Marmalade Wielding Assassins and the Springboks

Standard

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.

Image result for onion marmalade

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.

Image result for sad springbok

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!

Image result for bakkies botha

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!

Image result for man caught in folding deck chair

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.

Advertisements

Springbok Trials

Standard

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?

Standard

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.

 

SupeRugby 2016 – Not so Super

Standard

The showpiece of Southern Hemisphere rugby is about to kick off. Usually around this time of year, I have a complicated spreadsheet designed and the fixtures posted up on my wall and saved in my calendar. I know all the player movements, I’ve done research on new coaches and I’ve predicted who the surprise team of the year will be!

This year I haven’t..

SANZAR, the body that run SupeRugby have finally tinkered with it too much for me to be passionate about it anymore. They’ve added three teams, one from Argentina (yes!), one from South Africa, the Southern Kings (the union can’t even pay salaries and the president is holding onto power by using Mugabe-esque tactics) and the Sunwolves from Japan.

Now, SANZAR will tell you that the old format is stale, that it needs to be updated to keep people interested… I disagree. People were interested when it was the Super 12 and even the Super 14. The games were good, the teams were all pretty strong and the stadiums generally full or at least close to full. The English Premier League doesn’t tinker with its format. Why? Because it works!

I’d like to ask a question. Why a team from Japan? Japan would be better served in an Asia or Americas competition.

Why didn’t they give a franchise to Manu Samoa, Fiji, Tonga or even all three?

If anyone deserves a Super franchise it is them. Long ignored despite their abundance of talent and skill they have been overlooked again. Imagine what good the investment in these countries would do? Imagine the joy it would bring their fans!

I’d watch The Blues from Auckland vs The Mighty Fijians every day of the week, as opposed to say, the EP Kings vs The Melbourne Rebels? Who really wants to see that? Be honest, only people from Port Elizabeth and Melbourne…

If Formula 1 Teams were Rugby Teams

Standard

Mercedes – The New Zealand All Blacks – They’re just too good, too fast and too strong. Everyone else is playing catch up. They might occasionally be challenged when the conditions are absolutely ideal for their opponents but will ultimately prevail.

Ferrari – England – They’re good, steeped in history and the architects of the game we know today. In recent years, however, they’ve fallen behind as the other teams have evolved beyond their ability. They are slowly pulling back some ground with some new personnel but still have some way to go.

Red Bull – Australia – They’re smart, very smart, and quick but generally not as powerful as their foes in the engine department. They play to their strengths and do their best to play away from their weaker areas, regularly upsetting more fancied opposition.

Williams – France – They can be blisteringly fast when everything is working for them, but when it isn’t they can fall apart and end up bringing up the rear.

McLaren – South African Springboks – They have the tools to compete with the best, but can fall short because of technical deficiencies in key areas. In 2015 so far it is an inconsistent power unit; in 2014 it was the handling at the back where they fell short. They’re always expected to do well and when they don’t their supporters get very upset.

Toro Rosso – Manu Samoa, Tonga and Fiji – On their day they can take on anyone but it only takes a few small hiccups to set them back as they don’t have the depth or funding of the other teams. They have launched many a young player’s career but ultimately battle to keep them when the big teams come calling.

Lotus – Ireland – They go through periods of dominance, usually driven by a star player and the right mix of players built around him. They can beat the best, but also have a habit of falling short on the world cup stage.

Force India – Wales – They always look the part but for some reason can’t quite keep pace with their opponents when it comes down to the wire.

Sauber – Scotland – They’re ever present but generally uncompetitive against the bigger teams. They’ve been known to cause a few upsets in the rain however, and have a solid and proud history of being a team that play with heart and a never say die attitude.

 

If Rugby Teams were Cars

Standard

The New Zealand All Blacks

BMW M division – Powerful, fast and reliable.  Sheer pleasure to watch and generates envy wherever they go. Also, they are unpredictable because they never indicate what they are going to do next…

The South African Springboks

Toyota Land Cruiser – Big and powerful, but as subtle as a concrete block. At its best when conditions are tough and the odds are stacked against it.

The Australian Wallabies

Mini Cooper S – Not as big or powerful as its competitors but quick and nimble, plays to its strengths and uses smarts to overcome more powerful adversaries.

