Bok Selection Time… Frontrow

Well another Super XV has come and gone for us Saffas. A disappointing one to say the least. The way the Bulls “threw” away the game against the Brumbies speaks volumes to what a crappy year it has been for South African rugby in particular. Let us hope that the Boks under Heyneke can give us some hope.

That being said it’s that time of year again when us couch coaches start making our predictions of Bok colours for the upcoming Rugby Championship. I hope Heyneke has been buoyed by the performances of form individuals and doesn’t bank on names again like he did last year. That being said, even though our teams have been dismal this year, save maybe the Cheetahs, some of our boys have been at the top of their game.

I know that Doc Craven has spoken about when he picks a team he picks a tighthead and a fullback first and then picks the rest. However, I don’t have the luxury of Doc’s talents so for today’s piece we will just start with the front row and in each position pick the best possible three in my opinion, and probably name one or two unlucky contenders.

So it’s off to loosehead first and in our country we are blessed with some pretty good loosehead talent. Fist and foremost on the list of Bok potentials is the ever green Tendai “Beast” Mtwarira. The Sharks loosehead has almost always been an automatic selection but I feel that being over-played has dulled him a bit. Of his strength and speed there is no doubt but where one was accustomed to bollocking runs from the big man it now almost seems like he is just huffing and puffing his way through a match. I would love to see him get a nice long holiday but for the Rugby Championship I’d still pick him. Second on my loosehead list would be Steven Kitshoff. The ginger-ninja from the Cape franchise has really impressed me and I feel he deserves a call up to the national squad and am kind of baffled as to why he hasn’t received one. My third loosehead choice is that irresistible gummi bear Trevor Nyakane. I was one of those supporters who whooped for joy when he crossed the white-wash for his first Springbok fiver. Nyakane has talent, of that there is no doubt… he is like the loveable fluffy toy with a mean streak. One can’t help but smile when he smiles but at the same time he lets his work on the field do the talking. JC Jansen van Rensburg would be my unlucky-to-miss-a-spot pick. The man has oodles of power and in my opinion is the strongest loosehead scrummager out of the lot. I pick the others above him purely for overall work rate.

Off to hooker now and here we are blessed in two of the world’s best. Bismarck du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss. The dilemma of picking one is luckily not in my hands. But if I had to pick I would always go with Bismarck. He is strong, moves around the park and out of the two the best pilferer on the ground of opposition ball. There is very little to choose between the two and as such Bismarck’s raw strength if what sways me. Third in the line we have Chiliboy. He has been playing good rugby for the Bulls and is also a massive asset on the deck. However the other two are stronger and produce more in the loose in my opinion. However after these three there seems to be little depth in this country. One hooker who seems to have the potential is Kyle Cooper of the Sharks as well. However he is not there in terms of Bok honours just yet.

Tighthead is a position that seems to be causing a headache world wide. I blame the scrum laws. The laws seem to benefit a loosehead in the exchanges and that is why tightheads are becoming a rare and special breed. That being said Jannie has been a stalwart for the Boks for a long time now. He is like the energiser bunny but sooner or later the battery needs a recharge. He would be my first choice for the Rugby Championship and I think him, together with Beast deserve some time off at the End-of-year tours. Second in line for me as a tighthead would be Lourens Adriaanse. He has the potential and I feel he is our second best tighthead in the country at the moment. He has done well for the Cheetahs and deserves a shot. My third choice would be Coenie Oosthuizen. I wish they would settle on a position for the kid because buggering him around like the Cheetahs and Heyneke are doing is only going to turn him into another CJ van der Linde. Coenie has the potential to become one of the world’s great props… if they let him. My unlucky picks here are Wiehan Herbst whose form took a spectacular dive, Frans Malherbe who is more injured than not, Jacobie Adriaanse for leaving before show casing his true potential and then we have Brian Mujati of course. He is highly rated, even by Meyer… but no passport equals no play.

Next week I will be looking at the second row and exploring our particularly thin options in this department.

Springboks and Running Rugby. Who knew!

I know this post is late. I have been pretty busy this week. Haven’t had the time to write down my thoughts about the Boks vs Samoa game played on the weekend. So here I am at 5 in the morning taking a shot at it.

Let’s be honest, the Boks were ruthless. Our forwards were magnificent and our backs electrifying, even with Morné at the helm. It was a game of pace and controlled aggression, though a nut grab and a clothes line threatened to derail that.

