SupeRugby is dead… Long live SupeRugby

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In the face of dwindling crowds and general disinterest, SupeRugby seems to be at death’s door. The Grim Reaper himself is watching with horror, because he is, no doubt, a Crusaders fan, as the best rugby players in the world run out to play in front of a handful of die-hards with nothing better to do on a Saturday.

In the old days, when the Super12 ruled all and stadiums were full every weekend, Grim would no doubt have enjoyed his Saturdays spent watching Carlos Spencer and Justin Marshall running rings around the best the Free State Cheetahs had to offer. He would have grimaced with joy every time a fired up Willem Alberts careened through five Australians leaving a bloody path of despair in his wake.

But now? What Happened? You’re more likely to run into Grim at your local Builder’s Warehouse buying paint and chicken-wire than you are to find him at the local pub having a few beers watching the Sunwolves play the Brumbies in an anonymous stadium in Singapore…

So has Grim been sent the message? Has he been told to put SupeRugby out of its misery?

Not yet, probably, but then what do I know.

I don’t know much about how the Grim Reaper does his job… I do know a bit about how the SANZAAR guys do theirs though, and that is where the issue lies really. SANZAAR have become masters at flogging dead horses… (no offence to the Brumbies intended, or dead horses…)

First I need outline what made the Super12 so brilliant in the first place, in point form… Obviously…

  1. We got to  see the best teams and players from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia play against each other.
  2. The competition was simple, where all the teams played all the other teams, home and away.
  3. It took place over a reasonable period of time, 3 to 4 months, done and dusted vs the current format which seems to have no end and no beginning…
  4. It was fresh and exciting.

Now I’ll outline what is wrong with SupeRugby today

  1. The competition takes too long (see point 3 above).
  2. There are too many teams.
  3. There are too many local derbies, nobody cares about local derbies, nobody wants local derbies. That is what the Currie Cup and NPC and whatever Australia has, is for…
  4. The conference system does not work.
  5. Did i mention that nobody cares about local derbies?

And finally, how to make it great again!

  1. 12 Teams, 4 from New Zealand, 4 From South Africa, 3 from Australia and 1 Pacific Islanders team.
  2. Simplify the competition, no more conferences, all teams play all the other teams, home and away in alternating years, max duration of 3-4 months, so that the provincial competitions in the different countries can regain their value.
  3. No more local derby obsession!

The novelty has worn off, and the mistake SANZAAR have made is that they’ve tried to insert more novelty. That doesn’t work. That never works, you can’t take something stale and make it new by throwing some glitter on it and calling it a pig. No, you need to focus on what made it great in the first place! Great teams with great players playing against each other week in and week out. Adrenaline filled games where the result is always uncertain, where the team in 12th can beat the team in 1st on any given day. That is what I’d pay to see. I don’t want to watch the Sunwolves and the Rebels play mediocre rugby. I want to watch the best players from Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji take on the three big guns and win! I want to see the best take on the best. That’s how you fill your stadiums SANZAAR. You need to build up the suspense. People want to look forward to going to rugby! It needs to be an occasion! It can’t be just another game on just another Saturday in a never-ending stream of games on Saturdays.

“Ho-hum, I am going to rugby again, yawn…” And that is what has become of SupeRugby. It is “ho-hum”, there is no suspense, no excitement, no joy, I suppose. It is just… Blegh…

 

 

NICO ROSBERG – CHAMPION!

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Few would  argue that Rahul Dravid and Sashin Tendulkar are legends in the game of cricket. The same is true of Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers or Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh, Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

And yet when people talk about the “greats” it is generally the Laras, De Villiers and Tendulkars that get all the attention. They are the stroke-makers, the cavalier entertainers, the crowd-pleasers… Children try to emulate them on the cricket field. They attempt the pretty cover drive and copy the pronounced back lift of their super hero.

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The stats tell a different story. Graeme Smith was not a pretty batsman. He did not play elegant cover drives. He did not light up the night with flamboyant shots like AB can.  What he had was an unbreakable resolve. He didn’t stroke the ball. He bludgeoned it. He didn’t carve up the field, he bent it to his will. He ended his test career with an average of 50, a mark of the greats of the game.

