Sunday, September 30, 2012

Well done Boks!

Awesome performance by the Boks at Loftus yesterday.

It was a weak Aussie side and they were hit by injuries, but you play the team in front of you.

I thought the Bok loose trio were outstanding, with Francois Louw being brilliant.

I thought Bekker had his best game in a Bok jersey. I have always believed he shirked the hard stuff and hid on the wing. It was fantastic to see him tackling and hitting rucks. It he played like this every time, he'd be the complete number 5.

Habana is playing some of his best rugby again. His work rate was outstanding and he was justly rewarded.

Goosen made a good debut. It was stirring to see his emotion during the anthems and wonderful to see him taking front-foot ball and attacking the gain line. It would be churlish too criticise too much, but I would like to see him straighten his running lines a bit more and commit the opposition defenders.

Ruan Pienaar looked every bit the European player he was during the Heineken Cup. Thank goodness he cleared quickly and gave up his annoying habit of toeing the ball at ruck time.

Taute was good - a solid if unspectacular debut.

Kudos to Jean de Villiers. I thought he read the game brilliantly yesterday. His decisions were made fully aware of opposition players down injured and who was lined up in defence ahead of him.

Finally, if that was the same game plan, then clearly they didn't execute the plan in the earlier games of the rugby championship this season...

Sunday, September 16, 2012


It's Sunday morning and I am still hopping mad.

As someone said, "You don't get many chances at an away win in New Zealand."

And the Boks got plenty in one game.

The word "butcher" was used to describe two missed tries in the match. But the reality is that the Boks butchered their chances in the entire game. And it started with poor selections and tactics. It continued with a brainless stubbornness. It finished with possibly the worst debut in international rugby.


Morne Steyn - does any more need to be said? Meyer must be asking himself whether his loyalty will cost him his job. Steyn's woeful form and one-dimensional play have been on a downward trajectory since the beginning of Meyer's reign.

Zane Kirchner - seriously? You'd select him ahead of Pat Lambie, Frans Steyn, Gio Aplon? He's tall and brave in the air. It ends there.


It was clear the Boks believed the NZ back three were fragile under the high ball. The alternative is that the Boks believe that they are better off opposition mistakes than on their own ball. We know the latter belief is true, and has been true going back to Jake White's time. But let's stick with the first one: after the first 10, no 20, no 30 minutes of faultless fielding of the ball by Dagg, Savea and Jane, wouldn't you think a reconsideration of the tactic is required? As the commentators pointed out, it was very clear the All Blacks were prepared for the tactic. And quite frankly, many of the kicks were too deep and lacked any meaningful chase and contest.

Leaving so many points on the park in missed kicks, surely Meyer could see his flyhalf's confidence was shattered? He admits now that he may have made a mistake. Really? No. The mistake has been persisting since the signs in the Lions tests.

No educated rugby pundit expects the Boks to run the ball from their 22 every time. Tests are about percentages, and kicking for space and the corners is required. But there were few raking kicks driving the opposition back over the course of the last four tests.

The tactics seem so ingrained in the Boks, that one of the European players of the season - Ruaan Pienaar - looks like a poor performing robot.


Meyer believes that Greyling cost the Boks the game. I am glad he has been "credited" with that level of distinction. What a performance. The foul play hit, the missed tackle that cost a try, etc.

But why was he selected? Why was he sent on? Bizarre.


The Bok forwards played very well. I'll be upfront and say I am not a Jannie du Plessis fan. His discipline record is poor. I have similar thoughts about Frik van der Merwe. I thought both had really solid games yesterday - in Jannie's case, despite his hamstring injury. I thought Francois Louw was excellent. I thought Willem Alberts was fantastic. And I thought Duane Vermeulen showed a good level of improvement.

The All Blacks were poor yesterday. However, when they ran the ball, they looked infinitely more threatening than the Boks. As has been mentioned countless times, they run at players' shoulders and look for the offload. They are seldom isolated. And they run good lines in support.

