Written 26 April 2016
The best teams in the Super 18 competition win matches because they do the basics right. All teams make mistakes from time to time, but the winners know how to scrum, do lineouts, effect turnovers, pass and handle with skill and flair and have coached their kickers. Players in these teams also know how to run off the ball, to position for space, to support at every opportunity.
They also plan for matches through intricate analysis and creative thought. As Dan Carter said a few seasons back about the Crusaders, ”We try to do things other teams don’t think about". Rugby is a thinking game, high speed chess, playing the spaces, defending like fury. The great teams can adapt and show flair when it’s needed.
Passing remains problematical. The better teams make fewer passing errors. I’m thinking here of the Crusaders, the Chiefs, the Hurricanes, the Lions and a few others. After the ball is won, it’s essential to make profitable use of it. If the decision is to kick, the kick must gain ground, or be kicked so that the ball remains contestable. Ellis of the Crusaders kicked brilliantly from the base of the scrum in the Crusaders match against the Brumbies.
I’m no fan of the box-kick, but if it means having a fair chance of regaining possession, it’s a fine tactic. The problem is, most scrumhalves do not practise it or perform it properly. They kick the ball over the scrum as a sort of reflex action. Perhaps unfairly, Cobus Reinach is almost metronomic from areas in his own half. He also telegraphs the kick and he’s not the only one who does that.
James Hall of the Southern Kings kicked one in the match against the Lions which sticks in the memory. It was more a chip than a ‘box-kick’ and led to a fine try, against the run of play. (Memories of Charl McLeod’s chips against the Western Province seasons ago now, to win the Currie Cup.) What young Hall did right was look first to see where the opposition blindside wing had positioned himself. He was way back waiting for a routine box kick. So Hall chipped it short of him and the Kings scored.
Let’s be frank; coaches do not coach kicking in the run of play nearly enough. That’s a given, but those backline players who practise the grubber, the chip, the diagonal are paid handsome rewards. The likes of Foley and Damian McKenzie, Jantjes (some times), Cruden are masters of the art. Although Barrett had a better game than Cruden in the Chiefs vs Hurricanes match - his running of the ball, passing, grubbers, support-play were outstanding – the irony is he, Barrett, lost the game for his team because his kicking at goal was, uncharacteristically, very poor. So the margins in a match such as this, are very small.
After the Crusaders match against the Brumbies, I said to myself, “Phew! That’s how the game should be played.” The victory by 40 points to 14 was truly staggering! The Brumbies are no pushover, but on the day, it was ‘men against boys’. The support play of the visitors to Canberra was awesome. I recall one try: scrum won, Ellis box kicks, Coleman knocks on, Fonotia grabs it, tackled, he off-loads to Nadolo, who straightens the line to increase running space on the outside, takes the tackle, and offloads to a rampant Israel Dagg: try under the poles. Breathtaking!
The Brumbies showed their true ability too with tries by Coleman after the powerful Kurudrani straightened the line and sent the winger in with only a few inches to spare on the touchline. They will learn from this defeat.
Now to politics and the recent statement from our minister of sport, Fikile Mbalula, that four sports, including rugby, may not bid for international competitions until "the sports in question are truly transformed". Now what the hell does that mean? Fifteen brown players and three white regardless of ability? Ten brown players and five white players regardless of ability? (Isn’t it interesting to notice that golf is not one of those sports referred to. The obvious reason is that there’s no escape from the facts in a sport like golf. The scores reveal the talent regardless of skin shades.)
What I’d like to see are:
a) the audited accounts for those responsible for ‘transformation in rugby’ in the Border/Eastern Cape region; the ‘home of brown rugby’
b) a report on how talented brown players from schools like Dale College, Queen’s College, Grey High and so on have been ‘tracked and guided’ by those paid handsomely to do so
c) copies of all correspondence re ‘transformation’ submitted to the minister’s office, university authorities and clubs
Where has the ‘transformation money’ gone?
I can’t help thinking of the case of Charl Langeveldt from a few years ago. He withdrew from a Proteas squad to tour India because he said figures showed Andre Nel to be a better bowler and should have been chosen. Langeveldt was quite wrong, of course, to play ‘selector’ but the significance of the case lies in the fact that he did not want to be patronised for his skin colour.
I don’t see the problem in rugby which the minister and his advisers do. To exemplify this, I’ll attempt, at some speed, to select two teams to play each other. All the players will be of Super 18 standard. My teams, because skin colour should be correctly identified, will be the PINKS and the BROWNS. (No overseas players will be considered).
FBACK: Jesse Kriel
WINGS: Combrinck / Can't think of another PINK Wing!!!!
CENTRES: Janse van Rensburg / Odendaal
SHALF: De Klerk
PROPS: Van Der Merwe / Redelinghuys
LOCKS: De Jager / Etsebeth
FLANKS: Jaco Kriel / Coetzee
WINGS: Skosan / Ishmael
CENTRES: JP Pietersen / De Allende
SHALF: Rudi ? (BULLS)
PROPS: Mtawarura / Nyakane
LOCKS: Andrews / Mahoje
FLANKS: Kolisi / Notshe
As is evident, I’ve battled to find ‘brown’ locks or another really outstanding ‘pink’ wing. Perhaps I’ve not paid enough attention to tight and looseheads.
But, I found it easier to pick the BROWN XV than the PINK XV. I mean I omitted Ulenga, de Jong, Basson, Peterson (Cheetahs), Ruhle, Mnisi, Mapoe, et al.
Which of the above teams would win a match series.
I don’t see the minister’s problem in such stark terms. He is forcing the issue because some coaches have, admittedly, "gone through the motions of transformation". Over-reaction in my view.