SupeRugby 2016 – Not so Super

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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…

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Australian Referees Echo Location Decision Impact Chart Kinetic System (AREDICKS)

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Objective –

To thoroughly test the efficacy of echo location in decision making for referees and television match officials with questionable eyesight and depth perception.

Procedure –

We, AREDICKS, will implement the system on a trial basis in 2015. The trials will be held at the Allianz Stadium in Sydney Australia and at MIB stadium in Melbourne during the Waratahs and Rebels home games against South African opposition, the Sharks and the Bulls respectively. The officials selected will be required to use the echo-location techniques detailed below when required to make decisions that materially affect the visiting teams’ chances of winning the game.

Technique A – When the visiting team appear to be at the start of an exciting attacking backline manoeuvre, the referee will close his eyes and make clicking sounds with his tongue and fingers. Based on the feedback he gets from these echo-location clicks, he will then rule that the pass was indeed forward.

Technique B – When the visiting team appear to have made a perfectly legitimate steal on the ground, the referee will again close his eyes and make the same clicking sounds with his tongue and fingers, based on the feedback he will then award a penalty to the home team.

Technique C – When the visiting team appear to have scored from a driving mall, the referee will refer the decision to the television match official after determining by means of a series of clicks that he cannot refute the try himself. The TMO will then close his eyes, and point his face at the television alongside him. He will then make a predetermined series of clicking sounds with his tongue in the direction of the television and based on his feedback will determine whether or not the ball has been grounded and whether or not the try should have been awarded.

Technique D – When the visiting team is suspected of foul play, the referee will refer the decision to the television match official after determining, by means of a series of clicks with his eyes closed, that he cannot issue a sanction of foul play himself. The TMO will then repeat the procedures per Technique C,and will determine  that foul play did indeed occur, and will recommend a yellow or red card.

Conclusion –

We, AREDICKS, will analyse the data after each game and thereafter a decision will be made, using a series of clicking sounds pointed at each other to judge each other’s’ facial expressions to determine whether or not the AREDICKS system should be implemented in all Australian refereeing training programs for officials with questionable eyesight and depth perception.

Mediocrity Sucks…

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In September or October 2013 I joined a gym called OTG Athletic in Umhlanga. I’d tried a few commercial gyms before that and I can tell you with reasonable certainty that everything you’ve heard about commercial gyms is true. They are truly wretched places.

Firstly I’d say 90% of the people in commercial gyms are going through the motions because their doctor told them to and will be replaced in a few weeks by more of the same doing the same thing, 8% are there to flex and be seen in their new gear, and about 2% are actually there to get stronger and fitter. There are too many people there, too much sweat, too many TV’s and adverts and silly machines that don’t actually do anything. They stink of mediocrity.

You might say this is unfair, especially if you own or work at one of these gyms, you might say that you provide a great service to unfit people, and you’re right, you do. However, commercial gyms are precisely that, commercial. They exist to make money from the 80% of people who are signed up but never attend. If all the members actually went to gym it’d be too full for anyone to do anything.

So after trying the commercial gym thing and being totally put off by it. I returned to my sedentary life. My girlfriend at the time convinced me to do a kettlebell class with her at Fluxmotion Umhlanga after an unrelated health scare. I actually enjoyed for a while. It was all kettlebell and body weight exercises and a good start I suppose. We went for a few months and started to see results, if a bit slowly. The issue I have with kettlebells is that the primary movement in most of the exercises seems designed to set off my lower back spasm.

After our wedding we went to a few more classes until we heard about a new gym down the road being opened by one of the trainers we often saw at Flux. It was called OTG Athletic, which stands for Off the Grid. Lil Bianchi and Terrence Mitchell were responsible and we were amongst their first clients.

I’ll never forget my first session there. Well, to be honest it is more of a montage of the first few months. It brought to bare the stark reality of just how weak I actually was. I could barely do ten push-ups and a pull-up or chin-up? Don’t be silly.

I kept going and to be honest, I don’t think it was because I had a program tailored to my specific needs, or that my sessions were booked in advance. I kept going back because everyone else in the gym was stronger than me, at least at the beginning. I kept going back because there was no prancing and flexing or going through the motions.  I kept going back because the workouts were simple, there are no fancy machines, just weights, bars and benches. Everybody in the gym was there to get stronger. Everybody was in the gym to get better, fitter and healthier. It isn’t an underground bodybuilders’ or powerlifters’ gym specifically either. It was, and is still, just filled with people who want to get stronger.

