This is what Peter Bills an Auckland Herald rugby columnist wrote about the weekend’s test between South Africa and Australia in an article entitled: Don’t be fooled by adrenalin thrill
South Africa and Australia came close to producing a new version of rugby this morning in Pretoria.
It was essentially rugby sevens played with 15 men a side – an interesting hybrid model which, alas, I don’t think has a future.
Neither, for that matter, does either of these teams if they continue to play the game in such a dumb fashion.
Yes, it was entertaining enough if you just want the vicarious pleasure of watching players dive over the whitewash. But for any serious observers of the game it was close to a joke at times. “Surreal” was how one leading world rugby official called it, and he was right on the money.
Not to put too fine a point on it, it was a kind of rugby diarrhoea.
Tries spewed out at regular intervals, with no-one on the field apparently able to control the flow.
There were nine tries scored and only some desperate, scrambling defence by both teams prevented that number being doubled.
Back in New Zealand, there must have been expressions of bemusement mixed with humour on the faces of the All Blacks players and coaches.
For this was a game that told us exactly why New Zealand are already home and hosed as 2010 Tri-Nations Champions, not to mention Bledisloe Cup holders yet again.
I must say this is rather arrogant BS. My feeling was that South Africa had a very nervous start and let in a few soft tries. We played better in the second half limiting the Aussies to only three points.
Bills is right however in the sense that the Springboks (and for that matter Australia) lacked the structure, authority and composure the All Blacks have brought to the international game this year.
South Africa won in the end chiefly because Matfield seized two vital Wallaby line-out throws which stole away potentially vital Wallaby attacking platforms deep in our 22.
Also the Wallabies butchered two simple tries which were there for the taking had their players simply made the ball do the work. Australia seems to depend too much on the playmaking ability of Genia and Cooper and I cannot see them winning the next test in Bloemfontein or their last two encounters against New Zealand.
Peter Bills goes on to say:
There was none of the precision or clinical execution we had become accustomed to seeing from the All Blacks this season. Literally, they are in a class of their own on this evidence.
It was helter-skelter stuff, harum-scarum rugby with desperation written all over two ordinary teams. No-one ever really got a grip on the game with some proper structured rugby in the style of the New Zealanders.
So yes, for the uninitiated it was undoubtedly aesthetically pleasing and a real adrenalin thrill.
But don’t believe that all South Africans were fooled.
The vast swathes of empty seats in Pretoria, heartland of the South African game, told you plenty about what knowledgeable South Africans think of the present state of their side.
This article seems to represent to a large extend the current thinking or thought lines of rugby scribes in New Zealand. Essentially, that New Zealand has created a new way of playing rugby and that South Africa is at the cross-roads; they need to adapt or die. Here are some extracts from articles by Bills and his colleagues after the Soweto test (Game plan finally ran Springboks down).
So the All Blacks got out of jail?
Not in my book.
This match wasn’t won in front of 94,000 (initially) delirious South African fans who thought they had the old Kiwi skewered and on the braai midway through the second half when the Boks led 22-14.
No, this game was won last year in the Northern Hemisphere, and earlier this year when the Tri-Nations began.
As someone once said, you triumphed the moment you decided to become someone.
In other words, when the All Blacks management decided that they were going to go for bust; that they were set on ending the ghastly aerial ping-pong that afflicted the game last year like some 15th century plague.
I wonder whether Peter Bills would have been so anally arrogant and so superhero-worship one-eyed overawed by the All Blacks if they did lose the Soweto test. Yes, they did create their own luck by persistently asking questions from the Springbok defence but fact is Richie McCaw’s try was no try and that would have changed the outcome of that match.
Also the New Zealand cause was helped by some super stupid mistakes by the South Africans and some very average refereeing.
Chris Rattue in another article entitled (New rugby, new All Blacks’ supremacy) goes on along on the same theme raving about the All Blacks.
As a devoted critic of the All Blacks’ last World Cup campaign and, subsequently, the deplorable treatment of Robbie Deans, I gladly concede that Graham Henry is doing a brilliant re-building job, aided by the crucial rule-interpretation changes which encourage skilful ball work by making defenders struggle at breakdowns.
His supporters will have growing feelings of vindication.
Henry’s new All Blacks have a remarkable poise and nose for victory.
These All Blacks are also taking the game further as a spectacle, with far more to come when players such as Dagg are fully integrated into the deal.
Peter Bills in his article agree with this and states that in his opinion it was the game plan that brought SA down.
The Springboks cracked under pressure because they had spent the previous 20 minutes being exhausted by a side that insisted in keeping the ball in hand; continuing to ask questions of the defence.
New Zealand won this thrilling test match because they persevered with their philosophy of attacking running, says Bills.