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Rahul Dravid was nicknamed “the wall” for his resolute defence at a time when India battled to win anything outside of the sub-continent. He racked up ten thousand plus runs during a magnificent career.

Chanderpaul played with Lara, and then continued well into his forties after Lara retired. He was probably the most awkward looking batsman I’ve ever seen. Everything about him was wrong. And yet he was the only West Indian batsman to consistently average above 45 in a dismal period for their cricket. He was the perfect example of “hard work beats talent”.

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So what am I getting at?

Lewis Hamilton is an amazing driver. He has all the talent in the world. He has the superstar image. He has the celebrity friends. Winning in a competitive car is what he does. It comes naturally to him. Much like Lara, Ponting, Tendulkar and de Villiers, he makes it look easy.  Few drivers in Formula 1 have what he has. I can name perhaps Alonso, Vettel and Verstappen of the current crop of drivers.

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Nico Rosberg has been racing Hamilton since they were teenagers. He does not have the same natural ability as Hamilton, but in 2016 he is Formula 1 world champion, not because he is the fastest or most talented, but because he has the will and determination to go out every weekend and race to the best of his ability. He does not give up. He focuses on doing everything within his power to be as competitive as he can. He is consistent. He is brilliant at communicating with his engineers. He does not crack under pressure.

We’ve seen many talented drivers come and go in Formula 1, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jarno Trulli, Alexander Wurz, Jean Alesi, and even Pastor Maldonado. All amazing drivers, capable of winning races on their day. None of them can call themselves world champion.

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He may not be as talented as Lewis, but through hard work and dedication he is and can continue to be just as successful.  He is a worthy Formula 1 world champion. Only 33 people have ever been able to call themselves that…

SPEED STARS COMPETITION – ADVANCED DRIVING COURSE

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I was fortunate enough to win an advanced driving course courtesy of a show on the Ignition channel hosted by Marius Roberts called Speed Stars. Basically they take two South African celebrities or sportspeople and have them race each other in an Opel Adam S.  We were to be joined by some local celebrities, all of whom I, and most of the other competition winners, had never heard of, which probably made their day that much more enjoyable.

Shout out to Emtee, Miss Pru DJ, Zweli Dube, K Naomi, Tweezy and Slique, whoever you are…

I love driving. I may be a judgmental hypocrite when it comes to cars (all Hyundai i10 drivers are accident prone nervous wrecks and all BMW drivers lose the use of a hand whenever they’re in their car. That is why they can’t operate the indicators) but I love driving all of them. So, the thought of a day ripping around a skidpan, racetrack and a high speed oval filled me with many butterflies.

Butterflies in tow, my lovely wife dropped me off at King Shaka International Airport at 5 am, due to the obligatory ridiculous hour and a half before the flight requirement… I checked in at the self-check-in counter, took ten seconds, and then waited impatiently for my flight at Fego, because the SLOW lounge only opens at 6 am. I was served possibly the worst breakfast I’ve ever had to pay for in my life… But whatever, I was flying to Joburg for an advanced driving course!

The flight was uneventful. We landed at ORTI. I walked many kilometres looking for the shuttle-bus driver with his sign (Speedstars Opel), but I found I was at the wrong terminal, international arrivals, so I turned around. I eventually found him pretty much where I’d started my long trek around ORTI, terminal B. We waited for the other winners and then set off for the Gerotek testing facility.

Then we had to turn around because we’d forgotten someone behind.

Then we set off for the Gerotek testing facility again.

The crowd of competition winners were as varied as they were interesting. There were hard-core drag racers, 4×4 enthusiasts and ordinary people who entered for fun and just happened to win.

The taxi ride from the airport to the testing facility was probably the longest hour and a half of my life. The driver took the back roads to avoid the Etolls… Which is fair enough I suppose; I’d do the same thing.

The main car sponsor of the day was Opel. The cars available to us, 2 x Opel Adam S (110 kw), Opel Astra 1.4 (0 kw) and 1.6t sport (147 kw) and an Opel Mokka, the hatchback with platform shoes.  We got to drive all of them. The instructor for the day was an interesting guy also called Marius. He tests new cars, and hosts advanced driving courses. I want his job…

Well at least the first part of his job, I don’t think I am verbose enough to keep talking for 6 hours.

