South Africa vs New Zealand
Kick Off 09h35 (SA time) West Pac Stadium, Wellington.
The All Blacks enter the Tri-Nations fray this week in Wellington against a Springbok side already smarting from a bit of hammer from the Wallabies last weekend, although to be fair I should think that of the 2 respective coaches, Aussie coach Robbie Deans may have more to consider after that game than Pieter de Villiers would.
The All Blacks on the other hand come off an efficient display in subduing a Fijian side packed with commitment, but not much else. And herein lies the true danger of the All Blacks, and the reason why I think the Boks are going to take a couple of big lumps this week: in a performance described by AB coach Graham Henry as being at “about 50%”, the All Blacks never really veered away from their game plan. They continued to execute accurately and efficiently, without letting the game degenerate into an error-strewn exhibition game, as mismatched rugby matches often do. Contrast that with an Australian performance that (to my mind) never really produced any moments where I felt that they had a superior game plan to our B-team-that’s-not-a-B-team; instead they lived off the errors and lack of cohesion that plagued an inexperience Springbok team full of debutantes and untested combinations.
T minus 2 minutes to kick-off: Game 1 of the 2011 edition of Tri Nations is about to kick off with South Africa’s B-team-that’s-not-a-B-team taking on a pretty much full strength Aussie team, possessing – to my mind anyway – probably the most potent backline on the planet, all of whom are in attendance: Genia, Cooper, Beale and O’Connor are collectively more slippery than a bag of lubricated eels, and as elusive as an SA cricket administrator from a KPMG forensic audit.I think we’re in for a beating, so I’m trying to focus on my gourmet French Toast that I’ve got in front of me, rather than pre-empt disaster. There’s just enough time for me before the start of the game to contemplate why the numbers on the Boks’ jerseys are smaller than normal. I reckon it’s a ploy to make the players’ backs look broader and consequently fool the Aussies into believing our players are bigger than they are; my boy Earl Soulzinger is convinced it’s so that we can’t see from afar which of the forwards are hanging around in the backline. He may have a point there.
9 mins: breakaway 80 meter try started by Quade Cooper (who else?) stepping off his right foot and slipping through Morne Steyn’s channel, culminating in Ben Alexander collapsing over the line at the other end of the park. O’Connor converts: AUS 7 – SA 0
The Tri-Nations tournament starts today, which to my mind means winter has officially begun: Fiji are leaving their suntan oil and coconut milk behind to fly into Dunedin where the mercury is bravely hovering just above the zero mark to face the All Blacks, and SA are preparing themselves to take on an Australian side smarting from being rubbished last week by a less-than-fashionable Samoan team at a wet and rainy Olympic Stadium in Sydney. The attractive try-fest bonus point-orientated rugby of the Super XV will be forgotten a bit over the next month or two as international teams prepare themselves to focus on the style of play that wins you test matches and ultimately World Cups (RWC) and the decidedly unpretty activities of asserting physical dominance up front and producing rock solid, unbreachable defences out back, coupled with a reliable kicker to convert oppositions mistakes into points become key.
It is in this that Australia failed miserably last week against a fired up Samoan side, which showed up at the ANZ Stadium intent on tackling the mate out of the inmate and ferociously contesting the breakdowns like ex-pat South Africans over green cards back in the 90’s. Admittedly that result gave me a huge amount of childish pleasure this whole week, so much so that it took me right up until yesterday morning, while breezily humming the Samoan national anthem, to realize that they’re actually in our RWC pool, along with that other team of amateur chiropractors and widow-makers, the bone-jarring Fijians. Oops, mood lost.
It is with careful enthusiasm that I write this blog entry today. Filled with enthusiasm, because I believe a Springbok team has been selected on current form for the first time since Divvy took the reins of our beloved boys in Green and Gold. My enthusiasm is laced with care though, seeing as a strong side on paper has been our downfall too often than I care to remember.
A mere four starting XV players have more than thirty caps to their credit, with a further two test veterans on the bench. Strangely enough, all these players (bar Ruan Pienaar) are commonly thought (by armchair aficionados anyway) not to be in any kind of decent form at present. They do however bring some credible stability to the side and this is crucial at international level. John Smit’s leadership ability has never been an issue of debate and his selection on Saturday will endure him to fans from that perspective. The national captain is a master at settling nerves and has a great provincial, working relationship with the likes of Hargreaves, Lambie and Mvovu. Danie Rossouw’s performances of late has lacked the fire and vigour produced by this game-breaker when he burst on the scene a few seasons ago. Yet he still seems to inspire the younger guys at Super Rugby level to great heights in tight encounters.
The Aussies are the only noteworthy objectors this week to the Springboks possibly fielding an under-strength side come Tri-Nations time. Were they not the ones who instigated the protests in 2007 when Bob Skinstad’s “B-side” toured Down Under? The basis of their grievances was that folks pay their hard-earned money to buy tickets to see the “big guns compete and what they were set to receive was a slap in the face”. And it wasn’t only Mick from Melbourne and Syd from Sydney who stood the chance of getting a “klap”, their hugely superior team also stood to be disrespected.
The mere fact that the Springboks almost caused a most prolific upset in their bastion of rugga, Stadium Australia, deserves mentioning though if for no other reason than the utter impertinence shown to them by the Aussie media and officials. (more…)
First choice centres who don’t penetrate defensive systems, locks and loose forwards that camp in the backline and a national captain who can’t even make his union’s starting line-up – these are but some of the nightmares that should keep Peter de Villiers up at nights. However, the national coach seems to be more than satisfied with the state of S.A. Rugby and says he is sleeping like a baby. A baby ostrich, with his head firmly buried under ground possibly, seeing as things are not where they have to be with a World Cup tournament less than 65 days away!
The Stormers’ crushing defeat at the hands of the battered and bruised Crusaders in Cape Town last Saturday did little else except to underline the desperate state of the level of the game in the Republic. Jean de Villiers and Jacque Fourie (widely regarded as the centre pairing for the RWC) had a horrid time of it; between trying to restrict Sonny Bill Williams, fighting their own forwards for possession in the backline and trying to look for some inkling of direction from Peter Grant!
The other highlight of the day’s drama at Twickenham, was the fact that despite defeat in the semifinal, Gordon Tietjens’ New Zealand side had plenty of reason to celebrate – having clinched their ninth World Series title after their quarterfinal victory against Argentina.
But the South Africans were not going to allow the Kiwis to steal their spot in the limelight.
It was one of the most remarkable come-from-behind wins in a Final this season – as the Springboks trailed 0-14 after just over three minutes.
However, they changed their strategy and not only got a stranglehold on the game, but throttled the life out of the Fijians with one of the most tactically astute games produced this season.