England

Land Rover Defender – Strong engine, steeped in tradition and very capable. However can be slow to accept change. Constantly overtaken by everyone else.

France

Alfa Romeo – Can be sublime but prone to baffling periods strewn with breakdowns and technical issues.

Ireland

Lancia – One good model every 7 to 10 years, but always peaks when it doesn’t matter.

Scotland

Suzuki – Always eager and willing but simply lack the firepower to compete regularly

Wales

Bentley GT Continental – Sporty looking and heavy but at the end of the day it’s a VW underneath

Argentina

Jeep Wrangler – Rugged, plenty pulling power but battles with handling at speed on the highway.

The Pacific Island Nations, Manu Samoa, Fiji and Tonga

Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 – Big, powerful and fast, but lack the finesse of their better funded opponents. On their day they can compete with the best, but when something goes awry they don’t quite have the same depth of resources to keep their level consistent.

 

 

The Next Big Thing… Or is it?

Standard

There is a young man called Max Verstappen making waves in Formula 1. Not only is he a very good racing driver and a dream for any marketing team, he is also only 17 years old. People are already calling him a future world champion. He even has a new, if completely unsuitable, nickname. They’re calling him “Mad Max” because of an accident caused by a Frenchman called Grosjean. He is the next big thing! I think it is a bit early to tell really. Sure he’s definately talented, but his temperament is yet to be truly tested. He’s off to a good start though. At 17 I was still sneaking out to smoke Chesterfields and falling off my 50cc-popcorn-machine-with-wheels-motorbike.

England cricket are also thrilled to have a new star in Ben Stokes. He isn’t 17 but he is still quite young, and they are calling him the next, next, next Ian Botham, after Fred Flintoff (the first next Ian Botham) and a few others. He is their new hero after playing a large role in winning a test match against the might cricketing nation of New Zealand!

In South Africa we’ve had a few “next big things!”

Derrick Hougaard was the next Naas Botha.

Daryll Cullinan was the next Graham Pollock.

Guthro Steenkamp was the next Os du Rant.

Mfuneko Ngam was the next Alan Donald.

Eben Etzebeth is the next Bakkies Botha.

Butch James was, well, Butch James was the first Butch James and I doubt his like will be seen again anytime soon.

Why is that whenever a sparkling young talent comes along we feel the need to label him or her “the next (Insert name of famous ex sportsperson here). Why can’t they just be themselves!

Ian Botham was a legendary English cricketer. Why do anyone the disservice of calling them “The Next Ian Botham?”

So often these young stars get these labels and then fade from prominence under the weight of undue pressure and media scrutiny, instead of just being allowed to develop into the player that they were destined to be in the first place.

Derrick Hougaard springs to mind as a great example. He had all the tools to be the next Naas Botha, except one. He wasn’t Naas Botha. Naas Botha had, and still has, unshakeable belief in Naas Botha. In his mind Naas Botha is invincible; Naas can do anything, knows everything and will win everything simply because that is what Naas Botha does. Derrick was young and, by all accounts, a remarkably humble nice young lad. He was thrown head first into a rugby world cup, and then thrown a hospital pass that brought upon him the wrath of a man known as the chiropractor because of his ability to re-arrange spines in tackles. Brian Lima tackled Derrick so hard he’s probably still go bruises ten years later. Derrick wasn’t the next Naas Botha, nobody can be the next Naas Botha.

Similarly, nobody can be the next Bakkies Botha. Off the field he is a humble Christian man who lives his faith as well he can. I’ve had friends approach him for photos and he is always accommodating. On the field though, he is an uncompromising force of sheer brutality. He is the enforcer and will step back for no man. Eben Etzebeth, again, has all the tools to emulate the great Bakkies. He is big and strong and also plays lock. But that is where the similarity ends. They’re different players with different personalities. It is unfair to compare one to the other, because it does their unique talents and traits the ultimate disservice.

I say let the young players be themselves. Handre Pollard is the next Handre Pollard. He is not the next Dan Carter for heaven sakes. Just let them play the game they love without the pressure of trying to be the next whoever. I suspect they will surprise us all. I suspect people will say. “That Handre Pollard is something hey. I bet if a young Dan Carter saw him play he’d want to be just like him!”