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April 22, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/22/2012

Why Meyer wants Matfield back


Will Victor Matfield lead the Springboks in their three-Test series with England? © Getty Images

Writing for The Independent in South Africa, Gavin Rich ponders the Springboks' leadership issue.

"Last year’s understrength away leg of the Tri-Nations, of which Van der Merwe was a part, showed us the extent of the shortfall of experience in a Bok team that had been dominated for several years by the core of the group blooded by Jake White in 2004.

"So yes, while there are good locks coming through, and there is validity to the call for Meyer to start with a new group, as White did eight years ago, there is just enough room for the new coach to claim that Matfield is a necessary inclusion in the playing group.

"The blame for Meyer’s desire to have someone he knows well helping him steer the Boks in this difficult first year lies not with him but with the officials responsible for the coaching appointments.

"Meyer lost out to Peter de Villiers in 2008 and hasn’t done much at the coalface of top-level rugby since then, so he is right when he says he doesn’t know the current players (outside of those from the Bulls).

"It would have been different four years ago, when Meyer would have been better prepared for the job than he is now."

March 30, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/30/2012

SARU unlikely to address Kings conundrum

Iol.co.za previews the likely course of the South African Rugby Union's annual general meeting in Cape Town on Friday.

"With a number of pressing issues facing South African rugby, it is unlikely that the SA Rugby Union (Saru) will resolve two of the most important concerns at its annual general meeting in Cape Town on Friday.

"The participation of the Southern Kings and a proposed Super Rugby expansion are hanging in limbo after an expected meeting with Sanzar partners Australia and New Zealand was rescheduled indefinitely earlier this month.

"Time is also quickly running out to appoint Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s assistant coaches, with only two months left to prepare for a three-Test series against England in June.

"Rather than fast-tracking these issues, Saru is expected to present its financial statements on Friday and to vote on two vacant positions on the executive committee."

February 2, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/02/2012

I feel sorry for Heyneke


Former Boks boss Peter de Villiers feels harshly treated by the South African Rugby Union © Getty Images

Former South Africa coach Peter de Villiers reflects on the decision to hand Heyneke Meyer the Springboks' reins. Supersport's Brenden Nel reports.

“I feel sorry for Heyneke, because he is starting on the back foot. The franchises are already set for the new season and know the news that a new team will come into Super Rugby. The franchises will now play their players down the drain to survive, to make sure they aren’t in that bottom spot,” De Villiers said.

“It will be a very tough year and Heyneke was only appointed now. He couldn’t sit down and talk to the franchises before they did their planning in place. He couldn’t sit down and reveal his plans and discuss with them.”

"But De Villiers followed it up with a bizarre broadside at his former employers, saying that there was no exit strategy for him, his management or Bok captaincy duo of John Smit and Victor Matfield.

“Nobody spoke to me about it since I came back from the World Cup. Nobody spoke to me. Perhaps I shouldn’t speak about it, because if I speak about it, people think I am lobbying for a job. I am not criticising, this is a big organisation and there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes, but it doesn’t take much to be professional and sit down and say “listen here, we don’t think that we are going to renew your contract”. Then give you the reasons for it. Then you can move on,” De Villiers explained."


January 27, 2012

Posted by tom.hamilton on 01/27/2012

Back to basics

The Star's Mike Greenaway provides his take on the imminent appointment of Heyneke Meyer as Springboks coach.

"The irony of the expected appointment of Heyneke Meyer as Springbok coach on Friday afternoon is that it is an indirect admission of guilt by the South African Rugby Union (Saru) that they chose the wrong man in 2008 to succeed Jake White.

Meyer was the hot favourite back then because of the dynasty he had built at the Bulls, only for the unheralded Peter de Villiers to pop up from obscurity to trump Meyer – with the help of an administration that admitted the decision was about “more than rugby”.

Four years later, the tables have been turned. De Villiers reapplied for his old job, but it is understood that that he was never in the picture after a sometimes bizarre reign that saw the Boks hit rare heights of success in one season only to hit rock bottom the next, with the whole shabang crashing down to earth after a humiliating quarter-final exit at last year’s Rugby World Cup."


January 26, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/26/2012

Matfield to return?

Victor Matfield could come out of retirement, but only if Heyneke Meyer is indeed unveiled as the new Springbok coach on Friday. The Star's Vata Ngobeni reports.

"If Matfield is to return under Meyer it would probably be for a season or two just for Meyer to get to grips with the structure at national level and it would also solve the big dilemma of who the next Springbok captain will be.

“Everyone knows what I think about Heyneke, but we must wait until Friday (tomorrow) before we talk about it. Let’s wait and see what happens, we will talk. Everything has consequences. Playing? I don’t know but we will see. It depends if he wants me. I really don’t know, it is difficult to say ...,” Matfield said.

"The 34-year-old is certain to feature in Meyer’s Springbok management structure if he is not asked to play, probably as technical advisor or line-out consultant.

"However, the fact that Matfield has already signed a lucrative television contract with SuperSport as one of their pundits will make Matfield’s dream of being the outright Springbok captain almost impossible."

January 25, 2012

Posted by tom.hamilton on 01/25/2012

When revenge goes too far

Chris Rattue, in his column for the New Zealand Herald, provides his take on the backlash Bryan Lawrence has experienced after the World Cup quarter-final he presided over.

"How comforting to know that other countries do bitter and twisted as well as we do. The bile-spitting South Africans who employed their internet skills against referee Bryce Lawrence have even outdone our lot who claimed, incorrectly, that Wayne Barnes alone stuffed up the All Blacks' 2007 World Cup campaign.

Not that it pays to judge a Bok by this sort of coverage - I'm sure that a lot of South African supporters understand their World Cup ground to a halt in Wellington because dinosaur forwards were hitched to one-dimensional backs. They had opportunities aplenty to win that quarter-final against Australia, just as the All Blacks did against France in Cardiff four years earlier”


January 19, 2012

Posted by tom.hamilton on 01/19/2012

PDV back in the hot-seat?


Peter de Villiers may make a sensational comeback to the Springboks © Getty Images

Supersport claims that Peter de Villiers could be asked to take control of the Springboks for their summer Tests against England.

"The South African Rugby Union (Saru) could spring a massive surprise next week and retain incumbent Springbok coach Peter de Villiers as a caretaker coach for the upcoming three-test series against England.

This is one of the options being mulled as the deadline to appoint the new Bok coach fast approaches, with all three of the contenders on the shortlist currently under contract at other Rugby Unions.

According to top sources close to the process, this is more than just a possibility at the moment. Saru have previously indicated that they are aiming for January 27 as the date to ratify the appointment of the coach, after receiving the recommendation a day earlier. But if the right candidate cannot be secured by this date, this proposed option has been put forward as an alternative, to ensure the Springboks get the right coach for the future."


January 12, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/12/2012

Rassie: Eternal man of mystery

Sport24's Rob Houwing offers his take on Rassie Erasmus' exit from Tge Stormers.

"When he first came to Newlands in his new, cerebral post, he quickly held a refreshing, well-attended evening at the stadium with one of the WP supporters’ clubs, outlining his philosophy and even using some fascinating video footage of match-play to back up his thoughts. Why, even some journalists were invited!

"It seemed the dawn of exciting times.

"But almost since then, it seems as if he retreated, consciously or otherwise, ever more profoundly back within himself, shirking public attention and certainly ducking the press even more resolutely.

"Even at Stormers training sessions, Erasmus often seemed happiest cantering around amidst his beloved Under-21s, leaving Coetzee and others to handle the communications spotlight ... perhaps even lopsidedly to the level of the players themselves?

"Like it or not, the media in all its expanding forms remains an important conduit to the rugby public, yet the newspaper stories following his resignation have placed heavy emphasis on his “struggle to handle the constant media pressure”.

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/12/2012

Business as usual for Stormers

Supersport.com's Gavin Rich reflects on the void left by Rassie Erasmus at The Stormers.

"It would be naïve to suggest the DHL Stormers won’t be affected by the resignation of Rassie Erasmus, but the many supporters who watched a training session in Hermanus on Wednesday would not have left the primary school venue feeling too downcast about their team’s prospects for the coming season.

"There was an impressive level of energy and graft as the Stormers players toiled under the hot January sun, their coaches enthusiastically barking out instructions as the serious part of the build-up to the new season begins.

"The coach directing onfield operations was Allister Coetzee, which is one of the reasons there shouldn’t be too much panic."

December 7, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/07/2011

Timing of coach appointment tells a story

Supersport's Gavin Rich reflects on the latest developments in the race to be the next South Africa coach.

"The chances of Rassie Erasmus being involved in the Springbok coaching announcement, which is now scheduled for 27 January, appear to have diminished with confirmation that the director of rugby role we have been speculating about is not quite what we thought it was.

"Erasmus had been linked in some reports since the World Cup with a new position that will be created by the South African Rugby Union in 2012. With his technical abilities and his proven record as a director of rugby at Western Province, Erasmus, who did wonders as Peter de Villiers’s technical adviser in 2011, was considered the perfect candidate to take on a role similar to that being filled by Rob Andrew at England.

"However, Saru officials have made it known that the position they have been talking about is not the same as director of rugby. It is not on the same level, and while some coaching ability and knowledge may be a pre-requisite, the new position is going to be more of an administrative one."

November 14, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/14/2011

'He wasn't here to shoot be, but Solly'

The Daily Voice sheds some light on the fatal shooting of former Springboks flanker Solly Tyibilika who died of his wounds in Cape Town on Sunday.

"One witness was in the shebeen when two men walked in and blasted Solly to death.

"One of them came to me and told me to ‘move to the side’. He said he wasn’t here to shoot me, but Solly who was sitting behind me,” the witness, who did not want to be identified, told the Daily Voice.

“I ran and went under the table and then I heard them shooting too many rounds to count.

“After that they left, but I was too scared to move and I could hear him (Tyibilika) struggle to breathe.

“I waited until people came to see what happened and ran to my car and went home.”

"The Gugulethu man insists the murder was a clear hit."

November 4, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/04/2011

Div will apply for Bok job


Peter de Villiers insists he has some unfinished business with the Springboks © Getty Images

Peter de Villiers has declared his intention to re-apply to be Springboks coach after it appeared his tenure had come to an end. Supersport's Gavin Rich reports.

"...But after four years of growing into the job, De Villiers believes he has the credentials to continue if the South African Rugby Union want him to, and the manner of the Bok exit from the World Cup has made him keen to do so.

“Not winning the World Cup makes me feel like there is unfinished business, that the story isn’t finished. So if they call for applications for the Springbok job I will definitely apply for it. Why not? I have enjoyed doing the job and it was a privilege for me to serve my country. If I apply and my application is not accepted that is fine, I will accept what is good for South African rugby and move on. The next coach will have my full support.”

"De Villiers’s desire to continue has been heightened by the bizarre manner of his team’s exit from the World Cup, with the Boks dominating the game and referee Bryce Lawrence later being widely condemned by the world rugby media for the way he handled it.

"“I don’t want to make excuses. We got knocked out and as I said when we got back from overseas, a quarterfinal defeat wasn’t good enough and we failed the nation. But what was so frustrating was that we appeared to be peaking at the right time, and there was still room for further growth. I feel the story has been left unfinished,” he said."