He goes and state that he don’t buy the theory that the All Blacks just got lucky. They made their own fortune he says but then almost contradicts himself when he writes as follows about the referee:
Richie McCaw, it has to be said, again got away with blue murder under the nose of another so-called ‘leading’ world referee. How the New Zealand captain did not get yellow carded when he dived into the wrong side of a ruck a metre or two from the All Blacks line early in the second half after Dan Carter’s kick had been half charged down and the South Africans were set to score had they been able to work the ball clear quickly, defied belief.
Nigel Owens saw it and did nothing, apart from lamely giving the penalty.
Referees the world over, it has become manifestly apparent, are too scared to get McCaw off the field. I wonder why.
So does the whole of South Africa Mr Bills.
Peter Bills has the following on PdV and the Springboks:
Schalk Burger was immense, Juan Smith not far behind him. I thought it served the All Blacks handsomely when ‘Boks coach Peter de Villiers withdrew Juan Smith with 22 minutes still to play. I wouldn’t have done – for me, he was one of their most effective players. But I’m sure Peter de Villiers always knows best …
For much of the game, New Zealand looked slower, more ponderous and prone to wrong decision making compared to their previous performances. They made many mistakes, chiefly because of the pressure the Springboks exerted.
He is actually confirming that New Zealand were very lucky and that their cause was helped by very average referee decisions without actually saying the obvious namely that NZ was allowed back into the match by that very referee mistakes. Instead he finishes off with a smug remark that reeks of gloating:
And yet, when all was said and done, it was their faith in an attacking philosophy which prevailed and which got them home. It wasn’t down to luck or inefficient defending – South Africa did all they humanly could to deny their greatest foe.
Chris Rattue writes that the All Blacks brand of rugby is exciting and a joy to watch and that SA has bigger problems than they think:
Rugby has rarely been better to watch, if ever, and this re-built All Black team is already among the best ever.
Rugby is bristling, and again the credit goes to Henry and his team. They are showing the rugby world how to play, in a way that probably only Australia would match if they had more power.
Remembering rugby from the past is like remembering New Zealand life long ago. Both had their charms, but overall – and with the benefit of hindsight – they were a bit of a bore.
The highlight reels, on television and in the mind, play wicked tricks, turning them into magical days.
Watch those old matches in their entirety for the whole truth, nothing but the truth. The game of yesteryear staggered about, littered with interruptions. Few teams – the Auckland side of the late 1980s and early 1990s being one – could rise above the dross.
That’s all we knew at the time, and loved the whole charade.
New rugby is the real deal.
As for the Springboks, they are in even bigger trouble than we thought.
If that’s the best the world champs can come up with in a home colosseum while celebrating John Smit’s century of tests, then they are indeed one large tank skidding out of control down one very steep hill.
No wonder Smit sank to his knees after Ma’a Nonu had created Israel Dagg’s superbly taken winner.
The Boks had a lot of initial huff, then ran out of puff. They were clearly second best, even if it did take a late score to prove this.
Remarks like this infuriate me. The fickleness of some of these rugby columnists is sometimes just too much to bear.
What was wrong with the way the Stormers played and the way the Bulls played? Some commentators have referred to the bulls as playing total rugby. Graeme Henry was quoted to say that the Stormers play the best rugby in the S14 and that the bulls are the most innovative team in the competition. The bulls kept innovating new moves around the best players utilizing their strengths.
You structure your game plan according to the players you have. South Africa has always done this and in times they deviated from this and tried to play in a way that will satisfy the opposition the results were disastrous.
Our strength has always been our big forwards and in the 1930’s we had Benny Osler so the kicking game took off in SA. Osler was a tactical genius and if you read what Craven wrote about the man it is quite possible that he was the best Springbok flyhalf ever.
Bennie Osler in all probabilty the father of flyhalf play in SA; responsible for SA’s obsession with a kicking and dictating flyhalf.
In 1937 the renowned Springbok side of Phil Nel toured to NZ and played total rugby on the back of our superior scrum. We ran them ragged scoring 5 tries in the last test accomplishing a series win in NZ. We didn’t have a kicking flyhalf -Osler retired in 1936- so we started running the ball but we scrummed them into the ground selecting for scrums instead of lineouts (as the rules allowed it at that stage) staging starter moves from our solid scrum.
In 1952 we had Hennie Muller so we develop a style of running the ball with the forwards with huge success staging the most successful end year tour ever.
Photo of Hennie Muller. I would unhesitatingly say that Hennie Muller was the greatest loose-forward I have ever seen. Bob Scott the legendary All Black fullback wrote in his biography.
Then from 1953 to 1969 our fortunes changed when we forgot the lessons learned and tried to enforce a certain game plan with the wrong players.