The Samoans were physical and besides the little squeeze put on Strauss it was a game of mutual respect. Yes Tuilagi hit De Villiers with a stiff arm but I don’t think it was as intentional as the slow-mo replays would have us believe.

Our forwards were clinical and strong. Beast and Jannie were streets better than their last two performances. Yes it was against “weaker” scrummages but that part of their game wasn’t their only improvement. Jannie must be running on some kind of special lithium-ion battery because his work load the last two years has been huge. Together with Strauss they played their best game to date. Bismarck was given an extended run and the one part of his game where he is absolutely pivotal is his work as an extra “fetcher”. He is phenomenal on the ground when given half a chance. I just wish we could settle on a tighthead replacement for Jannie because Coenie is definitely not the answer.

I was glad to see a Flip and Etzebeth partnership, I just don’t know why Flip was played at 5 when Eben is more suited to it than Flip. Flip played a great game and I feel him and Eben as a partnership into the future is the way to go.

Flouw and Alberts delivered. Alberts put in some good hits and some good runs. But I am really worried about Spies. If the other two were so dominant how come did Spies once again hardly featured? Even Kolisi looked better in his short spell than Spies has through every game so far. Alberts really slotted in well at 8 and if Vermuelen ever gets injured I can see this as a possible solution, though I would love to have seen what Lappies Labuschagne or Philip van der Walt would have offered in the green-and-gold number 8 jumper.

Our halfback pairing had their best game in while. Pienaar read the game nicely and his service was crisper than against the Scots, though the spoiling tactics employed by the Scots did help in his poorer showing. Morné looked good again after looking a bit out of sorts against the Scots. I feel two factors made Morné look bad against the Scots. He played deeper in the Scotland game and the service provided by Pienaar was also not of the best. Against Italy and Samoa Morné took the ball a lot flatter and at pace. Plus it also helps that a guy like Willie slots in nicely at 10 to help with attacking impetus.

Jean and JJ seem to be working damn well as a centre pairing. JJ ever now and again does show his lapse in defence in the 13 channel but he is coming along nicely. He is strong and fast and with De Villiers supplying ball like he does things can only get better for JJ… hopefully.

Our back three were our real weapons in this game. Basson looks good but seems to have lost a bit of his high-ball skill. I’m hoping its just rustiness. Habana is looking more like the 2007 player of the year. His hands are good, his vision is better and he is backing his pace more. Nut the one who brings it all together for me is Willie le Roux. He is the reason our wings have space on the outside to play with. He reads a game so well. He almost always manages to suck in defenders and put the guy on his outside away or into a gap. If he doesn’t stay at 15 for the real tests then Meyer must be smoking his socks.

All in all it was a great game to watch after the so-so game served up by Scotland and Italy. The only real problem I had with these games is that Meyer never really once tried to see who his backup is. He never gave the other guys in the squad a chance to showcase their talents. He promised them game time and then in one week backtracked faster than an Aracnophobe seeing a spider.

Meyer will have to find a tighthead because Jannie can’t always go on forever and using Coenie as a stop gap in 10 minutes stretches has the potential of backfiring… especially in tighter games. So Meyer should have used this series to blood some new guys and answer some questions. He didn’t… I truly hope it doesn’t come back to bite him. Kudos to him though for getting rid of his kick-everything-you-receive game plan and playing a more attractive style this year. I mean 16 tries in 3 tests speaks for itself.

Is Meyer a Walking, Talking Contradiction?

Is Heyneke Meyer a walking-talking contradiction? Is he a human oxymoron? I think he is. Don’t get me wrong. I support him as a coach but just as Pieter de Villiers baffled me with odd and misplaced idioms so does Meyer confuse me with blatant lies and back tracking.

At the start of this quadrangular tournament Meyer spoke about giving the squad game time so that the players could grow so that we have a pool of 30 players to pick from that can stand up to the task of international rugby (in other words actually beat the All Blacks).

Has Meyer lived up to the words spoken by him? Hell no. He said he was going to give guys exposure and try different players and combination. None of that has materialised.

Our top players are overplayed. Jean de Villiers has been legend this year but he is carrying a niggle and should not even be considered for the game against the Samoans, yet Meyer is. The Beast and Jannie are playing on empty tanks but instead of letting them recharge their batteries Meyer is playing them into the ground.