The Bok second phase ball is too slow - and not just because of opposition contest. Pienaar has developed an irritating habit of toeing the ball into the ruck while waiting for his line to form or - more likely - preparing for a kick. There are limited pick-and-goes with quick recycles. There is seldom a supporting player on the shoulder of a runner to either take an offload or clean an opposing defender.

When the Bok line spreads the ball, the individual players seldom attack the gain line and fully commit the opposition defender. As a result the ball usually arrives at the wing with the entire opposition on drift defence. The wing is then left to break inside with everything to do. Frankly, the Bok line looks like they are going through shadow practice.

A better Bok squad

It was great to see Heyneke pick Flo. Maybe he'll be braver in the face of our away results. I shared my run on-team last time. I'll include my bench this time as bracketed replacements.

15. Frans Steyn
14. Francois Hougaard (Lwazi Mvovo)
13. Jean de Villiers
12. Juan de Jongh
11. Bryan Habana
10. Pat Lambie (Johan Goosen)
9. Ruaan Pienaar
8. Duane Vermeulen
7. Willem Alberts (Marcell Coetzee)
6. Francois Louw
5. Bakkies Botha (Frik van der Merwe)
4. Eben Etzebeth
3. Brian Mujati (Jannie du Plessis)
2. Andries Strauss (Deon Fourie)
1. Beast Mtawarira (Gurthro Steenkamp)

Heinrich Brussouw has been back for two matches. I'm torn between him and Coetzee, but I'm going with Coetzee. I think he's been immense in his debut season and Flo plays the fetcher role. Alberts covers lock. I've gone with a five-two split due to the versatility of the backline players. If I went for a four-three split, I'd have Elton Jantjies in the squad.


Plaudits to the New Zealand commentary team - and especially Justin Marshall. They are unbiased in the extreme - to the extent of defending Bok actions and then being shown up by the video footage. They are knowledgeable and a pleasure to listen to.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Smashed in Mendoza

The Boks lost due to an outdated game plan that relies on passion and physicality.
On that most agree.
Of course the Boks go into every game wanting to win and play for their country. But it is impossible to summon that extra amount of guts, commitment and pain required to beat superior tactics, guile and skill every match.
I am worried that Heyneke Meyer's solution is always to call for more passion and commitment.
I think the problem starts with a failure to recognise the elements of a winning game plan. Games plans are not as comprehensive or predetermined as prescribing what happens when. Nick Mallet did a good job of describing some elements in the Supersport studio after the game - structures around rucks, looking for the pass, etc.
I think the first element is to recognise the tackle contest as the cornerstone of the modern game. Recognising this then determines selections and style of play.
The Argentinians managed to get a player over the tackled ball at virtually every instance. It meant South Africa suffered slow ball at almost every point of contact.
Starting with selections - this means selecting players who are able to gain yards through avoiding contact and getting their arms above the tackle to make the pass. For defence, it means selecting players who get over the ball quickly - like De Jongh and Brussouw.
Further to selections, we cannot afford Spies or Bekker - ruck inspectors both. Players like Jacques Potgieter who take contact at every opportunity are also not going to win the battles against players like McCaw and Reid.
For style of play, it means choosing running lines very carefully to avoid isolating players. It also means shifting the point of contact to ensure supporting players can break into space. And it means ensuring players run supporting lines to the ball carrier.
I think the second element of the game is winning rucks. Winning a ruck to ensure quick own ball or quality turnovers is key to creating space and try-scoring opportunities. Of course rucks start as tackle contests. But they are extended by cleaners and pick-and-goes. This requires players who are quick to the point of contact and can impose themselves on the opposition. The Boks are a shadow of the team without Bakkies Botha.
The third element of the game is putting backs into space. There are no peers to the All Blacks in this regard. Williams, Dagg, Carter - they all play off one another, running angled lines after straight running that commits opposition defence.
I don't think the Boks can change their game in this Rugby Championship. Not substantially anyway.
I wish they'd change their selections. My team would be:
15. Frans Steyn
14. Bryan Habana
13. Jean de Villiers
12. Juan de Jongh
11. Francois Hougaard
10. Patrick Lambie
9. Ruaan Pienaar
8. Duane Vermeulen
7. Willem Alberts
6. Francois Louw
5. Bakkies Botha
4. Eben Etzebeth
3. Brian Mujati
2. Andries Strauss
1. Beast Mtawarira

