied the visitors Mvovo's try, Aplon's appalling high pass to Katrakilis in the WP 22 area leading to the flyhalf disappearing under two large attackers and his early departure from the field, the reckless and dangerous throat-tackle by Simon Rhodes on an opponent in the Sharks' Red Zone, which led to a penalty and took the pressure off, (brainless!) and a few others.
In the professional game it is essential that players maintain self-discipline without losing momentum and aggression. The best at this? The All Blacks - in a class of their own. Lambie again controlled the match behind a pack of forwards who were slightly more dominant than their opponents. Katrakilis remained composed despite operating behind a pack that often lost their way; not easy.
McLeod's chip kicks into vacant areas behind the WP scrum were the result of careful analysis of the WP defence plans. These kicks left them all over the place and on the back foot. As Nick Mallett put it, “There was no sweeper to clean up before the cavalry arrived in force.”
A final comment: Success is a beguiling and deceptive mistress. Treat Her well and She rewards you. Take Her for granted, and She will betray you. In plain words, success breeds overconfidence and over-reliance on what has worked before. This arises from following the dangerous maxim 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' It's 'dangerous' because it ignores the predictable reality that the opposing sides – in this case the Sharks – are, obviously, going to work out new ways to counteract the tactics which worked for their opponents in the past.
So WP should have had in place a Plan B. When the crunch came, they had nothing in the larder. There was no flexibility and a lack of effective leadership to rethink the game-plan when the chips were down. For the Sharks, Lambie, McLeod, Marais, du Toit, F Steyn... in fact all played well. There were some magic moments in the match. To refer to just one: when Lambie missed touch from his 22, there was a glorious exhibition of inter-passing and fluid running by Aplon, de Villiers and Kolbe. 50 metres gained in a thrilling manner.
Congratulations to the Sharks coaching outfit. On the day, they ensured WP were out-thought, 'out-generalled' and outplayed.