First up were the braking demonstration and the beginning of some of my frustration. I am not a patient listener. I never have been, I have ADD and can’t listen to people talk for more than twenty minutes without getting fidgety and bored. Instructor Marius, from Driving Dynamics, is a lovely man, but he talks a lot, as is evidenced by the sunburn, garnered while we were standing on the test track, outside the cars, listening to him.

I wanted to be in the car! I wanted to be slamming on brakes and testing the ABS and EBD and all the other fancy abbreviations, but I wasn’t. It was a great lesson though, your average driver in your average car has no idea how far it takes for a car at speed to come to a complete stop. If you’re travelling at 160 kph and slam on brakes you will not stop in time to avoid hitting whatever it is you’re trying to avoid. Speed is great, but under the right circumstances. It is not great when you’re driving past a school for example, or anywhere pedestrians and livestock regularly cross the road… Or if you’ve just watched a F1 Grand Prix and suddenly think you’re Lewis Hamilton and fancy a drive around the neighbourhood in your 320i.

At Gerotek there is a lovely little race track. The Dynamic Handling Circuit, I think it’s called.

After the safety talk and some more interesting anecdotes from Marius we set off. I started out in the Adam S, lovely little car, light, agile and quick. Marius’s assistant for the day, Ronaldo, stayed at the front and made sure that we didn’t go too fast, because the point of the exercise wasn’t to race, but to learn how to handle the car around twisty bends, and all that. Try telling that to a bunch of competition winners on a race track driving cars that aren’t theirs. I can’t speak for the other guys but I just wanted to keep going faster…

To be honest I think I had the most fun in the Opel Mokka, it was under-powered compared to the rest of the cars, and had a higher centre of gravity so was harder to drive quickly. My goal was to try keep up with the Astra 1.6 sport ahead by carrying higher corner speeds and using my brakes as little as possible… And I did!

My least favourite was the 1.4 Astra which was sluggish and too heavy for its engine.  I don’t think I got it out of third gear because it just wouldn’t accelerate…  The best car to drive was undoubtedly the Adam S. It felt almost like I was driving a front wheel drive MX5 and I’d have loved to have had another go in it, but by then everybody else had discovered what a great car it was and opportunities to drive it were scarce..

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After we’d all had our runs in the different cars Marius took us on a hot lap in the Adam S. I loved that too and, while the other winners were blown away that he could take the S-bends flat out, I convinced myself that I could too if I had a bit of time to practice. I didn’t get to test that theory fortunately, because if I was wrong I would have had a massive accident and wrecked a very fancy, and not cheap, little Opel Adam S.

We had a lovely lunch and afterwards went to the skidpan where we all got more sunburnt. The point of the exercise was to learn how to control skids under braking and emergency evasive manoeuvres and some more about the wonders of brake assisting technology.  Once again Marius explained it all very well, at length…

We got driving again and all I wanted to do was pull up the handbrake and slide the cars around, but that wasn’t allowed, so I did what the instructors told me to do. It turns out that I have some bad steering wheel habits that I need to correct.

Sadly we never made it to the high speed oval… Time ran out and we had to shuttle it back to the airport to catch our flights home.

It was a great day, something I could do every weekend in fact. Thank you Speed Stars, Khwezi, Marius Roberts and instructor Marius from Driving Dynamics for a brilliant experience.

Now, where am I going to find some money for a racing car…

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Springbok Trials

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The Quirk

No, I don’t mean tribunals where the rugby public publicly lynch under-performing coaches and players.

What happened to the good old trial match? The simulated test match where the best 60 or so players in the country play against each other over two weeks to prove who is the best, and who is simply not going to cut the mustard…

Off the top of my head –

If I were coach I would pit the following teams against each other, based on what I’ve seen this year.