November 3, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/03/2011

Coetzee, Rassie tipped to lead Boks


Stormers boss Allister Coetzee is favourite to take charge of the Springboks © Getty Images

Iol.co.za's Ashfak Mohamed reports on the battle to be the new Springboks coach.

"Despite John Mitchell’s success with the Lions in the Currie Cup, Rassie Erasmus and Allister Coetzee are the favourites to run Springbok rugby from next year.

"A source in the top echelons of the South African Rugby Union (Saru) has said that Western Province and Stormers coach Coetzee is regarded as the “No 1 choice” to replace Peter de Villiers as Bok coach, with Erasmus earmarked for a new post of Saru director of rugby.

"It is understood that all national team coaches will report to Erasmus, although it is unclear exactly what the director’s role and jurisdiction will be.

"At this moment, Allister is still the No 1 choice to be the Springbok coach,” the source said."

August 30, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/30/2011

Everything's going to plan

Writing for the Independent Online, Kevin McCallum reports from the Sprginboks' official send off ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

"So,the secret is out. The man around whom the Springbok defensive line will revolve is apparently, if allegedly, a blood relation of the coach. At least that’s what Jean de Villiers told the leader of South Africa when they met at the Presidential Guest House yesterday.

"Asked by President Jacob Zuma at a farewell function if he was family of Dawie de Villiers – the former Springbok and National Party MP – South Africa’s inside centre pointed at his coach, Peter de Villiers, and said: “No, I’m related to him.” Zuma has probably not giggled so much since that little meeting in Polokwane a few years ago.

"It was a quintessential South African moment. The tall, blond, white guy from Paarl and the short, coloured man from Paarl, related via a sport and a jersey that was once the symbol of all that was white and wrong about South Africa. Four years ago Thabo Mbeki sent the Boks on their way to France and told them to let him take care of any political nonsense from back home. Yesterday afternoon Peter, he of the broader and colour-bar crossing De Villiers clan, said, with a small smile, that the president had told him the country was behind him, and if that wasn’t fact then the leader of the nation wasn’t speaking the truth.

"The truth is that the Springboks will leave for Wellington on Thursday with the hopes of 50-million South Africans and the history of 1995 and 2007 on their shoulders. The importance and the significance of rugby to South Africa, its power to divide and unite, cannot be underestimated. The pressure of leading the team that has that power is intense."

August 26, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/26/2011

Van der Westhuizen receives stem cell therapy

Joost van der Westhuizen, the South African rugby player recently diagnosed with fatal motor neurone disease, is undergoing experimental stem cell therapy in a bid to slow its progress. Aislinn Laing reports for the Daily Telegraph.

"The 40-year-old former scrum half, who won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, is the first South African to test a technique pioneered by British neuroscientist Dr Steve Ray.

"The procedure is said to have produced "encouraging" results elsewhere in the world and involved the removal of fat from the stomach using the same method as liposuction.

"The substance was then sent to a stem cell laboratory where mesenchymal stem cells, which migrate to damaged tissue and repair it, were extracted. The cells were then reinjected into Mr van de Westhuizen's weak thigh and arm muscles.

"Mr Van der Westhuizen, a father-of-two who was capped 89 times for the Springboks and scored 38 tries, underwent the procedure in South Africa two weeks ago after meeting specialists in Ohio, USA, to discuss his options.

"The trip followed the confirmation in July that he had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease also known as Lou Gehrig's disease after the US baseball player that also suffered from it. "

August 11, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 08/11/2011

Transformation

Craig Ray, writing for the South African Times, picks over the controversial issue of transformation in the Currie Cup.

"South African rugby this week ducked its head below the parapet over the lack of black player representation in the Currie Cup and in professional rugby generally.

It was left to Sharks coach John Plumtree to defend the status quo.

The Sharks started the furore by picking an all-white team against the Blue Bulls in round one, prompting SA Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins to angrily fire off letters to the 14 provincial presidents.

What the letters said has not been disclosed, but it's not the first time Hoskins has complained to the provinces and it's not the first time they have ignored him."

August 1, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/01/2011

So what did Bok fans expect?

Supersport's Gavin Rich picks through the pieces of the Springboks' fruitless Tri-Nations travels.

"Once the decision to keep the key players in the anticipated World Cup squad at home to be rehabilitated after a long Super Rugby season and to work on strategy and aspects of conditioning under the watch of technical adviser Rassie Erasmus had been taken, the tour was always going to be one to just get through.

As in 2007, when Jake White made the same decision and took a side equally lacking in international experience on the away leg, the results became less significant. His team lost to Australia and New Zealand by similar scores to the ones that this team lost by, but there arguably wasn’t the same backlash from the public than there has been to the most recent trip.

Perhaps it is because this squad went overseas with heightened expectations, some would say unrealistic expectations, that this has been so. White's team in 2007 had already been outplayed at home by the All Blacks when they departed, so there was greater acceptance that the Tri-Nations should effectively be sacrificed.

But while it is true that, as Bok coach Peter de Villiers says, some of the form players from the Super Rugby season were in the group that toured, a close look at the team that lost 40-7 to the All Blacks shows this not to be the case."

July 31, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/31/2011

Abysmal Boks

Liam del Carme, writing for the South African Times, picks apart South Africa's dismal Tri-Nations performance.

"In the wreckage that is their Tri-Nations misadventure Down Under, the Springbok brains trust will find some home truths that will greatly influence the remainder of their term in office.

Apart from handing the Wallabies and the All Blacks momentum, the Springboks now also run the risk of being exposed on home soil which will further fuel their Sanzar partners' furnace heading into the World Cup.

Of course, the Bok selectors can call for the cavalry in the form of the Rustenburg 21 for the home Tests but if the point was not underlined sufficiently in Super Rugby, it was drummed home in the last two matches that the Springboks antiquated game plan needs renewal."

July 29, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/29/2011

No fantasy Boks

Simnikiwe Xabanisa, writing for the South African Times , picks apart the Springboks.

"As the Springbok coach and captain groped for elusive positives from their defeat against the Wallabies last weekend, one couldn't help but reach the illogical conclusion that they could also be telling us: "We told you so."

One of our national pastimes appears to be putting together teams based on form. If our armchair selections are anything to go by, we live and die by the adage that you're only as good as the last quarter you played.

Our many Bok barometers, which hardly ever feature regular Springboks, and the fact that we complain about Sarel Pretorius's omission - when the truth is he would be hard-pressed to make a similar impact at test level as he did in Super rugby - tend to confirm this.

Former Springbok coach Jake White used to say the best players don't always make the best teams."

July 27, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/27/2011

Boks too old fashioned?

Peter Bills, writing for The Independent , ponders whether South Africa's brand of rugby is good enough to win the World Cup

"Can South Africa defy the modern conventions and ways of an entire sport in their World Cup campaign?

The question comes ever more urgently into mind in the light of their opening Tri-Nations defeat by Australia in Sydney last weekend.

It is clear that New Zealand and Australia are playing a completely different game to the South Africans. They seek to utilise the opportunities afforded by the new law interpretations by keeping possession and attacking mostly with ball in hand.

By contrast, the South African game does not appear to have moved forward hardly one iota since 2007 when they won a kicking dominated World Cup by playing tactically, relying on their impressive line-out for solid, consistent possession, driving the ball on by hammering into the opposition and landing copious numbers of penalty goals."

July 26, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/26/2011

Opportunity Boks


Springboks youngster Patrick Lambie could get his chance against New Zealand on Saturday © Getty Images
Writing for Sport24 Gary Boshoff says South Africa's second string must take the chances afforded to them by a flawed selection policy.
"The moment the Springbok touring squad for the away-leg of the Tri-Nations was announced we knew that the team was going to struggle against their Antipodean rivals.

"In fact, after this past weekend’s demolition job by the Aussies things are looking even more ominous (for the Springboks) for the upcoming All Black Test - no surprises there at all.

"So let’s not waste any time on this subject, that is, unless of course you are an opportunistic Peter de Villiers or John Smit pet-hater.

"However, what I’ve found very disappointing about the weekend’s performance is the lack of application and urgency shown by the Springbok second stringers in this golden opportunity to stake a claim for a spot in the RWC squad."

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/26/2011

Boks playing in the past

And Bills also pens his thoughts on South Africa's World Cup chances for the Independent.

"Can South Africa defy the modern conventions and ways of an entire sport in their World Cup campaign?

"The question comes ever more urgently into mind in the light of their opening Tri-Nations defeat by Australia in Sydney last weekend.

"It is clear that New Zealand and Australia are playing a completely different game to the South Africans. They seek to utilise the opportunities afforded by the new law interpretations by keeping possession and attacking mostly with ball in hand.

"By contrast, the South African game does not appear to have moved forward hardly one iota since 2007 when they won a kicking dominated World Cup by playing tactically, relying on their impressive line-out for solid, consistent possession, driving the ball on by hammering into the opposition and landing copious numbers of penalty goals."

July 25, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/25/2011

De Villiers must be ruthless


South Africa have much to ponder ahead of their match against the All Blacks © Getty Images

South Africa coach Peter De Villiers must make ringing changes to the Springboks squad with a host of players simply not up to Test standard, according to Chris Ray in the South African Times.

"Springboks coach Peter de Villiers needs to rethink about those he has put faith in over the past few seasons if the Boks are serious about retaining the Rugby World Cup. In Saturday's humiliating 39-20 defeat by the Wallabies in Sydney, several players did enough to play themselves out of World Cup contention as the Boks slumped to their sixth Tri-Nations defeat in their last seven matches.

"Losing was no surprise, but the nature of the defeat was worrying. Australia led 39-6 and took their foot off the pedal with 25 minutes to go. In that time, the Boks scored two consolation tries to add a little respectability to the final score.

"Deon Stegmann is no test-quality openside flank. He was anonymous as the Boks were beaten at the breakdown, with the Wallabies turning them over at will."

July 24, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/24/2011

Bok-up your ideas

South Africa's humbling defeat to Australia should be a cause for great concern for the reigning World Champions, according to Rob Houwing of Sport24.

"Let’s not beat about the bush: this was a heavier defeat for the under-strength Springboks than most of us would have wished.

"I wrote earlier this week that the Samoan reverse for the Wallabies had been an ominous development from a Bok point of view, because of the backlash likelihood at ANZ Stadium – and it came, alright.

"Australia produced some of their most compelling, trademark ball-in-hand play as they ran in five tries en route to a 39-20 Castle Tri-Nations win, and when they banked the bonus point as worrisomely early as the 48th minute, uncomfortable memories of 49-0 in Brisbane five years ago flickered anew for South Africans.

"There’s a case, too, for saying that the game as a whole should best be judged on roughly that chunk of the match, because its one-sidedness put the Wallabies in a position to begin pulling off key customers for challenges ahead; rhythm and continuity was affected as a result.

"And up to that point and a little beyond it, there had been more than enough evidence for supporters of the World Cup champions’ cause to shake their heads in trepidation and depression."

July 21, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/21/2011

New look Boks

Simnikiwe Xabanisa, of the South AfricanTimes, eagerly anticipates seeing the new look Springbok XV take on Australia on Saturday.

"The South African sports fan is a beast after my own heart.

I've worked out that one of the main reasons I'm still wasting precious space on this planet is because I tend to go through life dikbek. An eternal pessimist, my theory is that I'm double-daring life into surprising me in spite of itself.

