Two recent articles by Rob Houwing left me quite irked to say the least. In the first one he bragg about the strength of South African rugby with three sides reaching the play-offs of this year’s S15. He writes: “Whatever happens in the remaining three weekends of knockout fare in Super Rugby, South African rugby has affirmed its well-being by effectively having dominated the lion’s share of the 2012 competition.
…. this season is the first to be fairly obviously bossed by one nation … and that honour falls this country’s way as all of the overall log-winning Stormers plus Bulls and Sharks have made it through the six-team funnel.
…. at the end of it all South Africans were broadly entitled to a degree of smug satisfaction.”
In the second article he writes that history seems to indicate that the team that end on top of the log normally wins the competition. Sort of suggesting that the Stormers now fall in that category.
I must admit that I was and still are a bit irked with the arrogant trend of those two articles. Firtsly, the Stormers can consider themselves very lucky to top the log. The Chiefs suffererd two horrible last minute defeats in their last two games. In the Crusaders game Sonny Bill butchered a certain try by going on his own and against the Hurricanes the TMO allowed a try (after time) that no other TMO in S15 would probably allow. So in fairness the Chiefs should sit at the top of the log.
Secondly, I remember so clearly the 2010 season with the Bulls and Stormers playing in the final. The Bulls have humiliated the Chiefs in the semi’s at Loftus and SA rugby looked invincible.
In the run-up to the first tri-nation match of the 2010 season the Springbok players revealed in the media that they’ve been talking among themselves about being the best Springboks side ever. I can also remember the body language of the Springbok players as they warmed-up for that first tri-nations test against the All Blacks. There was chip on the shoulder attitude and a swagger in their walk as they went through their drills.
What happened in that test match is history. We got a rugby lesson. Bakkies Botha was yellow carded for head butting Cowan and we were comprehensively outplayed at the breakdowns. Peter de Villiers with just a hint of a catch in his voice said during the post-match interview: “It’s not a train smash. We will re-group and will be ready next Saturday for the second test.” In the end it was a train smash because we lost that test and the one after that against Aussie and then went on and lost against New Zealand in Soweto and against Australia on the Highveld (the first time since 1963).
Frans Ludeke probably said best what I want to say about Houwing’s bragging.
On asked how he felt about traveling to NZ to take on the Crusaders in the S15 playoffs Ludeke said:
“All that happened through the season is now irrelevant,”
I totally agree with that sentiment and it also applies to the oncoming test matches. Whatever happened so far this season counts for nothing when it comes to the 4 nations. Regarding the rest of the S15 tournament and the four nations consider the following remarks by Ludeke:
“It is about teams that can handle the pressure – it doesn’t matter if you play home or away.
“We’ve shown that we can travel and we need to focus on our own game plan and we need to be accurate.”
There certainly is a number of new talented players in the South Africa teams but the real challenge is whether this talent can be gelled into a national unit and whether that team can then strategically out think and outfox the opposition. I have more hope with Heyneke Meyer in charge but the All Blacks are not England and the Wallabies always pose a different challenge requiring shrewed tactics and clinicalness in delivery.
The Bulls did not impress in the scrums on the weekend against the Lions. The Stormers backline play and general ability to create tries is suspect. In playoffs and test matches one mistake (very probable with newbies in the test team) can see you in a situation where you need to score tries. Who will forget that disastrous RWC quarter-final when we ran for 80 minutes against a brick wall of Aussie defense (a defense demolished by the Irish a few weeks earlier and by the All Blacks the next week) and not able to crack it and score.
The Sharks play the Reds without Lambie and Frans Steyn and I’ll be surprised if they win that one. I also cannot see the Bulls scrum matching up to the Crusaders in the set piece.
In short I have my doubts that the SA teams with all their talent is going to be clinical enough to win the S15 and the four nations this year.
Let’s stop gloating and start to take a real serious look at SA rugby and we might find we’re there and there about but still lacking that strategic and clinical all roundness to call ourselves the best in the world.
In conclusion, I totally understand where Houwing is comming from. It certainly is pleasing to see three SA sides in the playoffs but in the final analyses I don’t think many people are going to remember in 5 years time how many SA teams made it into the playoffs. What they are going to remember is who won the S15 and who won the tri-nations.
Now is not the time to gloat. Now is the time to get real worried and focussed if any of the three SA franchises wants to play in the final; let alone win it. If we want SA rugby to improve we need to disect results, tournaments and matches a bit more. We need to start focusing on the things that will make a difference towards beating the All Blacks more frequently.