If Meyer carries on like this then his idea of winning test matches will end in ruin. By “killing” the players he sees as his best it will adversely effect his chances of winning test matches. It was evident in the Scotland game. Yes the Scots used negative tactics but our “main” players also looked jaded and slow. There was a second half wake up but sooner or later there will be nothing left in the tank for there to be a second half wake up in the next game. Why risk Jean against the Islanders in the first place? Why risk two looseheads and why not seek a permanent backup for Jannie? Why not see what Lourens Adriaanse has in him?

Meyer has said that form was a reason for picking his squad. The majority of the rugby population were happy with his picks. Botha had a great game against the Italians and deserved his second start. He got injured and Kolisi came on and had a blinder of a game in a struggling Bok team. Yet for his effort he is dropped to the bench to make way for a guy who has hardly had any game time and is basically more injured than fit. Why does Spies get as many chances as he does even though he doesn’t prove himself week in and week out?

I think Meyer has placated the public in certain respects but still sticks to his perceived favourites at all costs. I am Sorry Meyer but this attitude is bound to blow up in your face. Strengthen your squad, don’t deplete it. Certain players need rest and certain players need much needed exposure. Keeping them back and burning up what you have will never end well.

In life those who gain much are those who risk much and those who gain little are those who risk little and play things safe. Rugby players are being overplayed and building a bigger squad is the way forward, not sticking to a happy few until they are broken and bleeding only for their replacements to be jaded and rusty when they are needed most.

Bok Selection makes me feel warm inside

Well the Bok squad has been announced and I must admit, for the first time in a long time, I am actually quite happy with the selection. One or two individuals can count themselves darn unlucky though.

The only true big surprise sprung on us couch-coaches was the inclusion of Lourens Adriaanse as backup tighthead. I was surprised by his inclusion above Wiehan Herbst since he got invited to trials and Adriaanse not. But it just goes to show that good form can still get you places.

Last year Meyer selected favourites. This year he seems content to acknowledge form (though when it comes to scrumhalf he still seems to play favourites). One form player that has been overlooked is Robert Ebersohn. Picking JJ Engelbrecht above him doesn’t make much sense. JJ has been playing very good rugby, but Ebersohn has been playing exquisite rugby. He has vision and great hands, something JJ doesn’t have yet. We can also say that Juan de Jongh has been a lucky inclusion. Yes probably but then again Stormers rugby hasn’t helped his cause. He has the ability to break a line better than the other two so if I was Meyer I would have stuck with him too.

I’m happy for a guy like Trevor but I don’t think he is better than Kitshoff. Kitshoff has been playing some good rugby of late for the Stormers. He has been scrumming very strongly and his play in the lose I also feel is superior. But take nothing away from Nyakane, he has been playing some solid rugby himself.

One inclusion I feel should never have happened and should never be allowed to happen is the continued inclusion of Zane Kirchner. Side-show Bob was solid last year, but he will never ignite a team or change a game. How he continues to make the squad only Meyer will know. I feel someone like Jürgen Visser has even been playing better rugby. Anyway…

All in all not a bad squad selection bar one or two picks. Hopefully the Boks can play some good rugby this year and actually be able to take on the likes of the All Blacks and Australia, and hopefully not draw to Argentina again… ever!

Joy and Heartache… All In One Day

Two things struck me as interesting topics to talk about on the rugby news front. First is the news of John Smit as the new Sharks CEO and the second is Heinrich Brussow not being considered in the Springbok training group due to a perceived high penalty count (absolute bullocks!).

Let’s start with the good news first and that is the appointment of John Smit as the new Sharks CEO. The reason I say that this is good news is that for a change rugby will be run by someone who actually knows the game.

For a number of years now we have had, mainly, a bunch of narrow minded business personnel running this beautiful game of ours. Mostly not well. Case in point being the palookas that are ruining rugby in the Western Province (Rassie Erasmus débâcle comes to mind). Administrative decisions are being made on a business level and in the end has adverse effects on the game we all love.

Having a person like Smit in charge is a master stroke by the Sharks board… well in my opinion it is. Smit is no moron even after years of banging his head in a rugby game. He is highly intelligent and commands respect from his fellows. He definitely has the business acumen needed but more importantly his decisions SHOULD be to the benefit of the game as he KNOWS the game (almost like why I regard Glen Jackson as the best ref so far in the Super 15 because he blows like someone who knows the game intimately).