The team lacks an out and out line out specialist, but has plenty of tall timber. All the forwards play to the ball with a good mix of cleaners and fetchers. If Brussouw was available, I'd move Alberts to the bench, Flo Louw to 7, and Brussouw to 6. The pack has a number of European-based players. Bakkies continues to perform and Mujati is the standout player for North Hamps.
Frans Steyn at the back punishes wayward kicks onto the Bok back 3. Hougaard and Habana provide running options. Juan de Jongh is South Africa's best player over the tackled ball and straightens the line. Lambie attacks the gain line more than Morne Steyn and is the form flyhalf in the country right now.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The failure of the Boks' backline defence

Many have blamed Habana for shooting off his line in defence against the All Blacks at FNB Stadium and allowing the equalising try. The actual failure happened due to De Jongh tackling in. De Villiers then looped round and tried to frantically wave Habana to drift. It was De Jongh's error after sterling work over the whole match. It was an error caused by lack of an established partnership in the centres.

Don't underestimate the importance of understanding amongst backs on defence.

Years ago Western Province had Jaco Taute and Christian Scholtz as centres. They had played together since school and exhibited an uncanny feel for what the other would do. Neither were as much of a threat apart - on defence or attack.

Further, the defence takes alignment off an organizer in the backs - typically an outside back. Breyton Paulse was one of the best organisers of the rush. Jaques Fourie has played the role more recently, although the Boks have rushed less and organised the drift.

It's hard to blame the coaches for the centre partnership. They were robbed of choice by Jacques Fourie's suspension and Wynand Olivier's failure at stepping up. Fourie would have offered either the established Stormers' duo or the old firm together with De Villiers.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

First mobile blog - Pre-kickoff australia vs south africa

Right. Since I have no time anymore, I'm trying something new. Micro-blog snippets via mobile.

It's minutes to go before the third tri-nations test of 2010 against australia.

We've had to endure three weeks of hell. Two pathetic efforts against a much improved all blacks team.

All credit to the all blacks. They look a different team from last year. The soaring springboks seem to have inspired them to lift their intensity. It seems true that new zealand loves nothing more than a real challenge against the old enemy.

What a pity the boks failed to show the same spirit in attacking the number one irb spot. Instead they lacked intensity - nowhere more evident than their missed tackle stats.

But let's also highlight the form of some passengers: januarie, spies and smit are completely off.

De villiers only knows why januarie has sniffed a bok place. His service is atrocious and his tactical kicking worse.

Spies maybe the most over-rated bok in history. Yes his pace and athleticism are impressive. But he DOES disappear in tight games. And not only is his missed tackle count is alarming: he misses the crucial tackles.

Smit is still the best choice as captain. Although schalk must rate as up and coming based on the s14 stormers performance. But smit is overweight and missing tackles as a result.

Anyway, the game about to start. Key issue today is the crazy selection of kankowski on the flank. Why they dropped louw only the coaching staff know. Replacing spies would have been much better.

The other issue is the defensive alignment. It's been terrible. And more and more I believe muir's poor coaching performance is evident.

Let's hope the boks step up today.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

My rugby dream

If only...

The top Super format was the Super 10. Super rugby should be a short, intense, strength-verus-strength reward for the best teams from each of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. I think a format of the best 3 from each country plus the winner of a playoff each year between the 4th best from each country would do wonders in destroying any complacency that might exist amongst the stragglers.