Results took time but they came. I am stronger; I can do many, many more than 10 push ups. And I can do pull-ups and chin-ups as well. I have some pretty good targets I’m trying to hit. I’m not the weakest person in the gym anymore, but I’m still way off being the strongest. I had to join another gym for a short while because I’d moved and Umhlanga was too far. That gym was always empty and when it wasn’t, I was the strongest person in it. I didn’t like that. It made me want to go home and eat pies. At OTG I got my results because I was constantly challenged by my environment and the people in it.

And that brings me to the issue I have with the new SupeRugby format they’re introducing in 2016. Like the wretched commercial gym it is going to be filled with too much stuff. There are too many games, too many teams, too many adverts but most importantly, there are not enough good players. With that dilution of the player pool we’re going to end up in a situation where people like me, the average Joe at a gym full of strong people, ends up at another gym full of even more average people and end up being the strongest, and visa-versa, you’ll get the strongest guy at gym full of strong people going to one where everyone is average. Chances are, instead of being challenged and getting stronger and better as he would when surrounded by players better and stronger than him, he’ll end up complacent and instead want to go home and eat some pies.

To excel strength needs to be matched against strength. Strength needs to be challenged to better itself. There are few better ways to weaken something than to dilute it. Just ask any curry. Instead of strength you’re faced with mediocrity, and I don’t know about you, but that’s not something I want to watch.

My team selection – Cell C Sharks vs The Hurricanes

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Being a confused selector is probably the toughest job in the world; just ask any badly programmed automatic gearbox. No matter how powerful the engine or aerodynamic the body, if the gearbox throws you into 6th gear when you should be in 2nd, you won’t be going anywhere fast…

So, in the interests of all involved I’ve decided to help the Sharks pick their team for this weekend’s game vs the Hurricanes.

To be clear, i have no qualifications as a team selector, nor do i pretend to know any more about anything than any body else. These are just my opinions so take them with however much salt you wish.

I’ve selected what I think will be the most defensively sound backline available and due to the lack of loose forward cover I’ve picked Andre Estherhuysen on the bench as cover. He has the size and speed to cover and did so last year with varying degrees of effectiveness. His defensive skills at 12 have been found wanting but that hasn’t been entirely his fault as there is no real backline defensive organiser in the mould of a Brad Barritt or Jaque Fourie.

Frans Steyn will have to take up the role of defensive organiser. Fred Zeilinga deserves another crack. He has been unfairly thrown into the fire, bypassing the frying pan completely. With the more experienced head of Frans outside him it should give him a bit more confidence and take some of the pressure off.

Conrad Hoffman has been the back up 9 to Reinach in the last few games, but he has been found wanting in all areas, therefore it is time to pick the youngster Ungerer and see how he performs.

The backline desperately needs a reshuffle with JP on the wing and Sithole at 13 which is without a doubt his best position. Odwa should continue at fullback in the absence of SP Marais and Jaco van Tonder.

As a side note, I would have selected Heimar Williams either as my starting 13 or on the bench in place of Waylon Murray whom I feel has added nothing to the squad all year.

15. Odwa Ndungane 14. JP Pietersen 13. Sbura Sithole 12. Francois Steyn 11. Lwazi Mvovo 10. Fred Zeilinga 9. Stefan Ungerer 8. Renaldo Bothma 7. Willem Alberts 6. Marcell Coetzee 5. Marko Wentzel 4. Etienne Oosthuisen 3. Jannie du Plessis 2. Bismarck du Plessis 1. Beast Mtawarira 16. Kyle Cooper / Franco Marais 17. Lourens Adriaandse 18. Dale Chadwick 19. Mouritz Botha 20. Andre Estherhuisen 21. Conrad Hoffman 22. Lionel Cronje 23. Waylon Murray

The Fred Lantern…

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The Green Lantern is an unfairly lambasted movie in my opinion. It has all the elements inherent in any good origin story for a super hero, flawed, hot-headed hero with immense power, love interest, far off planets, space ships, villains and tight crotch punishing outfits.

The story follows a predictable path. Normal guy with issues is minding his own business and then bam! He’s chosen by some force or the other to be a guardian of the universe, not to be confused with guardian of the galaxy, lest we become subject to legal wrangling over naming rights. Once he has his power he has to learn to use it. Enter a montage of training clips where he is mentored by a great and powerful leader. He is constantly reminded about how great the guy before him was and how he’ll never be able to fill his shoes and at first he fails and is useless, and then slowly but surely he masters his powers and you think he is going to become the hero that he is destined to be. Then he faces a powerful foe and is beaten, or something, loses his confidence and runs away like a little b*tch.