So kudos to the Sharks who seem to, as usual, lead from the front in innovation.

The bad news. Springbok management have made a pathetic attempt to point out to Brussow why he does not get picked, that being his penalty count. Rubbish!!!! If you read Front Row Grunt you will have seen the stats that points out Brussow as having a low penalty count compared to others. In 6 games he has only had 7 penalties against him.

What does count against him however is his low turn-over rate of only 2 in 6 games. A guy like Brussow should be doing about 2 to 3 a game at minimum.

What pains me is that the Springbok management actually try and point out that his count is high when it obviously isn’t! Just tell Brussow, like a man, that you won’t pick him because he is not your favourite. Don’t lie to him… that’s just cowardly. But then again everything SARU does these days is cowardly…. they have no backbone.

I do however like Brussow’s response, I’ll just have to work harder to prove that I deserve to be in the Springbok squad. It’s frustrating sometimes because penalties will happen as referees are so strict at the breakdowns. But I’ll do whatever it takes to earn my spot. I’m even working hard on becoming bigger.”Can’t help but feel that last little bit is a dig at Meyer’s selection policies!

So kudos to Brussow on his reply (and slight retort)

Meyer’s Breakdown Blues

One can’t help but comment on Meyer’s speech about the breakdown “blues” of this country. Meyer is of the opinion that if we can sort out the breakdown of South African teams we can win matches. Truer words have never been spoken but then one would have to look at why we are having breakdown issues.

Meyer likes to say we have breakdown problems but then why does he not pick the players who can resolve that issue in his squad. Why is their no Brussow? Hell I’d even go as far as picking someone like Deon Fourie at 6 because on the ground he is devastating.

To me the problem doesn’t really lie in the fact that we are “behind” other teams in the pecking order come breakdown time but in the players we pick to win the breakdown game! Meyer is also a culprit in this regard.

When Meyer took over as Bok coach he believed that to win matches you need to boss the collisions. Fair enough, but without any ball to play with the only way you’ll win a match is tackling a team into submission.

I believe that this philosophy of big players has filtered down into our Super Rugby thinking. Of all the teams out their only the Cheetahs play a true fetcher in Brussow. The Stormers are playing a “big” loose trio but none of them really play to the ball. The only person who can is Duane Vermuelen but he is an 8th man and “fetching” is not part of his criteria. The Sharks have Keegan Daniel and Jacques Botes. Botes doesn’t make the starting team often and Daniel is fair on the ground but no where near the likes of Francois Louw or Brussow. The Kings have Watson but he is injured and way past his best and the Bulls have Stegmann who has never ever ever been anywhere near class… never mind international class on the ground.

Our team selections these last few years has been based on a Meyer philosophy of size wins games. Now Meyer is singing the breakdown blues. It makes no sense. I feel we have the talent and I believe to sort out our new Meyer issue we should pick the appropriate players for the role. Being great at the breakdown is a talent and not something that can be coached. The top three for this country, in my opinion, at the moment are Francois Louw, Heinrich Brussow and Deon Fourie. Of course when Bismarck comes back we have an extra “fetcher” and Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen are also not bad on the ground come ruck time.

So I do not agree with Meyer in saying that we are not good at the breakdown. If anything team choices make us bad at the breakdown. We look bad because we don’t pick a specialist. Looking at Meyer’s training squad selection it looks no better and I foresee a loss at the breakdown if Louw gets injured.

This would have been my Bok squad also without international players, based on current form in the Super XV:

Loosehead: Tendai Mtwarira (I know he is out of sorts but won’t play without him), Steven Kitshoff

Hooker: Adriaan Strauss, Kyle Cooper, Chiliboy Ralepelle

Tighthead: Coenie Oosthuizen, Wiehan Herbst, Frans Malherbe

4 Lock: Flip van der Merwe, Steven Sykes

5 Lock: Franco van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit

6 Flank: Heinrich Brussow, Deon Fourie

7 Flank: Lappies Labuschagne, Rynardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi

8th Man: Duane Vermuelen, Phillip van der Walt, Jacques Engelbrecht

Scrumhalf: Cobus Reinach, Shaun Venter, Francois Hougaard

Flyhalf: Morné Steyn (as much as it pains me), Pat Lambie, Dimitri Catrakilis

Left Wing: Bryan Habana, Raymond Rhule

Inside Centre: Jean de Villiers, Robert Ebersohn

Outside Centre: Juan de Jongh, Lionel Mapoe (for lack of a better option)

Right Wing: Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen

Fullback: Frans Steyn, Joe Pietersen (for lack of a better option)

Note: I did not select current major injuries

So all in all I feel we are not behind when it comes to breakdown play… we just aren’t picking the right people for the job.

