Sharks vs Lions & Boks vs Wallabies

In the Currie Cup encounter at Ellis Park, the Golden Lions came from behind to beat the Sharks by 26 to 15. Though the Sharks played with great fire, they had no answer in the second half to the relentless and speedy response strategy of the home side. From penalties, the Lions ran the ball with great skill and the finishing was first class.

So fast was the likes of Mahuza I wondered whether he was a player who should be considered for international duty. Perhaps it’s too soon to say. But the two tries scored late in the match were out of the top drawer. Overall, the attacking approach of the Lions was highly impressive and a credit to the coaching staff. The ball was kept in hand and there was an almost palpable self-belief evident in the demeanour of the home team. Cronje marshalled play expertly from the base of the scrum.

Moving on to the international match between the Springboks and the Wallabies, I must again comment critically on another journalist, who covered this game. Liam del Carme, in the Sunday Times, wrote about the course of the match and failed to mention even once the impressive and indeed match-winning performance of Morne Steyn. So, last week it was Brendan Venter ignoring the talents of Pat Lambie as a flyhalf and now this. I can only assume del Carme’s report was severely edited.

To be self-critical, I think I referred to Morne Steyn a few weeks ago as ‘yesterday’s man’. Well, to be proved wrong on Saturday last was a pleasure. Apart from a mindless kick downfield in the tenth minute of the game, his performance was near-flawless. His two drops once again emphasised the wisdom of ‘taking the points’ after repeated unsuccessful attacks against a fierce defence. The answer is ‘take three for the drop’ and then regroup to attack again. It’s the ‘Jannie de Beer factor’. As it happened, this match was won by Steyn’s great kicking display and lost by Hodge giving away nine points from missed penalties, admittedly from long distances.

What are we to make of the scrum in this match? The first scrum occurred in the sixteenth minute. The scrumhalf, as has become routine, put the ball in virtually under his locks’ feet. My wife June asked, “ Aren’t they supposed to put the ball in straight?’ I laughed and replied, “June, it’s one of the disgraceful aspects of the modern game. Throw the ball in slightly crooked at a lineout and you’re blown. The scrum? Crooked put-ins are ignored.” I went on to say this makes an absolute mockery of the significance of the scrum in rugby. All the time spent coaching the tight forwards is a waste of time for almost every occasion when a scrum is called. Putting the ball in crooked ensures the attacking side wins the ball over ninety-five percent of the time. In any case, when last did anyone hear Nick Mallett and the others, less talented observers and commentators, mention ‘the front five’? I can’t recall. Scrums have become, on the whole, a joke.

Of course one notices the occasional scrum where one side is penalised or collapses and there are the pats of the back from both sides for what often remains an obscure aspect of the game. Who the hell really knows who’s pulling down or pushing in? So the ‘front five’ have been emasculated by foul play. How the IRB puts up with this is crazy.

The Springboks reverted to a conservative style of play which will do them no favours against the All Blacks next Saturday. In this test against the Wallabies, the Springbok victory was achieved despite a massive territorial and possession advantage for the visitors, who must have wondered how they lost. The brutal answer is ‘kick your penalties’.

As everybody with two brains to put together knows, the margins of error in test rugby are small. The Springboks learned – I hope – to their embarrassment when Habana failed to find touch and from a dazzling display of interpassing, rucking and mauling, possession was retained by the Wallabies and a wonderful try was scored. Why did Habana try to kick a fifty-metre touch when thirty would have done fine?

It’s all very well to excuse it as an unintentional mistake, but against brilliant counter-attackers, it can be and was self-defeating.

The presence of Kriel in the squad remains a mystery. What does he ever to do to break a line? Nothing. He defends adequately, passes well and that’s it. When is Janse van Rensburg going to be drafted in.  It’s the Jaco Kriel situation all over again. Talent is being smothered by conservative policies re selection. And de Jongh? OK, he’s a hardworking journeyman, that’s all. I’d pick Mapoe and van Rensburg against those two, Kriel and de Jongh any day.

Neil Jardine

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