15Johan Goosen15Jesse Kriel15Clayton Blommetjies
14Bryan Habana14Courtnal Skozan14Travis Ismael
13Lionel Mapoe13Francois Venter13Nico Lee
12Rohan JVR12Andre Estherhuysen12Clinton Swart
11Lwazi Mvovo11Sergeal Petersen11Jamba Olengo
10Elton Jantjies10Pat Lambie10Inny Radebe
9Faf du Plessis9Francois Hougaard9Stephan…

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Marmalade Wielding Assassins and the Springboks

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Often a massive catastrophe hits without warning. It comes out of the night like an assassin with many swords and a penchant for eating his targets eyes. Everyone is surprised, at least for a while. “How could this happen?” They say, and, “I really did not see this coming.”

Thing is though, they should have seen it coming. Why? Simply because they wronged a man who was renowned for employing eye-eating assassins to do away with those that vexed him.

So six months ago a nondescript person gets into a road rage incident with a member of the marmalade mafia, known for their brutal control of the marmalade trade in and around whatever city they happen to reside in. Said nondescript person tells the marmalade mafia boss to go f*ck himself and breaks the mirror off of his black Mercedes Benz panel van. Now this boss is well known, he does not take disrespect lightly.

And there you have it. An eyeless nondescript man in a shallow pit, dead and covered in onion marmalade.

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And so to the Springboks in 2016.

Alistair Coetzee’s team has the worst record of any Springbok team ever…

They’ve lost games to Ireland (fair enough, they’re playing amazing rugby this year), Argentina (Boks should have won), Australia (Boks should have won), New Zealand (twice), England, and now Italy (what!), and in the process has racked up stats that not even the most pessimistic parody site could have made up before the season started.

Everything seemed to be going “okay” until that horrible day in Durban when the All Blacks, after being disrespected by a bunch of twats in the crowd singing Ole’ Ole’, of all things, during the Haka, smashed them by 57 points to 15.

That seems to be the point at which the consequences for breaking off the marmalade mafia kingpin’s metaphorical mirror came to roost. Just prior they had managed to beat Australia at Loftus. Things seemed on the up. Something must have happened in the week between games, some event, incident or conversation that sparked a rather dramatic slide into abject mediocrity.

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The “gees” was gone… The will to play for the coach, jersey and everything else that goes with being a Springbok just didn’t seem to be there anymore. The backbone that Bok rugby is known for, that essence of power, aggression and die-hard grit was gone.

Come back Bakkies!

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Suddenly they were folding like a deck chair during the last quarter of their games. Suddenly they were losing to Italy, a team unlikely to challenge any decent SupeRugby side, a team that had never come within 16 points of beating a Springbok team, a team that had just copped 50 against New Zealand.

I cannot do it captain! The strain is too much!

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Who is to blame? What was that gees eroding incident that so utterly depleted the players’ confidence because the group of players currently wearing the Bok jersey are not bad enough to lose to Italy?

I wish I knew, then maybe this sticky mess would make more sense than my story about marmalade wielding assassins; but it doesn’t.  No amount of whining about non-existent coaching succession, player exodus, late appointments, injuries and whatever else can explain how the once mighty Springboks can lose to Italy.

SA Rugby has always had to deal with those things.

All of those players are top SupeRugby players. The Sharks had a diabolical draw and yet managed to match all the New Zealand sides and even beat the Highlanders away and the eventual champion Hurricanes at home. The Lions were in the final and deserved to be there.

It just makes no sense.

SPRINGBOK NIGHTMARES

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Last night I dreamed that, after Saturday’s horror show vs the All Blacks, the entire SARU board and all the so-called executives had resigned in shame and committed Seppuku.  I was ecstatic.

But then I woke up…

All those incompetent nincompoops are still employed and none of them has done the honourable thing and fallen on their own swords.

I don’t get too emotionally invested in sports results, unless I’m betting which I very rarely do. It makes no sense to tie my emotional well-being to the fortunes of a sports team. Many people do though, and I can tell you there are a lot of very angry people in South Africa after Saturday.

The Mighty Springbok has fallen, again… Not since 2002 and that horrible England loss has the Bok fan been so embarrassed.