The reverse psychology has worked a treat: I've worked for a newspaper I never thought I'd work for when I was dreaming of being a chartered accountant, and I've been to places that were never on the horizon when the sun set in the old Ciskei.

Hell, I've had girlfriends - current one included - who I never thought would look twice at me when I was bribing girls to accompany me to the matric dance."

July 11, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/11/2011

Super Rugby hurting Currie Cup

It will be a tough errand for whoever is sent to do the job, but the future wellbeing of the ABSA Currie Cup may well ­depend on the South African Rugby Union (SARU) convincing their Australian and New ­Zealand counterparts that the current format of Super Rugby needs to be changed. Sport24's Ken Borland reports.

"One of the oldest provincial rugby tournaments in the world has survived perfectly happily for 119 years and through two world wars, but its prestige is being seriously threatened by the new, expanded and ­thoroughly imperfect Super Rugby competition.

This year is also a World Cup year, so the full Springbok squad of 30 will not be involved, while SARU has plans to reduce next season's Currie Cup from eight to six teams in order to fit it into a schedule that has been squeezed by Super Rugby.

"The length of the Super ­Rugby competition has affected our local competitions and that is something we have to ­address," SARU CEO Jurie Roux admitted."

July 8, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/08/2011

Genius or cheating?


Peter de Villiers will field an under-strength side for their away games in the Tri-Nations © Getty Images

The Dominion Post's Marc Hinton analyses South Africa coach Peter de Villiers' recent announcement that 21 Springboks are not fit for their opening Tri-Nations games.

“It's a ruse. It's a sham. It might even be illegal and immoral. But Peter de Villiers' decision to rest - yes, I said rest - his Springbok heavyweights for the away leg of the Tri-Nations is also a sensible move.

"Possibly even brilliant (now there's a word you never thought you'd use in conjunction with de Villiers). Time will tell on that one.

"Not for the first time, something tells me the Springboks have got it spot-on with their decision to withdraw 21 top players for the first half of the Tri-Nations. ”


July 7, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/07/2011

Sleeping Lions

Simnikiwe Xabanisa looks at the demise of the Lions and their financial troubles in South Africa's The Times.

"What with the claims and counter-claims by the Lions and the Guma group in explaining the real reasons for their break-up, one has no hope in hell of telling who was more justified in calling the whole thing off.

"Yet the inescapable fact is that this was a missed opportunity not only for the Lions and Guma, but also for South African rugby.

"The Lions have lost the important financial foundation from which winning teams are built. Guma partners Robert Gumede and Ivor Ichikowitz have lost out on the opportunity to present themselves as benevolent benefactors - instead of being the guy with the questionable Home Affairs IT contract and the arms dealer, respectively."

July 6, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/06/2011

Butch is the man - Stransky


Will the Lions' Butch James spearhead the Springboks' attack at the World Cup? © Getty Images

Former Springboks fly-half Joel Stransky believes Butch James is the man to wear South Africa's No.10 shirt at this year's Rugby World Cup. The Independent reports.

“I’m not sure right now that the Boks have an idea of who that starting flyhalf is going to be. To be fair, the way he has played, it should probably be Butch,” Stransky said.

“I assume that that is the thinking, and they would probably leave him at home for the Tri-Nations tour coming up (the first Test is against Australia in Sydney on July 23).

“I, right now, would go for Butch. His ability to make decisions, to play closer to the gainline, defending that channel. All of that, plus his experience, means for me that he would be the flyhalf. Butch’s kicking game has improved dramatically since the last World Cup, and even in that tournament, he kicked out of hand really well. He looks comfortable as a goal-kicker too, and looks natural. With his experience, they won’t look past him.

“There is only one thing – whether he will stay on the field. It’s those hot-headed tackles every now and then, and he has had three or four knee reconstructions. His longevity might be an issue.”


July 4, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/04/2011

Stormers' humiliation bodes ill for Springboks

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Peter Bills fears the Stormers Super Rugby semi-final reverse to the Crusaders on home soil could spell bad news for the Springboks.

"A rugby lesson was conducted in Cape Town yesterday. Just weeks before the World Cup begins, South Africa's last participants in the Super rugby season were not so much beaten as humiliated.

"Some will see the 29-10 Crusaders victory as just another triumph for the homeless Canterbury side. They may even regard it as evidence the New Zealand side will seal the deal against the Reds in Brisbane this Saturday and lift the Super 15 trophy without having played a single game at home this season.

"But if you study the wider picture, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Dan Carter and their pals could not have achieved a higher prize than utterly humiliating South Africa's last representatives in the competition in their own back yard."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/04/2011

Stormers not good enough?

Sport24's Stephen Nell picks through the pieces of the Stormers' Super Rugby campaign.

"Such was the Crusaders’ dominance in the scrums that the Stormers were not even sure of winning the ball on their own feed. One can only hope that the psychological damage inflicted on Wicus Blaauw and a regular solid performer like Brok Harris is not permanent.

"Apart from scrumming power, an important component of most good sides is that their loosehead is a dynamic ball-carrier – examples are Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Charlie Faumuina (Blues) and Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders).

"Those kind of props don’t grow on trees and without one on the market the best option is developing your own. It will be interesting to see how young props such as Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe develop in the Currie Cup.

"The Stormers contracted CJ van der Linde before the season started, but his form has been poor and he has struggled with injuries. He did not prove a good investment."

July 3, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/03/2011

'Lions run like amateur union'

Robert Gumede, and his partner, Ivor Ichikowitz, insist that negotiations with the Golden Lions Rugby Union over their planned investment broke down this week due to resistance against change at the GLRU. Sport24 reports.

"Ichikowitz said on Saturday that the transformation for which they had strived had less to do with race and more with the way in which the GLRU, as a business, was being run.

"Our walking away from this deal is not a racial issue, said Ichikowitz. "It is simply that the Lions is not being run like a company; it is being run like an amateur union.

"Our goal was to change the way the business leg of the Lions was run with specific emphasis on marketing and management, or creating a brand all South Africans can identify with."

"Prior to the arrival of the billionaire investors, the Lions had already started restructuring by firing some of their key decision makers.

"First, in perhaps one of the most embarrassing moments in the union's 120-year history, coach Eugene Eloff was sacked in May 2009, a week before the Lions hosted the British and Irish Lions. Then, the following month, long serving president Jannie Boshoff was asked to step down.

"Like Eloff, who later spoke out about the union's poor administration, Gumede and Ichikowitz have voiced their disappointment. Their concerns surfaced in a document signed by Gumede and Ichikowitz that was leaked to the media this week."

June 30, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 06/30/2011

The missing Springboks XV


Stormers' Peter Grant looks set to miss out on World Cup selection © Getty Images
Writing for The Times of South Africa, Simnikiwe Xabanisa runs his eye over a potential XV of talented South Africans who may miss out on World Cup selection.
"Peter de Villiers's Springbok World Cup squad stands at 49 and counting, but anyone with a passing interest in the Boks probably knows to within five players who the final 30 will be.

The following are 15 players who did the business in the Super 15 but probably won't go to the World Cup.

15 Riaan Viljoen

With the exception of the incredible Gio Aplon, Viljoen is the only South African fullback, Frans Steyn included, who can surprise the opposition on the counter-attack. He is probably wishing he used last year more constructively, having made the Bok end-of-year touring squad in 2009...."

June 29, 2011

Posted by tom.hamilton on 06/29/2011

Release the shackles

Murray Mexted, talking to Duncan Johnstone, believes the Stormers need to go gung-ho if they are to overturn the Crusaders in The Dominion Post

"Former All Black Murray Mexted says the Stormers must release the shackles in their quest to topple the Crusaders in this weekend's Super Rugby semifinal in Cape Town.

Mexted, who is in South Africa on a coaching contract, believes the Stormers will need to lose their defensive mindset to beat the Crusaders."

Posted by tom.hamilton on 06/29/2011

Cape Town rivalry

Cape Town is one of the world's most intense rugby cauldrons, but the rivalry between the Stormers and the Western Province may lead some South African's to support the Crusaders this weekend. Richard Knowler looks at the unique situation inThe Dominion Post.

"Hardcore Cape Town rugby fans are being urged to switch allegiances this weekend - to the Stormers.

Newlands should be a hostile cauldron for the Crusaders in Sunday morning's Super semi-final but there are genuine concerns in the Western Cape they will be greeted like conquering heroes instead of invaders on Sunday morning.

Despite the Stormers representing the Western Province region, a large number of coloured fans refuse to cheer for the team and instead elect to barrack for the Crusaders whenever they arrive in Cape Town."

June 25, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/25/2011

Butch: I want to be Bok fly-half


Will Butch James be handed the Springboks' No.10 jersey for the Tri-Nations and World Cup? © Getty Images

Butch James tells Independent Online's Jacques van der Westhuyzen that he has set his sights on the Springboks' No.10 shirt.

"James, widely regarded as the best bet and favourite for many to be the Bok No 10 – this despite Steyn being the first choice for the last two years – readily admits he’s in the same boat as in 2007.

“There’s even more competition now for that jersey than there was four years ago. There’s Morné, Pat is up there and even Peter Grant still has a chance ... he’s been playing great rugby. And Elton Jantjies, too, has been in the picture, even though he may still be a bit young,” says James.

“The situation as it stands now is very similar to 2007; the only difference is then there were two guys competing, now there are three,” he says, referring to himself, Steyn and Lambie.

"But with James having featured four years ago, and for many observers the Springboks’ player of the tournament in France, surely he has the edge over Steyn and Lambie? He does, after all, have all the experience and he’s regularly featured in coach Peter de Villiers’ squads over the last few years and this in spite of him playing in England for Bath."

June 22, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/22/2011

Battle for Boks' No.10 shirt narrows

The omission of Peter Grant from the 50-man Springbok World Cup preliminary squad announced on Monday has narrowed the debate over who will be filling the role of pivot in New Zealand in August and September, according to Supersport's Gavin Rich.

"Grant, the DHL Stormers flyhalf, was a favourite of many critics when he was starring for the Cape side in their winning run at the start of the competition. At the end of March, several Springbok barometres included the name of the Maritzburg College old boy.

"However, the solid form displayed by another former Maritzburg College star, Butch James, since his arrival back from the United Kingdom, coupled with the resurgence of the other Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjes, and the X-factor offered by Patrick Lambie as a utility back, have now pushed Grant out of the equation."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/22/2011

Tough decisions for SARU

South Africa's rugby bosses are set for two tough decisions: The future structure of the Currie Cup, and how will the Kings be accommodated? Sport24's Stephen Nell reports.

"Rugby administrators from all 14 provinces will search for answers in a workshop at Newlands on Wednesday.

"Next year the Super Rugby tournament stretches until the first weekend of August. There will be a break during June for the Test window against the Northern Hemisphere sides, with England coming to South Africa.

"The upshot of it all is that competition time for the Currie Cup will be reduced and that is why there is apparently a proposal for a more streamlined structure from 2012 - six teams in the Premier League and eight in the First Division.

"This year there is still a Premier League with eight teams and a First Division with six sides. However, it's unlikely that smaller unions will be keen to move towards a more streamlined structure."

June 20, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/20/2011

Is Butch worth the risk for Boks?

Following his latest suspension, the Independent Online's Peter Bills asks whether the Boks should gamble on Butch James.