Imagine: on the results of last year's Currie Cup, the Bulls, Cheetahs and Stormers would respresent SA - the Sharks would have to play off against the 4th best from the New Zealnd NPC and the Ausssie - oh I forgot the Aussies don't have a domestic competition. Imagine the pressure in Australia to create a viable doemstic competition? Imagine the rewards for the Cheetahs for being third in the Currie Cup?

Less Super Rugby would also free up our overplayed top players. It would make 9 Super games all the more special. And imagine space in the South African TV calendar for a club competition along the lines of the revolutionary Varsity Cup.

What of space for the Southern Kings? I believe making the Super 14 more exclusive and fixing a tiered Currie Cup would be the answer. A plan must be made - leaving such a vast geographical part of our country out of rugby is crazy. While Griquas are amazing for their giant killing stature, players from that region could feed Free State. A franchise system that ensures development happens and feeding happens across our country is key.

While I might be right and the above might be the answer, the regional governance structures make realising this the equivilent of turkeys voting for Christmas.

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Stormers - tolerating mediocrity for far too long

Today's match against the Waratahs might be the worst rugby match I have ever seen.

The Stormers did the equivalent of arriving at work at 09h00, playing minesweeper, taking lunch, going to the sick room for a lie down and leaving at 17h00.

These guys are supposed to be professionals. So treat them that way. Pack some on the plane home. Fire some and never consider them for colours again. Jeez, in business I'd withhold salary for their being absent.

The sad fact is that the Stormers have been in terminal decline for years. And the reason is clear to see. Tolerance of mediocrity.

I groaned when the Stormers had their second loss of the season and Jean de Villiers claimed the performance was pretty good but the result had just not gone their way. He asked the crowd to continue supporting the team. Today he smiled in the post match interview, claimed they were happy with the defensive performance, they could take heart from the defensive strength and that they had improved from last week. And he "joked" that the Waratah's turnovers may not have been legal.

Jean you're a nice guy but you deserved a punch. Fact is you have captained the team to 5 losses from 7 starts. Not once have you showed any regret or that losing any game is just not good enough. And when you're losing, it's best to keep your mouth shut about refs and other teams.

But Jean is just the idiot we have to endure during the post match speeches.

Naqelevuki is the incompetent clown who's laughing all the way to the bank on his expat salary earned for a stroll around the park. Januarie's money is clearly not making it to the bank - the pie shop on the corner must be raking in record profits.

Jake White was right. Schalk Brits might as well be playing for the other side in scrums and line outs. Did someone say, "But what a lovely goose step?" If the backs could actually rely on seeing their fellow backs inside and outside them, perhaps they'd look a bit more confident and make a few yards. Brits and Bekker's athleticism might be wonderful for men of their position's but let's measure our players on their primary responsibilities. I'll give Bekker a break because he's got a sore toe and not on the tour, but Brits should join him on the couch back home. His lineouts and scrumming are diabolical.

Watson is one of our best performers in the loose. And he looks like one of the few players who is playing 80 minutes and exerting himself. But jeez, Luke please try passing the ball when you're in the line.

The Stormers cry foul at the mention of their "light five" tag, but as they pull their heads out their arses - where the Waratah's shoved them - I'd like to hear them to cry contrary.

But let's not exonerate the backs. When last did you see a Stormer chase a kick? When did you see a back run onto the ball, straighten the line and draw his man rather than flip a gentle pass towards the wing along with 15 opposition players. Let's face it, the Stormers look as likely to score a try from phase and set play as Bafana are to win the world cup.

Rassie you're a nice guy too. You claimed the side lacked a little belief in your post match interview. Not good enough mate. You have two Springbok assistant coaches on your team. You have a Springbok-studded side. You talk about poor execution of tactics and positional kicking. Take responsibility. Hold players accountable.

Guys. You're not far off the time the Newlands crowd booed the team and Gert Smal off the park. Frankly you're lucky you're overseas.

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