I feel really sorry for coach Coetzee. He’s probably going to take the fall eventually. The big wigs up there at SARU certainly won’t…  Coetzee has been set up to fail from day one. He’s got a sevens player as his backline coach, and a defense coach with less experience at being a defense coach than the guy who put up the razor wire at my house the other day, and very little else. The only guy on his team that he actually wanted is Matt Proudfoot, forwards coach.

I’ve written before about how the people that run South African rugby have messed things up over and over again, so here’s a short re-cap.

Nick Mallet – Longest winning streak in Bok history. Fired!

Jake White – World Cup Winner – Successful wherever he goes. Fired!

Heyneke Meyer – 3rd in the world cup, narrowly lost to New Zealand in semi-final. Won 3 Super titles. Basically Fired!

Pieter de Villiers – Beat British and Irish Lions and All Blacks 3 times in one year. Fired!

Rassie Erasmus – Best rugby brain in the country, high performance manager – passed over for Coetzee and now he’s gone overseas.

Imagine if just one of these guys had been given the time and support Graham Henry and Steve Hanson have been given by the NZRU?

And so we start again, at rock bottom. The only consolation is that we actually managed to beat Australia and Argentina in South Africa. Where to from here?

Well, the first thing we need to do is bring back the aura and fear that the Springboks are meant to inspire and to do that we need to pick the right players. That means 100kg plus centres – Andre Estherhuysen and Rohan Janse van Rensburg. That means getting Frans Steyn in at flyhalf or fullback. That means picking big aggressive blindside flankers like the du Preez twins. That means getting Bismarck du Plessis back in the team at hooker.

That means aggression in everything that the team does. There is no room for self-doubt or self-pity. Win or lose the team needs to play like they mean it. Aggressive intent is the best way to describe what I’d like to see. Butch James and Bakkie Botha were good examples of the attitude required, if not the execution.

It is time to stop messing around. It is time to put the real beast back in the Springboks.

 

 

Bok Smash

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The Hulk is generally considered a hazard to everyone and everything around him. He is a monster. When he is angry he is unstoppable. He is a green behemoth with juggernaut like momentum. He smashes, he bashes and all around him buildings crash…es…

He is, in short, what the Springboks are supposed to be.  As much as we’d all like to watch the Springboks win games with silky handling and sublime backline play, it just isn’t going to happen? Why? Because the Springboks are not agile like Spiderman or fast like the Flash or even smart like Batman.

No, The Springboks are big, mean and green like the Hulk.

It is time to dispense with this “expansive game-plan” folly once and for all. Harry Viljoen tried it and failed. Pieter de Villiers tried it and failed. Carel du Plessis… Well, he didn’t even last one season.

The Springboks need to be big and mean and smash opposition teams to a pulp and to that end they need to pick the right players. If I were Alistair Coetzee I’d try to select the biggest best 23 guys I could find.

In an ideal world with no transformation agenda, injuries or inept management by SARU I would pick the following squad against Australia.

  1. Stephen Kitshoff (120 kg)
  2. Bismarck du Plessis (114kg)
  3. Julian Redlinguys (110kg)
  4. Pieter Steph du Toit (114kg)
  5. Eben Etzebeth (123kg)
  6. Paul Schoeman (108kgs)
  7. Jean Luc or Dan du Preez (113kg)
  8. Duane Vermuelen (116kg) Warren Whitely (106kgs) Captain
  9. Francois Hougaard (93kg)
  10. Francois Steyn (110kg)
  11. JP Pietersen (106kg)
  12. Andre Estherhuysen (102kg)
  13. Rohan Janse van Rensberg (108kg)
  14. Willie Le roux (90kgs)
  15. Jesse Kriel (95kgs)
  16. Malcolm Marx (119kg)
  17. Beast Mtawaria (116kg)
  18. OX Nche (105kg) or Lizo Gkoboka
  19. Lood de Jager (125kg) or JP du Preez (2.09m and 115kgs)
  20. Jean Luc or Dan du Preez (113kg) or Hanro Liebenberg
  21. Faf de Klerk (66kg) (he is big in spirit)
  22. Handre Pollard (96kg)
  23. Pat Lambie (90kg) / Johan Goosen (90kg)