"The point must deeply trouble Springbok coach Peter de Villiers. In a single match last weekend, James emphasised his credentials for a place in the national squad but also the liability factor he would invariably represent.

"James played a key contributing role in helping the Lions to that astonishing 30-9 lead over the Sharks. But when John Plumtree’s men lit the blue touch paper of their comeback, where was James?

"At the most critical moments, idly kicking his heels in the sin bin because of another example of his indiscipline, his high tackle on Sharks flanker Keegan Daniel.

"By the time James returned, the die was cast. Without him, the Lions lost their game management skills. Even with 20 minutes left and that 21-point lead still intact, you could tell they didn’t know what to do – hunt for another try, which would have killed off the Sharks once and for all, or try to shut up shop and hang on. It was a classic “stick or twist” dilemma, which they never looked like solving in James’s absence."

June 12, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/12/2011

The rugby star, his lover, her mother and the hitmen

A budding Springbok, his model girlfriend, her mother, two hitmen and doctored ''death photos'' have combined for an out-of-this-world scandal playing out in the South African courts. The Sydney Morning Herald's Jamie Pandaram reports.

"Deon Helberg, who represented South Africa in Sevens rugby, has gone into hiding since revelations that his girlfriend's mother plotted to have him killed late last year - the culmination of a sordid love triangle.

"The saga began when Helberg moved in with his girlfriend Jalien and her mother Manda Reyneke last year. A secret affair between Manda Reyneke, 47, and Helberg, 21, reached such intensity that Mrs Reyneke allegedly hired two hitmen to take out Helberg when he told her that he had had enough.

"Police allege Mrs Reyneke met two Nigerian men at a pub and asked them to kill Helberg. Some media reported her offer was $16,000 plus a house for each man. After some protracted dealings, a frustrated Mrs Reyneke sent the men text messages: ''Be scared, be very afraid. You have done me in and wrong with lies. You never shot anybody the other night. That was revealed by the candle of truth'', and ''My friend confirmed her problem is still walking around. If this is your way of doing business, to threaten your client with ratting her out and cheating her of her money, then today you have lost my R80,000 [South African rand].''

May 29, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 05/29/2011

"My neurosystem is just giving up"

South African great Joost van der Westhuizen was enjoying a life of fatherhood, golf and retirement before he was told he could have motor neurone disease, Aislinn Laing reports for the Sunday Telegraph.

"He was one of the greatest rugby players ever, renowned for his powerful tackles and for being the most capped South African of all time. He and his beautiful pop-star wife were dubbed the Posh and Becks of the southern hemisphere, a glamorous couple who - with their two young children - for many years epitomised the best of his sport and their country.

"But now Joost van der Westhuizen has been told that, aged just 40 and only eight years since he retired from the sport, he is probably suffering from motor neurone disease. If his diagnosis is confirmed, then within a few months he will probably lose the ability to walk - and within a few years, he could be dead.

"My neurosystem is just giving up," he said. "The doctors don't know what causes it. It's not a virus, it's not stress, it's not social life, they just don't know what it is. What they can't understand is that most of their patients are fit people, sports people."

May 23, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/23/2011

Joost: I'll fight to the end

Former Springboks scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen has vowed to fight his "death sentence" having been provisionally diagnosed with motor neuron disease. He talks to Gavin Prins in Rapport.

"The doctor who examined him, has given him three years to live.

The moment he heard the news, it felt as if his whole life came tumbling down, says Joost.

"The stress that I have endured over the last two years is nothing compared to this," says the man who went through personal hell for almost the whole of 2009.

Joost is only a shadow of the fit, muscular and self-assured sportsman of just a couple of months ago.

He struggles to talk about his illness without bursting into tears.

During the interview, he excused himself and went to cry in the kitchen.

His two children are his biggest worry.

"The first thing I did was to check if my policies are in order for my kids," says Joost.

He is hoping that a visit to a second neurologist will bring better news.

Shortly before his interview with Rapport, he cut himself with his razor because his hands are shaking too much.

The thought that he actually could die has not really sunk in yet.

"The wind has been knocked out of my sails. I stared at the doctor in disbelief."

He struggles to utter the word "death". All he could say was that "I might only have three years left…"

May 18, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/18/2011

Super Rugby ridiculous?

The structure of the Super Rugby tournament is "ridiculous", advantageous to Australian teams and disadvantageous to South African sides according to the Kings' Luke Watson - Sport24's Stephen Nell reports.

"Watson believes South African teams are at a disadvantage with the tough nature of their derbies, while Australian sides have it easier in that regard.

"South Africa have the most physical teams, while Australia's teams could easily pick up points against the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force. I think they should re-look at the structure of Super Rugby. There is maybe too much rugby and it's played at pace with high impact," he said.

"You can see in the attendance figures that too much rugby is being played. It has also lost prestige because you play teams (from your country) more than once and there is no longer that feeling of 'I'm going to get you' (between local sides)."

"Watson, however, praised the immense depth of South Africa's talent pool and believes no side in the world should touch the Springboks if they pick the correct team."


May 13, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/13/2011

Joost has debilitating illness

Former Springbok rugby captain Joost van der Westhuizen is fighting for his health after being diagnosed with a motor-neuron muscle disease. Supersport's Brendan Nell reports.

"The disease, which is apparently similar to the one that put one of his team-mates, Springbok flank André Venter in a wheelchair a few years ago, has been diagnosed as very serious and could have drastic implications for his health.

"Van der Westhuizen, who led the Blue Bulls to Currie Cup victories in 1998 and 2002, and who is one of the most capped Springbok rugby players in the nation's history, complained to his personal doctor, Dr Henry Kelbrick, of pain in his arm and was immediately sent for a battery of tests to diagnose the outcome.

"Once the diagnosis was made, the seriousness of the matter prompted Dr Kelbrick to send Van der Westhuizen to see two neurologists so that treatment could begin.

"While neither Van der Westhuizen nor his immediate family have been available to comment, sources close to the player tell SuperSport.com that the disease is "very serious" and could have massive implications for his future."

May 9, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/09/2011

In a good place

Gavin Rich previews the Stormers' tour and analyses their increased options after the return of some big names on supersport.com

"Tiaan Liebenberg, who started the year as the first choice hooker but suffered a knee injury, returned from a nine week lay-off towards the end of the Crusaders match and after also playing part of a Vodacom Cup match the week before he will now have shaken off enough rust to be up for selection to the starting team for the opening tour match against the Chiefs on Saturday.

"But Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is in the happy position of not needing to rush Liebenberg back into action as Deon Fourie has been one of several young players who has been a revelation in the first half of the season. It won’t be an easy selection for Coetzee, and neither will be some of the selection decisions he faces in the backline.

"Both Peter Grant and Bryan Habana have been declared fit to play against the Chiefs if Coetzee wants them to. But both Lionel Cronje and Johann Sadie have done well enough in the absence of the experienced star duo for it not to be completely necessary for Coetzee to start with them. This could be a time when, like Sharks coach John Plumtree, the Stormers coach can look at adopting a policy of easing injured players back through the bench."

May 5, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/05/2011

'Refs are fitter than scrum-halves'

A professional referee is probably fitter than a scrum-half in Super Rugby according to South African whistleblower Jaco Peyper. Sport24's Jóhann Thormählen reports.

"A professional referee is probably fitter than a scrumhalf in Super Rugby and does just as much preparation as coaches and players ahead of matches.

"That was the revelation by Jaco Peyper, who is one of South Africa's most promising referees and fast climbing the refereeing ladder. He was recently promoted to Sanzar's merit panel of referees.

The former Grey College pupil was earlier this month also appointed as one of the International Rugby Board's (IRB) referees for next month's Junior World Championships."

April 28, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/28/2011

Warning signs

Jake White’s move to Australia is one to lament for South African rugby, as well as warning sign, according to JJ Harmse in Sport24

"To me the "export" of White is sad in a different way.

Yes, we could have done with his expertise over here, but unfortunately he burned too many bridges on his way to the top and there were precious few who were prepared to work with him again after his 2007 glory, but the sad thing is that White is only one of a few South African coaches in demand abroad.

If you look at the number of New Zealand coaches earning their crust outside of their country, and compare that with the South Africans, it is a disgrace."

April 14, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/14/2011

Over the hill

Duncan Johnston argues that South Africa's Rugby World Cup campaign will be undone by the age of their big names on stuff.co.nz.

"The Springboks won't be able to defend the World Cup because their core of stars are over the hill. The cracks began to appear last year and they are opening up in alarming fashion for Boks coach Pieter de Villiers during Super Rugby.

"From skipper John Smit in his confusing front row roles through to Bryan Habana's struggles on the wings, leading South African players are clearly struggling for form. Even the once-feared locking partnership of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha is losing its aura.

"Botha's ill-discipline will always pose a problem in a tournament situation and it's hard to dismiss the thought that Matfield's effort against the Crusaders last weekend was his worst performance in more than 100 Super Rugby games."

April 12, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/12/2011

Long in the tooth


Victor Matfield was outplayed by the Crusaders' Chris Jack last weekend © Getty Images

Gavin Rich faces facts and looks at the current poor form being shown by leading Springboks on supersport.co.za.

"Okay, so maybe now is the time to start getting worried. Up to now judgement has been reserved on issues such as the form of the Bulls and of some of the top Springboks on the basis that it is a long season and much can change between now and September, when the World Cup starts.

"But it is now no longer February, it is mid-April, and the failure of so many top players who were such a pivotal part of previous Springbok successes, cannot just be glibly ignored as part of a plan geared towards building slowly into the season so that South Africans are at their peak when the World Cup arrives.

"If that was the plan, it hasn’t worked, for the Bulls looked a frustrated group of players against the Crusaders in Timaru, and it cannot be doing any good for the confidence of the so-called world beaters in the team that they are being made to look so rank average."

April 7, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/07/2011

200 not out for Terblanche

Sport24 reports that Stefan Terblanche is set to become the first player in the history of Sharks and Natal rugby to represent his province in 200 games.

"Since making his debut in South African rugby for Boland in 1994, the man who hails from Swellendam has played an incredible 400 first class games.

"This includes 37 tests for the Springboks, 87 for Welsh side Ospreys, two for the SA under-21 team, another four midweek games for the Boks, three for the Barbarians, 67 for Boland, and now 112 Super Rugby matches for the Sharks and 87 Currie Cup games for the KwaZulu-Natal side.

"The 400 games that Terblanche has played in South African rugby is almost 50 more than Ollie le Roux’s 357 in second place.

"Terblanche broke the long-standing record of Hugh Reece-Edwards and Steve Atherton (both 165) playing for the Sharks.

"His recipe of still leading his side by example at 35 years of age is a mixture of luck, hard work and intelligence."

April 4, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/04/2011

A clash of styles


The Bulls were able to smother the Hurricanes © Getty Images

Wynne Gray ponders the respective World Cup styles of the All Blacks and Springboks after the Bulls' win over the Hurricanes in The New Zealand Herald.

"Fast forward to October. The All Blacks want to play a fast-paced, ball-in-hand style of rugby at the World Cup.

"The Springboks will favour muscular confrontation and an aerial bombardment if they adhere to recent comments from coach Peter de Villiers, who wondered why his side should vary much from the attritional, combative style the Springboks had used with success in annexing two World Cups.