Is Meyer Developing Talent?

The Boks will be playing there last match of this gruelling season against the team that we started to show decline, England. In the June tests at home the first test was a convincing thrashing of the Roses. The second test Was less convincing but still looked good. In the third test the wheels started coming off and cracks were starting to show in what was looking like a promising start under Meyer.

Ever since then dubious selection like Jacques Potgieter and Arno Botha, the constant faith shown in Morné Steyn, Zane Kirchner, Jean de Villiers and Francois Hougaard, and the obvious snubs at players like Lwazi Mvovo, Elton Jantjies, Juan de Jongh and Patrick Lambie have plagued Meyer through the rest of his tenure. The eye of the public was firmly placed on the man and his every move questioned with scepticism.

Yes Meyer has had a tough time, he should have expected no less but he has sorely let the public down. I read an article on Rugby365 yesterday about how Meyer was throwing egg on the public’s face by telling Lambie to play to his strengths. What a load of bollocks. The public have been baying for a more attack orientated game and by asking Lambie to now play his style and not the one asked is nothing more than a knee jerk reaction to public opinion.

Meyer did the same when he finally called in a specialised “fetcher” in the form of Louw because trying to turn Marcell Coetzee into one was not working. Not only couldn’t we win ball on the ground it was obviously also hurting the player as his game overall started taking a knock. Back then there was also calls from the public and media alike to include a fetcher, and look how Louw has responded. Now our forwards look unstoppable.

Wasn’t Hougaard’s move to wing nothing more than a knee jerk reaction to public pressure?

One thing is certain through all this and it is that slowly but surely Meyer seems to be walking in the right direction.

But I still have one point of criticism to make against Meyer and it involves this end of year tour. Meyer, in my opinion hasn’t done enough to bring through the youngsters and has failed to identify key areas of personal that are almost at their sell-by date.

Lets start with the front row. Everyone knows and agrees that Beast, Bismarck and Jannie are the best we have and will be for some time. However what bother me is the backup. On the loosehead side we are pretty much covered with the like of Heinke van der Merwe, Guthro Steenkamp and JC Janse van Rensburg.

At hooker we have Adriaan Strauss, but after him who do we have? Schalk Brits is no spring chicken. Tiaan Liebenberg is also on the wrong side of 20 and Chiliboy is once again a tackle bag specialist. Why have no young hookers been identified and taken on tour?

Same thing with the tighthead side. We have Pat Cilliers who looks like a great replacement yet they picked CJ ahead of him and we suffered for it. Why show no trust in a man who has given you no reason not to. Meyer has obviously identified Frans Malherbe as one for the future yet left him at home instead of gaining some touring experience.

Our Lock reserves are also thin yet we have plenty of young guns coming through who can make a statement like Etsebeth… well probably not as massive a statement but a statement nonetheless. Andries Bekker isn’t that young and prone to injury plus all the other guys picked are in their twilight years.

At loose forward we have a plethora of talent. This country always has yet Meyer seems to be picking favourites over those that actually perform. Jacques Potgieter and Arno Botha are cases in point. Jacques hardly played Super Rugby this year yet got picked even when injured and Arno Botha has had a mediocre showing at the Bulls during the Currie Cup so how does he qualify. Even playing in a less “demanding” tournament he looked average. Why did CJ Stander leave when he has produced fine performances? Kolisi was given the cold shoulder and players like Kankowski and Daniel were hardly given chances even though they played the best out of almost everyone.

At scrumhalf we also have a problem. Ruan is the incumbent and has a cool head but he is also approaching his twilight. Hougaard hasn’t measured up but I’m sure he will again soon. But why is someone like Vermaak picked? He hasn’t played rugby to prove he is the second or third best option and he is also no spring chicken. Why not take a younger chap with like Reinach or Groom? This tour exposure would have been vital for their growth and increased our depth at 9.