Now I’m not saying the Springboks shouldn’t play intelligent rugby or that they should play dirty. What I am saying is that they should play to their strengths. South Africa has a reputation for producing large, strong, hard rugby players. The Springboks have always instilled a certain apprehension in their opponents, because those opponents know that they’ll finish the match bruised and sore and with stories to tell about how they sidestepped a 120kg bus called Willem Alberts only to be hit backwards by a 110kg flyhalf…

Beauden Barrett will be a lot more wary of running at Frans Steyn and Andre Estherhuysen than say, Elton Jantjies and Juan de Jongh. Elton and Juan are solid enough tacklers but they don’t have the ability to hit guys backwards behind the advantage line.

What do they have to lose? The Rugby Championship is lost.

 

“DOPING” IN PROFESSIONAL SPORT

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“He’s a cheat!”

“He should be banned for life!”

“He is a disgrace!”

We’ve all heard these things. People take a very dim view when sportspeople take “drugs” to enhance their performance on the field, court, track etc.

The kind of drug doesn’t seem to matter. When the drug was taken doesn’t seem to matter. The circumstance in which the drug was taken doesn’t seem to matter. It is all considered cheating and the people who do it are all labelled “dopers” or “cheats”.

But hang on a minute…

I work in an office. I work with numbers all day, most days. I am a professional number cruncher if you will. It is my job to do budgets, write reports and analyse data for decision making purposes.

I also have ADD. Some days are worse than others. Some days I can’t even string twenty minutes of work together without losing focus and potentially making a hash of things. So I take a performance enhancing substance. I take Ritalin, 20mg a day, slow release capsules. They allow me to perform my work at optimum capacity. I get the numbers right. I don’t make many mistakes. I don’t make a hash of things.

Now my company doesn’t care if I take Ritalin, as long as I do my job properly. They don’t call me a cheat and ban me from working with numbers for five years. They don’t consider me a “doper”.

Rugby is a professional business. It is no longer an amateur sport played by butchers, accountants and landscape gardeners. It is played by professional rugby players. Rugby is their job. It is their livelihood. If a player is injured he cannot do his job. If he can’t do his job then he can’t get paid. He can’t provide for his family. His career is short. What options does he have? So what is different between the professional rugby player and the professional number cruncher?

I don’t think there is any difference to be frank. I believe that if a player is injured and has the opportunity to speed up his recovery by getting an injection, he should take it and not be punished for it. It’s an archaic way of thinking. If it is done under the supervision of a doctor and is not harmful to the player then why is it considered wrong?

I recently read an article concerning a doping hearing concerning Andre Russell. He plays cricket… A Sri Lankan player was recently banned as well, Perera I think it was…

Cricket, that game where people stand around in a field whilst a bowler runs in and throws a ball at a guy who tries to hit it with a piece of wood. I love cricket. I’ve enjoyed playing it and watching it my whole life. Do I care if the cricketers are taking some or other banned substance? No, quite frankly I don’t. I care if they’re actually cheating, like losing on purpose because they’re being paid by a betting syndicate.

In my opinion the only sports that should be subject to the current draconian doping regulations are amateur sports, athletics and swimming.  Even cycling, which pretty much mastered the art of performance enhancement, shouldn’t be as regulated as it is. It is a profession. It is not a sport anymore.

Springbok Trials

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No, I don’t mean tribunals where the rugby public publicly lynch under-performing coaches and players.

What happened to the good old trial match? The simulated test match where the best 60 or so players in the country play against each other over two weeks to prove who is the best, and who is simply not going to cut the mustard…

Off the top of my head –

If I were coach I would pit the following teams against each other, based on what I’ve seen this year.