After some soul searching the hero realises that it is within himself to triumph over evil, that all that stands between him and the hero he so desperately wishes he could be is his own fear, his own doubts in his own abilities. In a crescendo of uplifting music and slow motion action shots, he takes his place besides the other Green Lanterns after re-earning their trust by doing something selfless and saving the day. He gets the girl and a standing ovation for being the awesome guy that he is.

It isn’t a stretch comparing professional sportspeople with super heroes, especially the flawed ones. Earlier today I read a column by Khanyiso Tshwaku in which he examined the plight of under fire Sharks flyhalf Fred Zeilinga.

Fred has had the unenviable task of filling Pat Lambie’s shoes. Pat is an exceptional rugby player, made even more so by his calm head and eye for space. He seems to have that extra few seconds to make decisions that other players envy. Unfortunately he got injured and Fred had to take over, after very little game time. This came after the Shark’s other flawed heroes were sent to the naughty chair for a few weeks after losing their head, in one instance, and in the other simply being too strong for their own good. Having lost Pat Lambie and Frans Steyn, Fred was asked to take over the mantle and lead the backline unit and he hasn’t been done any favours. He has an inexperienced 12 outside him and an unsettled backline with little to no idea how they’re supposed to be playing. He too is young and lacks experience, yet he was asked to do the impossible.

This is where we find ourselves in his superhero journey. He is down, he is under pressure and he’ll probably be benched this weekend in favour of the returning Frans Steyn. Fred will have time to reflect on what has happened and perhaps, like Ryan Reynolds, he’ll have that moment of clarity that frees his mind so that he might play the way he knows he can.

Hopefully then he’ll get his crescendo of uplifting music and slow motion action shots. Maybe we’ll see him slicing backlines to shreds, making amazing passes, kicking impossible kicks and scoring brilliant tries. Maybe then he’ll get that standing ovation for being the awesome hero he can be!

In the end it will be up to him to make that happen. As for the rest of us, all we can do really is keep supporting the guy and the team, keep going to the games, keep cheering so that maybe he and his team mates know that they are not alone, that they are fighting for something bigger than themselves and whatever nonsense is going on behind the scenes, let them know that we are their fans and are behind them all the way, win or lose.

All That Glitters

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Many years ago I accompanied my aunt, uncle and cousins from Johannesburg on one of their holidays to the KZN South Coast. These holidays were always fun and we got up to the usual mischief kids get up to.

In previous years my uncle had always brought down his Land Cruiser bakkie. It was very uncomfortable. We kids had to sit in the back on small camping chairs, pillows or the floor if none of the former were available. The glutes took a good bashing thanks to the rather unsophisticated suspension and no-nonsense toughness that is inherent in all Land Cruisers (I am a big fan of that no-nonsense toughness, as you may know).

That year however I learned that he’d sold his Land Cruiser and bought a brand new sparkling double cab.

We set off for a day of jet-skiing on the river in the double-cab in moderate comfort; we had seats to sit on and everything. “Good job uncle” I thought as we thundered along to our destination a lot quicker than the Land Cruiser would ever have managed.

We had a great time zooming about on the jet-ski and lost track of time. Time was then brought back into sharp focus when we noticed the tide coming in and realised it was time to get the jet-ski out of the water, and so we encountered the first problem with the sparkly new double cab. For all its sparkliness, it simply couldn’t get the jet-ski and trailer out of the water. There was no traction.

Disaster was avoided thanks to an old Land Rover that appeared to live at the beach. It only had reverse gear, but still had 4×4 and front diff-lock. It pulled the double cab, trailer and jet-ski out of the water with little trouble.

The next time I saw that uncle he’d traded the double-cab in for another Land Cruiser.

This year Gary Gold joined the Sharks with much fanfare after the untimely and unexpected departure of Jake the Snake White. He and the Sharks publicity machine promised a new attacking team. He said the Sharks would focus on being entertaining and that they would score lots of tries!

So in the pre-season that is what they did. They tossed out all of the pragmatic no-nonsense toughness that Jake had tried to instil and instead went about developing a sparkly glittering attack that was supposed to score lots of tries, win games and ultimately win the tournament, making us all happy and content.