At flyhalf we have been all sixes and sevens. At least here the young guys have had exposure but none has done enough to say they are the future. I appreciate the fact that Meyer is giving Lambie time but someone like Jantjies should have also benefited, even if only for 10 or 15 minutes per game.

At inside centre we have a problem. Jean de Villiers is near the end of the road and probably only has a year left in him, two at a stretch. Yes Frans Steyn has been identified as his replacement but who is there after Steyn? Why has Meyer not identified a third or even a fourth choice? Why was someone like Whitehead not taken, or Francois Venter or Jan Serfontein? At outside centre why was someone like Paul Jordaan not taken with? Taute can play 13 but is not a great choice.

At wing we have enough young cover but Meyer doesn’t seem t be doing enough to give them exposure. He picks Hougaard at 11 where he says he doesn’t want to be at the expense of players like Mvovo and Rhule who could benefit from game time.

At fullback a lot of soul searching also needs to be done. Yes Kirchner has been solid but neither is he anything to write home about. And if Taute is the future why is he not getting a go at fullback? And why have younger possibilities not been considered as backup? Lambie can play there yes but his future seems to be written in flyhalf stone. Frans Steyn can also play there but likewise he seems to be our first choice 12. So why have no other possibilities been discussed or brought on tour if for nothing else than to learn?

This also brings me to my point on captain. Jean de Villiers has been retaining his starting berth for he is captain. But there does not seem to be a search for an alternative. Who will captain the Boks in Jean’s place? Adriaan Strauss seems a likely candidate but will be second fiddle to Bismarck. Is enough being done to recognise a new leader or are they banking on Jean living forever?

Lambie and Hougaard Being Turned into Carbon Copies

I have been reading a few blogs and one thing that keeps on rearing its head is the why Lambie seems to be failing. Most people are of the opinion that it is down to the game plan being implemented by the Boks. I strongly agree with this fact but at the same time it cannot be the sole reason for not just Lambie’s performance but the back line play in general.

On Uysh’s blog he does an interesting piece of statistical breakdown featuring our Lambie versus guys like Carte and Beale. The stats are very interesting. Our flyhalf receives much less ball compared to our Southern counterparts. The other interesting fact is that even the scrumhalf receives less ball than our Southern brethren. Another interesting titbit is that percentage wise our flyhalf also receives less ball from the scrumhalf.

How can one expect to run a game when you get to use less than 50 percent of possession.

Yes the stats centred around Lambie mostly but that got me thinking about another talent, one that had us all licking our lips at the prospects he offered the green-and-gold, Francois Hougaard. Why did Hougie fail. Well if one wants to answer that question I guess one will have to look at how he plays.

He made his name as an attacking scrumhalf. Always keeping the opposition guessing around the rucks, having quick feet and immense strength for his size. He had flair!!. His defence was even outstanding. Yet when he finally donned the green-and-gold in the June tests a person didn’t see that player. What we saw was a copy of Fourie du Preez, albeit a broken one. His kicks from the base of the ruck were abysmal, he never asked question of the defence and never seemed intent on doing anything that even required a minuscule of flair. His rugby took a knock and he was moved to the wing where his “magic” could truly work.

But why hasn’t it? Why when he did play did he struggle? I once again come back to a point I wrote about a few months ago. He was playing against his natural urges, his instinct. He wasn’t asked to play towards his strengths but curb them and improve his weaknesses. This was obviously counter-productive. He hasn’t featured on the wing either because his role has merely become that of a chaser of kicks. His role has basically become one of defence and no more.

When you look at his body language you don’t see a guy strutting his stuff.

Look at Lambie’s body language pre-Bok games. He was raring to go and when he got back to the Sharks he showed why he should be a serious number 10 contender. Meyer seemed to bow to pressure and gave his Lambie his shot. In the Irish game he didn’t play badly but was not his “I am the general” self. The biggest shocker for most watching the Scotland game was also how he was playing like Morné Steyn. It was almost carbon copy. His body language wasn’t showing confidence. It was almost like watching a person go through the motions instead of playing with intent.

Basically what I am trying to say is that our guys don’t seem to be given any freedom to play. It was the whole reason Francois Steyn left the country to. His creativity was being stifled. It seems to be happening again. Our players seem like they are being asked to ignore their strengths if it doesn’t compliment a forward orientated approach to the game. This in turn has a chain reaction where our wings are nothing more than chasers and our outside centres are nothing more than extra defenders. And when the ball does seem to leave the flyhalf’s hands to reach another player via pass rather than kick, it is for no more than that player to crash it up and have it contained in the forwards.