In 1953 we lost the second test against a very average Australian touring side after having won the first test convincingly with 5 tries. This is what Chris Greyvenstein writes in his book Springboks saga about that shock defeat:
It is my theory that the Springboks lost mainly because they had been subtly brainwashed into playing a game that was basically not sound. Muller admitted often in later years that he knew that every member of his team wanted to “show up” the crowd and the critics by keeping the ball in play as much as possible.
Craven’s mistake in 1957 was that he decided to try and repeat what the 1937 team did namely playing running rugby against the All Blacks. He opted for some youngsters and lighter forwards and paid the price losing the series 3-1 against New Zealand.
In 1965 Terry McLean had the following to say about South African Rugby and the legacy of the 1952 Springboks:
The 1951-52 Springbok team which lost only one match, to London Counties, during a tour of the British Isles and France which was so successful that the team, with every right, came to be known as perhaps the greatest South Africa had ever sent abroad. The team had many strengths one of the most significant was the skill at running the ball of the forwards. From this developed the belief in South Africa that the running game was the fruitful game and that the old power-play style of South African forwards backed by intelligent skilful inside backs, was strictly old hat. An insidious disease of superficiality entered South African rugby; and this brought about the defeat of the Springboks of 1964 by France during a short tour, worse, the incredibly ill-stared expedition of the Springboks of 1965 who in five matches in Ireland and Scotland were beaten four times and drew once.
In 1970 under Claassen we got it right again, playing to our strengths bringing Mof Myburg and Lofty Nel back after we lost the second test. Rugby writers on that tour essentially stated that this move by Claassen won us the third and fourth test and the series against an All Black team undefeated since 1965.
In the 1980 we had Gerber, Naas and the du Plessis brothers with Mordt and Gysie to top it up. We also had the likes of Hempies du Toit, Flippie v/d Merwe, Louis Moolman, Stofberg, and De Villiers Visser in the pack. So we played it of the scrum and lineout and scored some brilliant tries. In 1981 we toured NZ and if it weren’t for some selection mistakes in the first test, flour bombs and a very dubious referee decision we should’ve drawn that series at least.
Then we came back after isolation with MacIntosh trying to play All Black rugby. It was a disaster.
In 1995 we got it right again with Kitch Christie and then we had Carl du Plessis and Harry Viljoen trying to enforce an expansive game. Harry was a dreamer but Carl could have gotten it right if he were given the same vote of confidence Graeme Henry got from his bosses. Who would forgot that 61 points the boks accumulated against Australia in Carl’s last test. Fact is we did it off our normal structured play and not by hit and rotating ad infinitum like the Aussies or with illegal tactics at the breakdown like New Zealand.
Mallet took over brought even more structure into our set piece and with Carl’s ground work in terms of creative backline play the Boks went on and won 17 matches on the trot. The wheels came of when Monsieur Mallet got a bit cocky and were playing injured players because he didn’t want to let go of his stalwarts.
Some turbulent years followed after that until Jake White took the reins and started to play according to Springbok strengths again.
So where are we now? The game has sped-up but we have never been able to play the rotating ball type of rugby that the Aussies or New Zealand play. Western Province/Stormers and Cheetahs and maybe the Sharks play a more expansive game than Northern Transvaal/Bulls but not the ball rotating game the Aussies do.
The way forward is intriguing. Is SA rugby at the cross-roads? Do we need to adopt or die? Are we at a place where we have to succumb and change our traditional ways or stuck to our guns and dwindle away in obliviousness?
Chris Rattue elaborates in his article on how he sees South African rugby:
The world champion Springboks are not in good health though, and desperate changes to their line-up failed to find victory.
The South African Rugby Union is bonkers if Peter de Villiers, the fake coach, remains in charge.
Luckily for their World Cup opponents, South Africa’s rugby administrators are so immature that a few rough on-field decisions get them barking about quitting a multimillion- dollar broadcasting deal they’ve only just extended.
Coach de Villiers lacks the authority to clean out the old guard and make tactical changes. He is groping in the dark, and his latest backline was too lightweight for the modern rugby battle. Their battle plan is confused.
I believe we need to work on our breakdown skills and our fitness levels to enforce more speed, precision and better execution at the breakdowns mostly so we can defend better and keep the ball longer but our strengths is our lineout, our mauling and our structured game.
Reading Pedro latest blog there is some indication that South African rugby might be changing but then we’ve always ran the ball at 0/21 level.
In the final analysis I don’t believe we should try and play like the All Blacks. It is a well known concept in warfare and in sports like boxing and the martial arts that you counter your opponent’s strengths by doing the exact opposite.
I would like to see if the All Blacks can win a world cup with this flamboyant flashy style they’ve adopted. They nearly got unstuck in Soweto and my feeling is their fortunes are going to change the moment they are put under real pressure and when referees start picking up on their illegal tactics at the breakdown.