15 Johan Goosen 15 Jesse Kriel 15 Clayton Blommetjies
14 Bryan Habana 14 Courtnal Skozan 14 Travis Ismael
13 Lionel Mapoe 13 Francois Venter 13 Nico Lee
12 Rohan JVR 12 Andre Estherhuysen 12 Clinton Swart
11 Lwazi Mvovo 11 Sergeal Petersen 11 Jamba Olengo
10 Elton Jantjies 10 Pat Lambie 10 Inny Radebe
9 Faf du Plessis 9 Francois Hougaard 9 Stephan Ungerer
8 Hanro Liebenberg 8 Warren Whitely 8 Philip van der Walt
7 Jean luc Du Preez 7 Oupa Mahoje 7 Jannes Kirsten
6 Francois Louw 6 Jaco Kriel 6 Albertus Smith
5 Eben Etzebeth 5 Lood de Jager 5 Reniel Hugo
4 Franco Mostert 4 Pieter Steph du Tiot 4 Jason Jenkins
3 Vincent Koch 3 Julian Redlinghuys 3 Thomas du Toit
2 Adriaan Strauss 2 Malcolm Marx 2 Acker van der Merwe
1 Beast Mtawarira 1 Steven Kitshoff 1 Corne Fourie
16 Bongi Mbonambi 16 Chiliboy Ralapelle 16 Robbie Coetzee
17 Lourens Adriandse 17 Dylan Smith 17 Ruan Dreyer
18 Ox Nche 18 Trevor Nyakane 18 Lizo Gkboka
19 Stephan Lewies 19 RJ Snyman 19 Ruan Ackerman
20 Paul Schoeman 20 Willem Alberts 20 Roelof Smit
21 Piet van Zyl 21 Jano Vermaak 21 Rudi van Rooyen
22 Morne Steyn 22 Robert du Preez Jr 22 Niel Marais
23 Curwin Bosch 23 Andries Coetzee 23 Anthony Volmink
           
Players excluded –        
  Francois Steyn   Ruan Combrinck    
  Duane Vermuelen   Jan Serfontein    
  JP Pietersen   Daniel du Preez    
  Willie le Roux   Ruan Pienaar    
  Handre Pollard        
  Bismarck du Plessis        
  Jannie du Plessis        
  Coenie Oosthuysen        

The coaches would be able to mix and match combinations, see what works and what doesn’t, who is good under pressure and who isn’t. I think that is far more valuable than playing a series against Ireland for example, where you only really get to see one match-day 23 tested.

Now some might say, “But the players could get injured?”

Yes of course, but they could also get injured getting out of the shower or playing badminton or even, heaven forbid, playing Currie Cup… From the teams above it is clear that there is more than enough talent in South Africa to put together more than one competitive team and they even comply with transformation requirements for the most part.

If the players don’t like the idea then they can go home. It should be about survival of the fittest, bravest and most committed. Test match rugby is hard. Nobody ever played a Test Match against New Zealand and said afterwards, “well that was easy”. It is the pinnacle of the sport. It is where legends are made, reputations cemented and pretenders exposed.

 

 

 

Why are we even surprised?

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Times are tough for rugby fans, unless you’re from New Zealand that is… The mighty All Blacks look unbeatable. They’ve swept aside their traditional rivals like yesterday’s newspaper.  The Springboks and Wallabies have no answer. The All Blacks are just too good.

Now I hear many people talk about how South Africa has politics to deal with and how Australian rugby union has to compete with ARL and NRL and whatever other funny sports they play in Melbourne.

Yes well, nothing has changed there. South African sport has always been awash with political meddling and Australian rugby has always had to take on other sports. So it isn’t that… What is it then? Why is New Zealand so much better these days?

To illustrate I’m going to use an example from my other favourite sport…

In 1997 Ferrari recruited a gentleman called Ross Brawn from Benetton racing, along with a certain young driver named Michael Schumacher.  They formed a formidable team, and despite being slower than the McLarens of the day, the team of Brawn and Schumacher ended up making Ferrari the most successful team of that era. Schumacher won many championships, all of them in fact, from 2000 to 2004. During that time Ferrari also had Jean Todt and Rory Byrne as part of their F1 team. They had recruited the best and then left them to do their job.

Mercedes didn’t even have a racing team at the time.

Fast forward to 2008. Ross Brawn was recruited as team principle for Honda racing. Honda pulled out and left Brawn a bit stranded so he said “screw this, I’ll make my own team”, which he did. And Jenson Button won the world championship with Brawn racing in 2009.