Our under 20’s showed what could be done when using the ball. Our Boks are showing us what we can expect with containing the ball. We play for penalties and tries are a very lucky intercept bonus.

Where Did We Go Wrong?

A few things were glaringly obvious in the game against the Scots. It was always going to be a game of attrition. The Boks looked liked a team scared of losing and not one hungry of winning and Lambie played a very Morné-esque sort of game.

We played well in the first half and we were determined to stick to our structures, sort of play in our “comfort” zone. In the second half the Scots realised we were never moving out of second gear and more than happy to stay there. Then they upped the anti and the Boks were scrambling like mad men. Something that should never have been allowed to happen.

Gone are the days of outplaying a team in the first half and then using that killer instinct to slaughter them in the second. The Boks were on top of the Scots but in the second half it almost looked like we were relieved to be in front and rest on our laurels.

Two things stood out as negative points for me in that game. Lambie playing Morné rugby and CJ still being considered as a world class prop. The game obviously didn’t suit Lambie. There was none of that free flowing spirit we have seen from the young lad. He seemed stifled and perplexed for big parts of the game. In some way I think the “game plan” stifled him and in others he didn’t do himself any favours. Besides playing in a plan that obviously doesn’t allow him to be him, his kicking out of hand was atrocious. Seeing Lambie that far in the pocket had a lot of tongues wagging. The question is why? Why was he so far back? Why wasn’t he flatter? Why was he kicking so many up and unders? Why? Why? Why?

A lot of questions can be asked of his style but similarly a lot can also be asked of his execution. I would love nothing more than to start throwing conspiracies around but let’s face it, Lambie did not do himself any favours on Saturday. The problem with that is that it now gives Meyer the chance of bringing in Morné, so that the bore-fest can continue… in earnest… and alienate even more supporters of the green-and-gold.

Another thing that someone couldn’t help but notice was the glaring fact that our back players, bar De Villiers and Lambie, never got ball unless it was given to them by the opposition. Juan de Jongh touched the ball once, had a magic little half break and then never got given the ball again. Right there it proves that something is fundamentally wrong in the make up that is Bok rugby. Maybe it is the reason why Jaque Fourie refused to return. He doesn’t want his role at the Boks to be one of a tackling centre. Mallet summed up the de Jongh situation nicely after the match.

The turning point of the match, in my opinion, was the introduction of CJ. Once we lost dominance in the scrums we seemed to loose dominance in the forwards as a whole. We were slipping tackles and looking ever more lethargic as the game wore on. What makes it worse is that I do not blame tiredness. Our ascendancy was no more and the Scots took full advantage. CJ was the biggest instigator in this free fall and it almost cost us dearly.

Now I know a lot has been said of the style of rugby that the Boks play and that it has always been an ingrained thing in South African players. The kicking game is our game. But then again what was said in the Supersport studio rings true. Even with Naas as our flyhalf we had world class backs outside him, Gerber, Du Plessis, Huenis, Pienaar… legends of yesteryear.

Another interesting fact is that when we had our 17 match winning streak with Mallet as coach we did not have a kicking flyhalf. We had Henry Honniball and at 12 Dick Muir, a maestro of distribution. What I mean by this is we played our best rugby when not playing the traditional Bok style… if such a thing exists.

All in all I feel there is a stifling of development under Meyer and I don’t see it ending any time soon.

Bok Game a Tale of Two Halves and an Inconsistent Ref

Well, well, well. That was a tale of two halves. I read a lot about how the Boks upped their game in the second half and how poor they were in the first half. True they were but what was really at the root of the Bok problem in the first half?

One thing was sure about the game, and especially after the second time I watched it. Barnes had a shocker… again… surprise, surprise! He seemed to do a lot of guessing and taking in to account how the penalties were blown it seems that only one arm worked and that was the left one.

In the first half both teams struggled to find any rhythm and it was easy to see why. Both teams were struggling to play the way Barnes was adjudicating. Why is that you ask? Easy, because Barnes was all over the place. Non of his decisions had any consistency to them. His handling of the ruck was a prime example. Bodies were on the ground, or players were holding or suddenly daylight wasn’t given, even though the player in question was the arriving player and not the tackler. It was a lottery, I know it generally is but quality refs tend to stick to a formula that teams can suss out and then play to, and in Barnes there was none of that.