Only, like the fancy double-cab, the Sharks didn’t have the necessary tools in their squad to do that. For many years the Sharks method has been a simple one, uncompromising brutal defence, a solid set piece, solid kicking game and lethal counter-attack. The squad was, in effect, like a reliable old Land Cruiser, it might not get you there fast, but it will get you there and back.

Gary Gold and company then asked it to be a Corvette. Only problem was, all the underpinnings, the unsophisticated suspension and big solid chunk of a straight six engine remained. You can’t bolt a Corvette body onto a Land Cruiser and expect it to be a racing car all of a sudden. It will fail miserably, and that is what has happened to the Sharks. They haven’t scored all those tries that they promised, in fact they’ve looked even more one-dimensional, and their once vaunted uncompromisingly brutal defence seems to have been forgotten and they now have the structural rigidity of melted cheese.

They are a Land Cruiser trying to be a Corvette, and they’ve realised this simply cannot work, and so they’re now lost, with no idea what they’re actually supposed to be. I only hope that, like my uncle, they realise their mistake and learn their lessons well. Change is all well and good, but change needs to be planned, and managed. You cannot ignore what your strengths are and play to your weakness, which is just foolish.

Square peg, round hole…

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Rugby is a funny game, from one week to the next a player or team can go from being the toast of the town to just…. Toast…

It’s unfair if you think about it. These guys run out onto the field every week to play a game, sure it’s a game they get paid to play and it’s in essence “a job” but can it ever really be a job?

They say, “find something you love to do for a living and you’ll never work a day in your life”. I love driving fast cars but am yet to find someone willing to pay me to do that, unless of course I buy an M3 and become a pizza delivery man, which in itself would be a pointless exercise because I’d eat all the pizza, get fat and then pay the company back after I got fired.

Rugby players, though, they do get to do what they love but due to the nature of sport, and of fans, I suspect that love for the game could get soured over time. Here’s a scenario for you. A man works in an office as a designer of some sort. He loves designing things and he gets paid to do it because he is very good at it. It makes him happy. How amazing is that.

Then one day the thing he designed is shown to a group of people who love the products the company makes, and they love it! The next day though, the employee is told by his boss that he has to design something else. It isn’t really what he is good at designing but he does it, because it’s his job and he takes pride in what he does. The thing gets shown to that same group of people and they hate it. “It’s ugly they cry, we like the old one! Bring it back, fire the designer!”

The designer was just doing what he was told, but now the job he loves has become a strain, it’s stressing him out because now he has to keep designing ugly things because he’s been told to, and if he doesn’t, they’ll just get somebody else to do it. His job is suddenly on the line and the harder he tries to design the best version of the horrible thing his boss has asked him to design, the harder it becomes and the more negativity he receives.

I think the life of a rugby player can be much the same. Take Bjorn Basson for example. He burst onto the scene as a try scoring dynamo at the Cheetahs. I once watched him score four tries in a losing effort against the Sharks and he made it look effortless. He even became a Springbok. Then the lure of money and big city lights took him to Pretoria and The Bulls. He was told, “listen Bjorn, Morne is going to kick the ball high in the air. You have to run after it and get it back for us”.

I’m sure he must have asked questions like, “but I score lots of tries, why not just give me the ball in some space and let me do that instead?”

They didn’t.

Nevertheless, he worked very hard at becoming the best exponent of kick chasing in the modern game, because he loves the game, but what happened to the try scoring dynamo we all know and love?

A key to managing people is to encourage them to play to their strengths, I believe anyway. One of my bosses once told me I was a square peg in a round hole, and he was probably right. Right now I see too many players in South African rugby who are square pegs in round holes, performing roles that they aren’t suited to because they’re told to or because of “the game-plan” and as a result their natural ability, that thing that made them so good in the first place, is wasted, much like our designer friend I mentioned earlier. Occasionally they get it right, as with Willie Le Roux but that is more the exception than the rule, because most often the flair is replaced by over-coached paint by numbers play, bash the ball up, kick it in the air, chase it, wash, rinse repeat. Eventually the players forget how to see gaps, and run into the guy on either side of the gap instead. Rugby becomes dull, players become nothing more than robots in an effectively designed but ultimately flawed unit.

In New Zealand and Australia individuals with talent are celebrated and encouraged to express it on the field. We can learn a lot from them. They have the structure but keep the vision required to make the game, a game.