"Late-night kickoffs, greasy conditions, rugby under increased sudden-death pressure and lights - they are conditions favouring a kicking game unless your interplay is spot-on."

April 1, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/01/2011

Joost's back... or is he?

Sport24's Rob Houwing reports as former Springbok scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen makes a TV comeback following a much-publicised sex-tap scandal.

"The former Springbok scrum-half and (mostly Afrikaans-language) television rugby commentator and pundit got the boot from the Randburg-based organisation in 2009 after being at the centre of a “sex tape” scandal. He had been a long-time studio sidekick on the SuperRugby chat show to anchor Kobus Wiese, a colleague in the 1995 World Cup-winning Bok team.

"While not everyone’s cup of tea, he could be belligerently opinionated and was certainly capable of sharp analytical observations, especially in his mother tongue. But then his budding electronic media career went rather pear-shaped, for reasons mentioned above.

"Now, though, the 40-year-old is earmarked for a return to live activity in front of the cameras, albeit in a slightly different guise: he has been invited to be a key guest on the Matthew Pearce-anchored “Road to New Zealand” programme, part of the long-range build-up to the 2011 World Cup."

March 17, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/17/2011

Refs don't understand!

Writing for Sport24, JJ Harmse believes scrum have become a gamble.

"t is clear that, whether intentional or not, the loosehead has become the victim of the latest laws.

"I am sure many tightheads would do a little fist pump about this, as for many years, they have been under scrutiny and their opponents were allowed to ‘walk around’ the scrum or place their left hand on the ground to get an angle. The only concern for me and you should not be to have a go at the referees, who apply the laws, but to have a look at the result of these applications.

"Are we getting the best result at scrum time? I believe we are not. I cannot wait for the day when the No 8’s head remains in the scrum and his only concern is how to control the ball under his feet."

March 10, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/10/2011

Big year starts for Smit


Sharks skipper John Smit is set for his first appearance of the Super Rugby season this weekend © Getty Images

Sport24's Gavin Rich previews John Smit's first appearance of the Super Rugby season and ponders where the year will take the Springboks' skipper.

"Smit will wear the No 3 jersey in place of Jannie du Plessis, who moves to the bench for this game, and resumes a position which most critics felt didn’t really work out for him when he was switched there by Springbok coach Peter de Villiers for much of the 2009 rugby year.

"But that is not really the point, for when Smit struggled at tighthead it was usually against smaller props, and in any event Plumtree is not saying that tighthead prop is Smit’s position. It will be recalled that Smit was down to play loosehead prop ahead of Beast Mtawarira before he was forced to pull out of the Cheetahs game three weeks ago with a calf strain.

"In a pre-season interview Plumtree said he was excited about what Smit, who has improved his fitness and conditioning since last year, could offer the Sharks this year both as a player and a leader, and he predicted that he would show the Bok management how Smit should be used.

"Considering that, if you factor in the pre-season friendly against the Lions where Smit started at hooker, Smit has now been selected for three different positions in what effectively amounts to three matches, you could say that the dye has been cast and Plumtree has confirmed what we suspected. Smit is going to be employed as a jack of all trades, a very good one at that, and in so doing will offer the teams he plays for enviable front-row options."

March 7, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/07/2011

Erasmus in Bok RWC plans?

Rapport's Rudolph Lake reveals that SARU and Springbok coach Peter de Villiers are working flat out to finalise the team's Rugby World Cup plans.

"Although SARU and De Villiers are loathe to reveal their plans at this stage, it appears to be a done deal that former Springbok loose forward Rassie Erasmus and former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones will assist the team in defending the Webb Ellis Cup in New Zealand.

"Sport24 reported last year already that Erasmus and Jones were on a shortlist to help De Villiers retain he trophy.

"SARU's chief executive officer, Jurie Roux, didn't wish to confirm any of the Bok plans on Sunday.

"SARU is on record, however, as saying consultants could possibly be involved in the Bok team," was all that Roux was willing to reveal."

March 4, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/04/2011

Lions need to change their stats

Wynne Gray looks at the plight of former All Blacks coach John Mitchell and his new-look Lions in The New Zealand Herald.

"When well-travelled coach John Mitchell looks at his Lions side he notes they don't have much experience in their tight forwards.

"But you can almost pick up the anticipation in his voice when he learns that the Blues have switched half of their All Black-laden pack to the bench.

"He delivers some "Blues know best" thoughts about that selection as they look for some renewed energy in their Super 15 campaign."

February 16, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/16/2011

Days numbered for Os?

There is no guarantee that Os du Randt will be the Springboks’ scrum coach during this year’s World Cup in New Zealand. Sport24's Hendrik Cronjé reports.

"Sport24 understands that certain teams in the World Cup, as well as wealthy European sides, are waiting to hear whether Springbok coach Peter de Villiers will extend DuRandt's contract as scrum coach.

"If the extension fails to materialise, Du Randt may join an overseas side after this year’s Super Rugby competition. He does not currently have a contract with the South African Rugby Union (SARU).

"However, he will be the Cheetahs’ scrumming consultant during the competition. The former Bok prop could not be reached on Tuesday, but an informed source confirmed to Sport24 that there was major doubt about his continued involvement with the Boks."

February 3, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/03/2011

Boks get jump on RWC foes

The Bok management will get an ideal opportunity to study their opening RWC opponents in the Six Nations, writes Sport24's JJ Harmse.

"There is some truth in the argument that there are no secrets between the top international sides any more as they play each other so many times a year and because the technical analysis of matches has improved so much in the last decade.

"So although the Bok file on Wales is probable thicker than usual already, they still have been given an unique opportunity to find out everything they need to know - and more - on their opponents.

"Wales will also play England (twice) and Argentina (once) in August as part of their final preparations, but those late matches are often more geared towards giving fringe players in the squad some game time ahead of the real deal.

"This time around the Bok coaches will be able to study some newish faces, like Morgan Stoddart on the wing, the midfield combination of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies (with Roberts at outside centre) and how debutant Rhys Priestland shapes up.

"I am not sure if Peter de Villiers has roped in other rugby minds to help him on the technical side this year or whether someone like forward's Gary Gold will perform that duty as well, but let us hope for a pragmatic approach from our national coach."

January 21, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/21/2011

SARU drop Bok dopers

Springbok wing Bjorn Basson will attend Monday’s hearing in Cape Town with a bitter taste in his mouth. Sport24's Gerdie Karstens and Hendrik Cronjé report.

"At the hearing, Basson, hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle, and their legal representatives will have to explain how the prohibited stimulant methylhexaneamine ended up in their bodies during last year’s end-of-season tour in Europe. Both were sent home after the Test against Ireland.

Basson told Sport24 in an exclusive interview on Thursday that the treatment and support that he and Ralepelle had received from the South African Rugby Union (Saru) since their suspension in November 2010 has been shocking.

“I am dissatisfied with the manner in which we have been treated. Saru’s arrangements for our return was absolutely pathetic,” said Basson.

“From the time that we got to the airport in London everything was just one big mess. There was only one seat available on the flight to South Africa. Chiliboy and I then had to decide between us which one of us would only fly later. I came back first.”

December 8, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/08/2010

Too late for Boks to change

Like it or not, South Africa won’t alter their approach dramatically for the World Cup defence next year, according to Sport24's Rob Houwing.

"Don’t get me wrong, whether they hold onto the Webb Ellis Cup in New Zealand or not, I believe South Africa will be gently coaxed toward a more expansive philosophy in the aftermath.

"By that stage their personnel, both playing component and management, will probably be subject to wholesale change anyway, and all the fresh possibilities that situation will entail.

"But before that? No way. With so many of their successful class of 2007 still calling the shots to a strong degree in 2011, expect wholly normal service (direct, no-frills, permissibly “violent” rugby, if you like).

"The only way the Boks are going to abandon their existing template in favour of a new way is if Peter de Villiers gets the chop ahead of the next international season – increasingly unlikely now, it seems – and a true “run it, run it, run it” romantic like Basil Bey is appointed in his place."

December 6, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 12/06/2010

Plenty to think about

Gavin Rich reviews the highs and lows of South Africa's end of year tour on Supersport.

"irst up, let it be said that this was not a tour plagued by the sort of controversies that have tended to follow Peter de Villiers around during his three years as Bok coach. Part of that might be because a lot of the British media interest over the past month has been focused on the Ashes rather than rugby, another part of it might be down to the excellent coaching that De Villiers received from communications manager Andy Colquhoun.

"But De Villiers also deserves kudos for the way he has pulled his act together when it comes to answering questions from the media. While what he says may at times be debated, the way he said it did not leave him open to sanction from an administration that are known to have laid down the law in a very strict way on his verbal outbursts.

"That said, there are still too many question marks over the Bok performances for De Villiers to be safe in everyone’s eyes, and arguably only a completed Grand Slam could have seen him arrive home with complete faith restored after the disasters of the Tri-Nations season."

December 3, 2010

Posted by Mark Doyle on 12/03/2010

Relief for South African rugby after the dire warnings hit home

Writing in The Guardian, Shaun Edwards claims that if the World Cup started tomorrow, the Springboks, with their pride under pressure, would make the final.

"If you want to know about pressure and sport, then take a look at any Springbok side, but particularly the one that has been over here this autumn.

"Anyone who has toured South Africa understands part – the overt part – of it; rugby isn't just on the back page of the papers, it's on the front and takes up a huge part of the inside pages as well. The fans are impossibly passionate and they don't tolerate failure. Nor it seems does the government.

"How do I know this? Well, at the post-match dinner following the 21-11 win at Twickenham a member of the team's management panel let it slip when he apologised for his behaviour after Willem Alberts finally got over the England line with almost three-quarters of the game gone. It wasn't just that it was a good try, or that the 115kg back-row had come off the bench to score for the third weekend in succession. It was the relief. Apparently in the run-up to the game, members of the Springbok management had received about 10 texts "from the very highest level" back home warning that, after Murrayfield, another defeat was unacceptable and that resignations would be required."

November 29, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 11/29/2010

Humble pie

Brian Moore tucks in to some humble pie in The Daily Telegraph following South Africa's win over England.

"The report of my death was an exaggeration" – Mark Twain – juxtaposed with the world order of rugby this would be the response of the Springboks to my recent partially inaccurate pontificating on their state of health.

"Saturday's physical annihilation of England at Twickenham showed that against all but the very best, South Africa have the sheer willpower and strength to prevail. The sustained belligerence and controlled aggression was as much a master class in bloody-minded character as it was in the often ignored technical adeptness required to subjugate an opposition pack for an entire game.

"I maintain that against a team who are able to come close to matching their forward effort and who can tackle on the gain line, the Springboks do not have enough guile or subtlety in attack."

November 28, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/28/2010

Bok 'corpse' has strong pulse

The Springboks have reminded the world that when they put it all together, they can still fend off just about any comers, according to Sport24's Rob Houwing.

"So what will the doomsayers make of this, then?

"Let us not be guilty of suggesting all is suddenly hunky-dory again in Springbok rugby: it isn’t. But there are also times when the pessimists must be banished, humiliated, to the back seats for a while and a special weekend – “finish and klaar!” -- be savoured by those who doggedly keep the faith.

"Considering the swirling cloud of negativity after the Scotland debacle only seven days earlier, and the general mood of public disenchantment with both the touring Bok team and their head coach of late, beating England by an emphatic 10 points at Twickenham on Saturday was a riposte of some force."