Nothing was more clear in Barnes’ inability to control a match than when the handing out of handbags started. He stood off to one side and let the show carry on. He wasn’t interested in keeping discipline. Yes he gave two yellow cards in the game. One was a dangerous tackle and merits could be made for the awarding of the card but Heaslip getting a yellow for what wasn’t even a repeated offence was a bit strange.

So why did the Boks improve in the second half? Simple, they started playing the ref and not the laws. This allowed the Bok forwards to gain the ascendancy they needed and shut out the Irish.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that only the Boks were blown up by Barnes. He was pretty harsh on the Irish as well. How someone like Barnes is even allowed to be an international ref after all his blunders escapes me, and I don’t mean in just this match. He has been shocking almost every time he has reffed a game.

Anyway, this is how I rate the Bok performance for Saturday’s clash against the Irish:

First XV:

15 Zane Kirchner 6

It was a solid showing at the back once again but the man still lacks the ability to create an attacking opportunity from the back. I wish he would stop prancing around and just take the ball in full flight into contact if need be. At least he’ll gain metres and not get tackled back.

14 JP Pietersen – 6

Despite that one miss-timed tackle JP had a solid game and a few good runs. The man is clearly in the mood for rugby!

13 Jaco Taute – 6

Still not my first choice 13 but he got better as the game got on. Still I think Juan de Jongh’s fleet-footedness could have come in handy. Taute was much better in his defensive channels this time around.

12 Jean de Villiers – 6.5

Definitely one of Jean’s better games in a long while. Maybe the small break from Currie Cup duty did him good. Took the ball up well. Would still like to see him try and link up with his back line players more.

11 Francois Hougaard – 5

Another quiet game from the once vibrant and slippery player. He needs to find his mojo quick because I fear time might be running out for the man. Give him an impact role when the game is more open. Maybe then he can win back some confidence.

10 Patrick Lambie – 6

The mercurial Lambie didn’t get to do much in the first half and did look a bit out of sorts but produced a much better display in the second. His kicking out of hand wasn’t to good either and I put that down to nerves. He knows he is playing for his rugby life under Meyer.

9 Ruan Pienaar – 7

Ruan produced one of his most mature games in a while. I think getting an extended run at 9 is helping his confidence grow.

8 Duane Vermuelen – 6.5

Stole one or two balls and tackled very well. Would just like to see him link up with the backs a bit more.

7 Willem Alberts – 6.5

Not at his rampaging best but still a solid game. Tackled very well and made them feel it.

6 Francois Louw – 7.5

This man is proving to be talismanic. Slow down opposition ball and is a menace on the ground. Great cover defence too.

5 Juandré Kruger – 5.5

Had a quiet game. His forte is the line out and he has usually been an excellent stealer of the ball but wasn’t as effective as he can be. Also disappeared a little in certain stages when the game got tight.

4 Eben Etzebeth – 7

This kid will be a legend one day if he can carry on like this. Extremely strong and stole a few line out balls.

3 Jannie du Plessis – 6

Someone should give the doc a rest. He has had a massive season and keeps chugging along. Another solid performance but he could do with a breather.

2 Adriaan Strauss – 8

He had a massive game. One of his best. I am sure playing opposite his cousin gave him extra incentive and it showed. Played very well and was all over the park.

1 CJ van der Linde – 6

I was worried when it was decided he would start. I have never rated CJ as a strong scrummager but he was solid. Good game


16 Schalk Brits – wasn’t used

17 Pat Cilliers – 6

This man had a good game. Scrummed well and really threw himself into tackles.

18 Heinke van der Merwe – 6.5

Really showed his power in one scrum and played a pleasing game with the time he had on the field.

19 Flip van der Merwe – 6.5

If there is one person this year who has made me swallow my words it is Flip. He is really showing good growth and ever since he has “calmed down” and shown controlled aggression, he is playing some good rugby.

20 Marcell Coetzee – 6.5

This kid looked like he was on speed. Threw himself into everything and had one monster tackle.

21 Morné Steyn – wasn’t used

22 Juan de Jongh – wasn’t used

23 Lwazi Mvovo – wasn’t used

I do find it interesting that no substitutions were made in the back line, especially Hougaard as he wasn’t having his best outing again.