Brawn racing was then bought by Mercedes. Mercedes implemented a long term strategy to make the best of Ross Brawn’s talents and put in place a brilliant succession plan which is responsible for their fantastic success of the last few years. They’ve dominated F1 completely under the current set of regulations. Nobody else comes close.

But what of Ferrari, that great and passionate team that dominated under Ross Brawn? Well, their succession plan wasn’t very good. They’ve had more team principles in the last eight or so years than my brain allows me to remember. They haven’t managed a world title since Kimi Raikkonnen won it thanks to Alonso and Hamilton sabotaging each other in 2007, that despite having some of the best drivers of all time in Alonso and now Sebastien Vettel leading the driver team. There is meddling from management, no clear strategy and no clear idea of where the team is going or at least it appears that way.

And that is what has happened in rugby.

While the South African Rugby Union has made short sighted decisions and replaced entire coaching teams every four years, New Zealand rugby has had the foresight to groom coaches in a successful team environment. Steve Hanson worked under Graham Henry for eight years. They didn’t fire Henry after New Zealand were dumped out of the 2007 world cup, despite his head being demanded on a platter by many disgruntled fans. No, they kept him on, and what happened?

They got even better. They won the 2011 rugby world cup and then Hanson took over and won the 2015 world cup, and when he moves on they have Ian Foster, Wayne Smith, Chris Boyd all ready to take over, and now New Zealand, with close on twelve years of coaching continuity, are untouchable.

What about South Africa then?

Let’s start in 2004, I could go even back further to Nick Mallet but that would take too long and you’d all get bored.

South African rugby appointed Jake White as Springbok coach. He put together a good coaching team and built up a squad of players that ended his tenure as the most capped Springbok team ever. He made the inspired decision to appoint Jon Smit as captain. He developed world beating combinations like the lock pair of Victor Matfield and Bakkie Botha and centres Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie. He made Bryan Habana a worldwide superstar.

His pragmatic approach involved using the traditional strengths of South African Rugby to build a team that was feared the world over and emerged triumphant at the 2007 Rugby World Cup…  The sky was the limit; South African rugby was on the verge of returning to greatness.

And then the geniuses that run South African rugby fired him…

Pieter de Villiers was then appointed ahead of White’s assistant Alistair Coetzee and Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer.

The 2011 World Cup ended with South Africa losing to Australia in a game that I still consider one of the biggest robberies of all time. Referee Bryce Lawrence lost his contact lenses (and his mind) and completely missed a blatant shoulder charge into Heinrich Brussow’s ribs by Dan Vickerman and ALL of the rules pertaining to the breakdown area allowing Australia to spoil and break every rule known to man with being penalized.

But I digress. South Africa didn’t win the world cup…

And then the geniuses that run South African rugby fired Pieter de Villiers.

Enter Heyneke Meyer, the man who coached the Bulls from Pretoria to unprecedented success.

2015 world cup, Springboks finished third, narrowly losing to New Zealand in the semi-final.

And then the geniuses that run South African rugby fired / forced Heyneke Meyer to resign and took their sweet time appointing his successor. The same Alistair Coetzee that had been Jake White’s assistant, the same man they should have appointed in 2008…

Every time SARU makes a decision, the Springboks had to start again. New coach, new assistant coaches, new gameplan, new captain…

So, like Ferrari, the foundation for unprecedented success was laid, but thanks to short sighted decisions and meddling from people who have no business running a corner café, never mind a national rugby union. South African rugby has gone backwards.

It’s no wonder people in New Zealand are lamenting the lack of competition. They’ve moved forwards but everyone else has either stayed still or gone backwards.  There is no continuity in South African rugby coaching and zero foresight. The people running it are buffoons and are frankly not capable of doing any better. Had they kept Jake White as coach, South Africa could well have won two more world cups and kept pace with the forward thinking New Zealanders. Instead they replace coaches more often than most people replace cars and then give those coaches impossible to achieve performance criteria, whilst limiting their decision making ability.

It doesn’t matter who they appoint. It is the organisation that is stifling progress. It is the organisation that is holding them back. It is the organisation that simply doesn’t know what the hell they are doing.