November 22, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/22/2010

Time for Boks to go for broke

Writing for Sport24, Gavin Rich throws the gauntlet down to the Springboks ahead of their clash with England.

"With the Grand Slam dream left behind in the dark Murrayfield mud into which they were unceremoniously trampled by buoyant Scotland, the Springboks will start the final week of the Test match part of this tour needing to make a couple of massive decisions.

"There are in fact several huge decisions to be made across several levels of South African rugby in the coming weeks, but the one that should concern Bok coach Peter de Villiers right now is what game he wants his team to play against England at Twickenham on Saturday.

"Many would say he has used up his last chance already, for many a Bok coach has been sacked for far less than what De Villiers has been allowed to get away with. But there is a chance of some form of redemption if the Boks beat England."

November 21, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/21/2010

Heat on Div as Boks go cold

Sport24's Rob Houwing picks through the pieces of South Africa's defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield.

"So where does all this leave embattled Bok coach Peter de Villiers and his lieutenants?

"Only the head honchos at SA Rugby know whether achieving the Grand Slam was the essential requirement for De Villiers to get a passport through to the World Cup after the Tri-Nations near-fiasco a little earlier in the year.

"Whether this was the case or not, bungling the challenge at the supposedly modest Scottish hurdle will not be absorbed in a particularly compassionate manner back at headquarters in Newlands, you can be sure.

"Maybe, too, some cynical observers will be tempted to say that the Boks had only got to the halfway stage unscathed in their Slam bid through sheer grit and mongrel anyway – not because they showed any genuinely exciting new dimensions."

November 19, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/19/2010

Boks must show some fluency

Sport24's Rob Houwing throws the gauntlet down to the Springboks ahead of their clash against Scotland.

"Saturday at Murrayfield here would be an ideal time for the Springboks to remind the rugby world that they are capable of doing more than crashing and bashing their way to dogged victories.

"That may sound a little cruel, with the Grand Slam dream halfway to realisation and by a weakened squad, but the respective victories over Ireland and Wales were both nail-biters and marked more by great South African resilience and physical relish than any special, consistent attacking wizardry.

"Indeed, at the Millennium Stadium last weekend the Boks positively butchered a few wonderful try-scoring opportunities when these did present themselves, leading some neutral commentators to suspect they are particularly vulnerable to surrendering their World Cup crown in New Zealand next year."

November 18, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/18/2010

Taking a leaf out Grey's book

Sport24's JJ Harmse congratulates Grey College on their eight Boks to face Scotland and urges government to get more black kids to play rugby.

"It's absolutely unbelievable that one school could produce as many internationals as Grey College does, but it is even more so that you can have so many involved in one Test match.

"...So what do Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, CJ van der Linde, Adriaan Strauss, Flip van der Merwe, Frans Steyn, Deon Stegmann, Ruan Pienaar and Coenie Oosthuizen (who is in the Bok travelling party) have to do with this article if it is not to punt Grey?

"It all has to do with our new minister of Sport and his recently announced plans to ‘transform’ rugby. I liked what I heard from the former ANC Youth League man. In fact, I almost presumed that he was on the sports field himself until recently, but then I remembered that age is not necessarily an issue if you are a Youth League leader!

"Anyway, coming back to our new minister, his idea of transforming rugby is a great one. He wants more kids to play the game, especially more black kids. What a great idea, although not that new.

"SARU has had this transformation charter for years now, compiled after a massive effort from the likes of Dr Willie Basson. One of the cornerstones of their studies and findings was exactly what the minister wants – bigger participation from the black youth. The fact that all nine Grey boys are white, does tell one truth about the realities of schools rugby and where the real challenge lie for SARU and government."


November 14, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/14/2010

Spirit keeps Bok dream alive

Writing for Sport24, Rob Howing passes judgement on South Africa's battling victory over Wales in Cardiff.

"An imperfect performance, and then some. But South Africa are halfway to the Grand Slam ... that’s what matters most.

Wales threw the kitchen sink -- plus the fridge, oven and bin! – at the Springboks in a frenzied assault just ahead of and then significantly after the hooter, but the tourists’ defences somehow held for a heart-stopping 29-25 win at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

The Boks were outscored 3-2 in tries and owed a little bit, too, to the relative kindness of southern hemisphere referee Steve Walsh for ending on the right side of this ding-dong tussle – some of his decisions significantly irked the crowd.

...And I think this slightly fortuitous victory actually strengthened, rather than weakened, their psychological hold over these opponents, bearing in mind that they will meet again in pool play at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

Somehow Wales just don’t seem to be able to close the deal against the Boks in tight home battles of late, and the prospect of meeting next on neutral turf south of the equator, rather than before their passionate Cardiff faithful, cannot be especially appealing right now."

November 8, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 11/08/2010

We needed that one

Gavin Rich toasts an important win for the Springboks on Supersport.

"You just had to look through the Irish newspapers and watch British television in the build-up to understand why Saturday’s match to celebrate the opening of the new Aviva Stadium was so important to the Springboks.

"The Boks have slumped so far in the international estimation over the past year that it seems bizarre sometimes to think back to just 14 months ago, when almost everyone was making them favourites for the World Cup. South Africa had so many rugby trophies that the administration organised a tour of the country to show them off.

"Of course, the game itself is not in bad health in South Africa. The Bulls are the Super rugby champions, having now won the title two years in a row, and the Dublin test match did seem a significant step down in pace and intensity from the excellent Currie Cup final we saw seven days earlier between the Sharks and Western Province."

November 5, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/05/2010

Habana to guide youngsters

Bryan Habana is on the verge of setting a new try-scoring record for the Springboks, but says his focus is rather on guiding South Africa’s young players in Saturday’s test against Ireland in the Aviva Stadium. Sport24's Stephen Nell reports.

"“The last thing on my mind now is the try-scoring record. I’m the kind of person that prefers to put the team first,” said Habana, who shares the South African record of 38 test tries with Joost van der Westhuizen.

“I was disappointed with my form during the Tri-Nations, but the conditioning programme has been good for me and I’m enjoying my rugby again.

“I want to make a contribution. We have a few young players who need older heads around them. I have played 66 tests, Bjorn Basson 2 and Gio Aplon 9. It’s important that I help ease the pressure on them so that they can play to the best of their ability.”

November 4, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 11/04/2010

A no-win situation

David Kelly looks at the problems facing Peter De Villiers prior to South Africa's arrival in Dublin in The Irish Independent.

"Even when he's winning, it seems like he's losing. As South Africa's permanently embattled coach Peter de Villiers pitches up in Dublin today, it brings to mind the old line from Tommie Smith during the build-up to his emotional Mexico Olympics podium protest.

"If I do something good, then I'm an American, but if I do something bad then I am a Negro," Tommie said.

"Ever since 53-year-old De Villiers was charged with leading South Africa's rugby fortunes nearly three years ago, his reign has been viewed largely through the prism of his country's thinly veiled difficulties in adjusting to life beyond apartheid."

October 31, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/31/2010

The 10-point plan


Springbok coach Peter De Villiers talks to his troops © Getty Images

Sports psychologist Henning Gericke divulges his 10-point plan for the Springboks on iol.co.za.

"There are a number of rugby supporters who don’t hold much hope of the Springboks winning the World Cup in New Zealand next year. The criticism of coach Peter de Villiers and several players has been harsh, to say the least, but it has also been justified: The Boks have not enjoyed a good 2010 season, losing five of their six matches in the Tri-Nations.

"But more than the poor results, several senior players lost form, poor selections were made and more recently De Villiers went behind the backs of his two assistant coaches Gary Gold and Dick Muir seeking new lieutenants.

"And now, a week out from the kickoff to the Grand Slam tour – which includes Tests against Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England and the Barbarians – the Boks have it all to do."

October 29, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/29/2010

Home advantage to swing it


The Sharks' Jacques Botes © Getty Images

Gavin Rich previews a potential classic of a Currie Cup final between the Sharks and Western Province on Supersport.

"The ability of an experienced Sharks tight five to turn the tables on the Western Province unit that dominated them three weeks ago will be what decides where the Absa Currie Cup trophy will be spending Christmas.

"That the two finalists in what is expected to be a classic finale to the South African home season at Absa Stadium are well matched has been documented over and over during the past two weeks.

"There really isn’t much separating the teams, who both won 10 matches in the league season, lost to pretty much the same opponents along the way, and who have both played crowd pleasing rugby for much of the competition."

October 21, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/21/2010

Learning from your mistakes

Gavin Rich talks to Western Province coach Allister Coetzee prior to next weekend's Currie Cup final on Supersport.

"It is not often a team plays in and loses a major final and then gets a chance to learn from the experience and atone for the defeat just five months later.

"By the time next week’s eagerly anticipated Absa Currie Cup decider arrives in Durban, five months will be the amount of time, almost exactly, that would have elapsed for Western Province since they played the Vodacom Super 14 final against the Bulls.

"Okay, so make it five months and one day to be precise, for the Super 14 match was played on 29 May and the domestic final will be played on 30 October."

October 20, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/20/2010

A change in gameplan

Gavin Rich welcomes a possible tactical rethink from the Springboks prior to their Grand Slam tour on Supersport.

"One of the messages that has come out of the South African Rugby Union headquarters this week was that one of the main reasons a national training camp has been called this week is so that the players can get together and discuss a game-plan for the end of year tour.

"If that is so, then it makes sense. Clearly there is a lot for them to discuss after a Tri-Nations season where the Springboks bombed quite spectacularly and a Currie Cup season where the Sharks led the way in the league stages and up to the final playing a style of rugby which to a considerable extent mimics the high-tempo approach of the All Blacks.

"During the away leg of the Tri-Nations it became evident that the Boks were caught between a rock and a hard place in that the World Cup-winning template was no longer working against New Zealand and Australian teams that exploited the new law interpretations which favour attacking teams."

October 18, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 10/18/2010

Div's Bok selection to save axe

The pressure on Springbok coach Peter de Villiers and his assistants to keep their jobs appears to have brought about a change in plan and prompted them to opt for the strongest available team for South Africa’s Grand Slam tour next month. Sport24's Rudolph Lake reports.

"Sport24 understands that De Villiers decided to pick the strongest possible Bok team following discussions with senior players and rugby bosses the past week.

The Boks also play the Barbarians in the first week of December, but are unlikely to field a full-strength side then.

De Villiers and his two assistants, Dick Muir and Gary Gold, came under fire the past few weeks about the Springboks’ weak performances against New Zealand and Australia in the Tri-Nations. The Boks could win only one of their six Tests against the All Blacks and Wallabies.

De Villiers dodged the axe, while Gold and Muir stayed only because suitable replacements could not be found.

The South African Rugby Union (SARU) are, however, looking at how the Springbok coaching team can be strengthened, but are experiencing problems in convincing coaches to help the national team."


October 11, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/11/2010

Not much to choose between them

Gavin Rich reviews the Currie Cup season to date prior to next weekend's semi-finals on Supersport.

"When the dust had finally settled on an absorbing Absa Currie Cup league season, two things were clear -- the top four teams had made the semifinals, and there is not much separating those teams.

"The log table sums it up. Although the Sharks were always quite comfortably ahead in their race to grab top spot after their win over Western Province in Durban at the end of the first round, it was the bonus points accumulated along the way, rather than the number of wins, that made it thus.

"In the end the Sharks ended up with the same number of wins (10) as the second-placed WP and third-placed Free State Cheetahs, with the fourth-placed Bulls having won just one game less. Those four teams were significantly better than the next placed team, the Lions, who by losing to the Pumas in their last match saw their season peter out into a disappointing synopsis which read won seven and lost seven."

October 10, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/10/2010

What an odd little man

Richard Loe believes that it's the wrong time for South Africa to be playing politics in The New Zealand Herald.

"It was interesting to hear Graham Henry say the other day the team he thought would be the All Blacks' biggest competition for the Rugby World Cup was Australia.

"I have been saying that for some time and what's going on in South African rugby is at least part of the reason the Boks are not rated as highly right now.

"I was over in South Africa recently, at a Murray Mexted IRANZ coaching stint, and who should turn up one day but Springbok coach Peter de Villiers. Well, all I can say is ... what an odd little man."

October 8, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 10/08/2010

Fit, fresh Boks eye Grand Slam

So the Boks are fit and strong again? Does this mean that when they board the plane to take them to Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London, that they will actually be fresher than their opponents from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England on their Grand Slam tour? Sport24's JJ Harmse writes.

"I remember when Jake White introduced fitness levels to the Bok squad early in his tenure, it was a well guarded secret at the time that captain John Smit did not pass on a couple of benchmarks set.

And who is the most talked about Springbok when it comes to fitness in the country?

Ricky Januarie of course.

Any mention on whether he became slimmer and/or faster and/or fitter?

Not a chance!

Can one suspect that telling us Bryan and Jaque are quicker and Bakkies and Bismarck are stronger, but not telling us anything about Ricky, that there is nothing good to tell about the scrumhalf?

Or am I too cynical about this?"


October 7, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 10/07/2010

Watson apologises - 'I was wrong'

Luke Watson is sorry for the mistakes he made and wants to return to South Africa. Sport24's Philip de Bruin reports.

"Watson, who unleashed a torrent of fury by saying that he had to keep himself from vomiting on the Springbok jersey, talks about his errors in judgment in the latest edition of SA Rugby magazine.

“I now understand why so many people in South Africa didn’t like me. I was a political pawn, even if I had good intentions,” he said.

The former Springbok loose forward is currently the captain of English club side Bath.

“If I could get the chance again, I would do a lot of things differently. I regret going to the camp (of former Springbok coach Jake White in 2007) knowing that the coach did not want me there,” said Watson.

“I did things that were not always my own choice. In reality I was a political pawn. I had good intentions and wanted to promote a certain cause. But I also knew that I did not want to be there – just as little as Jake and the other players wanted me there. Looking back I was wrong."


October 6, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 10/06/2010

Bok squad left too late

Writing for Sport24, Rob Houwing believes the Springboks are asking for trouble by delaying their tour squad selection until after the Currie Cup finale.

"As if there hasn’t been enough tumult in the camp over coaching matters, the Springbok team are also going to have to hit the ground running on their Grand Slam tour.

"Confirmation by SARU on Tuesday that the national squad for the traditional end-of-year tour will only be named after the Absa Currie Cup final on October 30 means there will be precious little time for players to digest their inclusion or, more importantly, acclimatise ahead of the tough first assignment against Ireland in Dublin just a week later.

"Nobody needs reminding that the Irish achieved their own Grand Slam (winning all matches in the Six Nations) in 2009 and were runners-up to France this year – they have also won all of their last three home Tests against South Africa.

"So it is hardly a soft start for the Boks, and a real “rush job” will be required to get them ready, minus trusty leader John Smit, for their first challenge of the European winter.

"Certainly the fortnight between the Currie Cup semi-finals on October 16 and final, while a blessing for certain hard-pressed domestic players who will appreciate the rest, is beginning to look more and more like an unhelpful curse from a Springbok perspective."

October 4, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 10/04/2010

Rassie roped in to rescue Boks

Rassie Erasmus is the man who will be tasked with rescuing the Springboks, according to Rapport's Rudolph Lake.

"It has been reliably learned that Erasmus will be appointed as South Africa under-20 coach in the next week or two and he will then also be used as strategic consultant and technical advisor of the struggling Springbok rugby team.

Erasmus will advise the Bok coaching team of Peter de Villiers, Dick Muir and Gary Gold when South Africa tour Britain and Ireland next month.

He will also be part of the Bok management team when the team defends its world crown in New Zealand next year.

Erasmus is currently director of coaching at Western Province and contracted to them until the end of 2012."

September 29, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 09/29/2010

Good fortune of P Divvy

Wynne Gray, writing in The New Zealand Herald, is pleased from an All Black point of view that Peter De Villiers kept the Springbok job.

"Whew! From all accounts, even among those wearing the crustiest Springbok blazers, there was some serious heat on Peter de Villiers and his South African coaching entourage.

"That group and the players had managed a solitary Tri-Nations victory this season, one measly win in Pretoria against the Wallabies after trailing 21-7 at one stage.

"It was not a good look. The results sheet looked shabby, P Divvy had made more vocal gaffes than George Dubya and there were some serious rumblings about the need to shore up the coaching group."

September 21, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 09/21/2010

Burnout

Tony Johnson takes a look at the different strategies used to manage the playing time of the All Blacks and Springboks on Supersport.

"In New Zealand we have I noted with interest the decision by SARU to withdraw its contracted players from the Currie Cup.

"There has been a similar, if not quite so far reaching decision here in New Zealand by the All Black selectors. 11 core members of the side are expected to sit out the rest of the ITM Cup, with other members restricted to a small number of appearances.

"Some, like Dan Carter, will be asked to play just one game to gauge their fitness ahead of the end of year tour after coming off injuries. Rather than be taken out en masse, as is the case in SA, they have been treated on an individual basis, but the effect is similar. It must be frustrating for fans and provincial coaches, but surely player welfare has to be the overriding factor.

"As I noted during the Tri-Nations it looked to me as if some of the key Springboks were looking jaded. It’s hardly surprising given the amount of playing time the likes of Victor Matfield and Bryan Habana have had."

September 15, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/15/2010

Bok opening for Grant?

The likely absence of Butch James could open the door to a Springbok return for Peter Grant at flyhalf on the Grand Slam tour according to Sport24's Rob Houwing.

"Precocious Absa Currie Cup talents Elton Jantjies and Patrick Lambie ought to be strongly in the running for squad selection if their current sparkling form continues, but the Bok brains trust will presumably want either (or both) of them to be accompanied by a much more senior figure in the key position as well.

"Playing your rugby on the generally much faster, harder and drier pitches of South Africa – especially after such a mild winter here -- is very different to negotiating the heavier turf, howling winds and sometimes driving rain of the northern hemisphere in November and December, where more of a grinding “percentages” game can be the route to success.

"And a player as well-equipped as James to operate in such an environment is the Stormers flyhalf Peter Grant, given the 2010 Currie Cup off by his Newlands-based chief employers as he samples a stint for Kobe in Japan."

September 9, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 09/09/2010

The Boks aren't as bad as you think, Jake

Paul Rees believes that South Africa will not be down for long after their dismal Tri-Nations campaign in The Guardian.

"No World Cup winner has successfully defended the trophy. South Africa looked equipped to do so before this year's Tri-Nations which saw the Springboks record one victory in their six matches to finish bottom of the table, a year after they won the tournament with five wins, including three over New Zealand.

"Peter de Villiers, the South Africa coach, is a man under pressure, but then he always has been. His appointment at the start of 2008 was seen by some as political, with the government determined that rugby followed a policy of transformation. Even when the Springboks were winning, his future was questioned.

"The South African Rugby Union will later this month conduct a review of the Tri-Nations. De Villiers's predecessor, Jake White, has offered to take over until the end of next year's World Cup, saying he would link up again with the former Australia coach, Eddie Jones, as he did before the 2007 World Cup. Jones, however, is contracted to Suntory in Japan and said he would not be available until next summer."

September 8, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 09/08/2010

Jake the Snake

After Jake White attempted to hasten the possible departure of Peter De Villiers from the Springbok hotseat, Brenden Nel defends the current Boks coach from a stab in the back on Supersport.

"When Jake White was still Springbok coach it wasn’t uncommon to hear his opponents and enemies refer to him as “Jake the Snake. This week, White made it undoubtedly clear that he wants the Springbok job back. But that’s no surprise. He made it abundantly clear last week, and a few weeks ago when the Boks lost in Auckland.

"It also isn’t different from the plea he made for his job back in 2008, when the Boks went through a similar bad spell. The constant thing about all these pleas is that White, who has done more self-publicity than anyone in rugby, is pushing himself for the job using the clever contacts he made in the media over the years.

"There is no doubt that there is a lot of frustration at the moment among the paying public at the performances of the Springboks. That alone - without adding in Peter de Villiers’ comments - has put enough pressure on the team a year ahead of the World Cup."

September 7, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 09/07/2010

An outbreak of common sense


Peter De Villiers has continued to confound the media, but not so his assistants © Getty Images

Gavin Rich marvels at an outbreak of common sense at a Springbok press conference on Supersport.

"The lure of a mutton bunny chow and the chance to watch Robbie Deans do that thing where only the bottom part of his mouth moves when speaking saw me spend last week with the Wallabies in Durban, but my colleagues tell me there was a seismic event at a Springbok press conference.

"No, the reference is not to the “100% support” for Bees comment, but to a press conference last Thursday at which, by unanimous consent, there was an extremely rare outbreak of sensible and honest stuff spoken.

"It was probably not coincidental that it was also the first press conference this year that the two Springbok assistant coaches, Gary Gold and Dick Muir, have been allowed to come out and face media questioning. Which is a pity really, for those two guys seem to be under as much pressure from some sections of the media and public as head coach Peter de Villiers is, and yet they get so little opportunity to put their own points across."

September 6, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 09/06/2010

Give us a clue

Peter Bills finds no problem with South Africa's heart - but a big one with their defence - in The Irish Independent.

"When the dust had settled on one of the greatest Test matches the old game had ever seen, some pertinent questions needed to be asked.

"Not whether there was still any spirit left in this defeated Springbok squad that has finished bottom of the Tri Nations table. That one was answered in bucket-loads as the Boks turned around a ruinous 31-6 deficit to lead 36-31 with minutes left.

"Only personal pride and a deep well of belief would drag a team out of that particular pit into a position to win a game. That they failed to seal the deal, when they were still in front, had possession and were less than 40 seconds from the final whistle, shattered the South Africans."

September 5, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/05/2010

Do the honourable thing, Div


Could Kurtley Beale's match-winning penalty for Australia have hastened the exit of Boks coach Peter de Villiers? © Getty Images

Peter de Villiers just handed his bosses some more rope if it is, as has been suggested, their mounting desire to hang him. Sport 24's Rob Houwing writes.

"Already back in the firing line because of a fresh salvo of unprompted, nutcase comments regarding the Bees Roux matter and a strangely “verkrampte” threat to take his Springboks into some sort of stubborn laager as understandable public derision rings out, the coach’s orthodox rugby credentials are swiftly unravelling as well.

"The facts confirm that more starkly than ever, following the national team’s gutsy but yet again broadly unsatisfactory Vodacom Tri-Nations showing against Australia in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

"The Wallabies had last won in the Free State metropolis when it was a one-horse town … 77 years on and the bogey has been laid to rest.

"Not only that but the Aussies snatched the secondary Mandela Plate for 2010, courtesy of Kurtley Beale’s quite brilliant match-tilting penalty at the death, and banished the Springboks to bottom finish in the Tri-Nations.

"From champs to chumps in one year – sorry, but in such situations the coach tends to have to take the ultimate rap, doesn’t he?"

August 29, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/29/2010

Boks earn stay of execution

Writing for Sport 24, Rob Houwing reviews the Springboks' much-needed victory over the Wallabies.

"Imperfect? And then some. Thrilling? Well, mostly through the game’s laughable structural quality. A win? Thank the almighty, the Boks will happily bank it!

"South Africa finally climbed off the foot of the grotesquely lopsided Vodacom Tri-Nations 2010 ladder at Loftus on Saturday, courtesy of a breathless, bunnies-on-speed 44-31 triumph over Australia.

"This was a clash of the sloppy seconds (and thirds, of course) and it was all too apparent for much of the 80 minutes – although if you’re a fan of implausible, B-grade action movies, here was a fitting equivalent shot between white lines."

August 28, 2010

Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 08/28/2010

Victory would be icing on cake for Matfield's 100th

Wynne Gray pays tribute to Victor Matfield who wins his 100th cap this afternoon, in The New Zealand Herald.

"A few years ago, Victor Matfield joined the south of France brigade.

"He slipped off to Toulon where he lived in a magnificent seaside villa, played his rugby for the local team and enjoyed the wealthy trappings created by his sporting gifts. It was looming as a pleasant way to wind down his career. Yet tomorrow, Matfield will lead the Springboks out on to his favourite Loftus Versfeld arena in Pretoria, the third player to reach 100 tests for his country and hoping to be the first to celebrate the milestone with a victory.

"Matfield is 33 now and his powers may be dwindling but he is still a remarkable forward. He is the best lineout forward of the modern era, a man revered by rivals and teammates, a strategist who spends days poring through details, television footage and ideas about his kingdom. He could be the target, he could be the dummy leaper or a lifter. Matfield makes the calls on instinct and what he sees in front of him."

Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 08/28/2010

For a little bit of pride

Writing in The Star, Jacques van der Westhuyzen believes the stakes are high this afternoon at Loftus and reckons it is all about conditioning for the Springboks.

"There is a general consensus Peter de Villiers' men played their "final" against the All Blacks last weekend and while the Boks gave a good account of themselves, their mammoth first half effort cost them in the latter stages. They were out on their feet after going toe-to-toe with the best attacking team in the competition, and a few minor errors finally allowed the All Blacks to sneak in at the death.

"The Boks were a beaten bunch - physically and mentally - and now they're being asked to reproduce that performance to prevent a fifth successive defeat in this year's Tri-Nations competition. The pressure is enormous, not only to snap the losing streak, but for many in the squad to ensure they have a future beyond next weekend, when they clash again with the Wallabies in Bloemfontein.

"Two further defeats could mean the end of De Villiers - and that may also mean the end of Smit and a few others. It was hardly surprising after last week's match that All Blacks coach Graham Henry praised his conditioning staff for getting the best out of the players. And if the Boks think the Wallabies will run out of puff simply because they're playing on the Highveld, at a venue where they've never won before, they'd be very wrong."


August 25, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/25/2010

Lasting the pace

Zelim Nel throws the spotlight on the Springboks' conditioning as they prepare to face the Wallabies in The Cape Argus.

"The Wallabies are banking on superior conditioning to lift them to their first win on the Highveld in almost 50 years when they square up against the Springboks at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday afternoon.

"Australia have never won in Pretoria and, in 37 matches played in South Africa, they have only beaten the Boks eight times. Six of those wins came at coastal venues, while the most recent Highveld victory - dating back to Johannesburg in 1963 - came three decades after Australia's first such win in Bloemfontein in 1933."

August 24, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/24/2010

Put the boot in

Spiro Zavos believes that the Wallabies can kick the Springboks while they are down this weekend in Bloemfontein in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"Some New Zealand newspapers carried the remarkable photograph of Ma'a Nonu bursting through the Springboks defence to set up the All Blacks' last try in their thrilling 29-22 victory in Johannesburg. Remarkable because Nonu is running with one of his boots left in the despairing grasp of John Smit. There is a metaphor here. The Springboks were given the order of the boot by the All Blacks, who scored their first victory in Johannesburg since 1992, and their first ever Tri Nations win there.

"Despite the closeness of the scoreline and the fact that the All Blacks scored 12 points in the last five minutes of play, the home side was really thrashed all over the field. The Springboks scrum was under pressure most of the game, even though it won a penalty when Smit went up early. The famed lineout dominance has gone with penalties conceded for crooked throws and taking too long to throw in. The All Blacks missed five chances of scoring tries and scored three while the Springboks took their only chance which came from a couple of barging runs near the try line following a tap kick."

August 23, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/23/2010

Boks are in denial


Richie McCaw celebrates his late try against South Africa © Getty Images

Gavin Rich is rapidly losing patience with the denial emanating from the Springbok camp after another defeat on Supersport.

"If the Springboks are going to be in with any chance of retaining the World Cup next year, the current trend of living in denial is going to have to be brought to an immediate halt.

"When the team was in Australasia, four yellow cards in three matches was not considered enough reason to believe the team had a discipline problem. The Boks lost all three matches overseas by double figure margins, and yet when the Springbok coach was asked about it, he never came out with any kind of comment suggesting he acknowledged that there was a problem much less had any idea of how to fix it.

“When I watch the game again on video I cannot understand how we lost”, was not confidence inspiring stuff.

"When the Boks returned home all we heard from the coach and his assistants was that there were small things that had gone wrong on tour and that no radical change of approach was necessary. All it required, or so they said, was a few minor adjustments and that it was complacency that had tripped the team up in the away matches against New Zealand and Australia."

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/23/2010

Weepu leading the way

Peter Bills hails the All Blacks' gameplan as the deciding factor in their Tri-Nations triumph in The Irish Independent.

"So, did the All Blacks get out of jail in Johannesburg? Behind for 77 minutes of a compelling Test match and at times smashed back by the Springboks' immense physicality and terrific defence, were they lucky to turn the game on its head with two tries in the last three minutes?

"Not in my book. This match wasn't won in front of 94,000 delirious South African fans who thought they had the old Kiwi skewered and on the braai midway through the second half when the Boks led 22-14.

"It was won last year in the northern hemisphere and earlier this year when the Tri Nations began. As someone once said, you triumphed the moment you decided to become someone."

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/23/2010

Already among the best ever

Chris Rattue hails the performance of New Zealand after they wrapped up the Tri-Nations title in Soweto, and he wasn't at all impressed with the Springboks, in The New Zealand Herald.

"Rugby has rarely been better to watch, if ever, and this re-built All Black team is already among the best ever.

"The All Blacks were magnificent, nullifying South Africa's famed home advantage and finishing them off with two late tries that should rank high in any memory that can cope with the cluttered modern day test schedule. As for the Springboks, they are in even bigger trouble than we thought.

"If that's the best the world champs can come up with in a home colosseum while celebrating John Smit's century of tests, then they are indeed one large tank skidding out of control down one very steep hill."

August 22, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/22/2010

A cruel world

Kevin McCallum reflects on a cruel loss for Springbok legend John Smit in his 100th Test match in The Tribune.

"John Smit dropped to one knee exhausted and disbelieving as referee Nigel Owens blew the whistle to bring an end to a match that was so close to being the ultimate 100th anniversary party for the Springbok captain.

"A last-minute try by Israel Dagg gave the All Blacks a 29-22 win, wrapping up yet another Vodacom Tri-nations series win, but it was cruel on a Springbok team that had scrapped every inch of the way, fading in the last quarter.

"It was cruel on Smit, who has been an immense statesman for his country. Even his opposite number, Richie McCaw, who also scored a try a try three minutes from time to put the All Blacks level, felt it was harsh."

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/22/2010

All Blacks and Boks need each other

Sean Fitzpatrick maintains that the All Blacks and Springboks need each other, despite the recent SANZAR wrangling, in The New Zealand Herald.

"My response to the Springboks pulling out of Sanzar is - don't do it. The All Blacks and the Springboks need each other, perhaps more than either would like to admit.

"In my view, it's still the best rivalry in world rugby. I have magical memories from my youth of sitting in front of the TV with my family in the dead of night, tingling with excitement at the prospect of watching the All Blacks take on the auld enemy.

"My heroes the All Blacks, playing South Africa on the TV in the wee small hours of the morning - pure rugby heaven for a young lad. Playing the Boks has always been the ultimate challenge for any All Black and that remains the case. Playing them in New Zealand is a tough proposition, but fronting up in South Africa is another level altogether."


August 21, 2010

Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 08/21/2010

Times are changing, but not the Boks


Peter de Villiers has much to ponder ahead of this afternoon's clash with the All Blacks © Getty Images

The Springboks must adapt their game if they are to keep their place at the top table according to The New Zealand Herald's Mike Greenaway.

"Compounding the Boks' problems has been the removal of the two key proponents of their kicking game, the excellent halfback Fourie du Preez (injury) and fullback Francois Steyn (moved to France), while injury has also denied them their brilliant ball-stealing flanker, Heinrich Brussow.

"The loss of those players aside, a year out from a World Cup, it is a big ask to reinvent your playing style. And while the Boks maintain their suit must be cut according to their cloth, the evolving application of the laws has put a spin on matters and there is an argument that the Boks are burying their heads in the sand. Another analogy is that it is difficult to teach old dogs new tricks.

"The core of the Springbok team is around 30. They have won a World Cup and two Tri-Nations titles and beaten the Lions, and now, in the twilight of their careers they are supposed to change the way they play? It is not going to happen."


Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 08/21/2010

Pressure mounts on De Villiers

The Irish Independent's Peter Bills reckons Springbok coach Peter de Villiers will be feeling the heat in Soweto this afternoon.

"As one newspaper headline this week put it 'the wind of revolt' is blowing around South African rugby. No one is more determined to fan those flames than the All Blacks.

"You would need a psychologist, not a rugby observer, to dissect the meaning of all these disparate elements. New Zealand have won all four of their Tri Nations matches this season and stand just a single point away from regaining the trophy from South Africa's grasp. Even defeat, by seven points or less, or the scoring of four tries in a loss, would be sufficient to send the trophy back to New Zealand with the All Blacks tomorrow.

"But these revived New Zealanders are not thinking about a defeat. With a full wind in their sails, which they hope will blow them all the way to the World Cup in 13 months' time, Graham Henry's All Blacks have played some sublime rugby. Confidence, like their try scoring, is at lofty levels."


August 20, 2010

Posted by Mark Doyle on 08/20/2010

Milestone day for special leader

With Springbok captain John Smit set to make his 100th appearance in Test rugby in Saturday's Tri-Nations clash with the All Blacks, Peter Bills of the New Zealand Herald takes time out to pay tribute to the veteran hooker.

"They're warriors, truly special men, these front row forwards. And few in recent times have been greater, more dedicated battlers than John Smit, captain of South Africa who plays his 100th test when he faces the All Blacks in Johannesburg tomorrow.

"The hooker is the focal point of the pack. He leads the charge of bodies. These days there are, on average, 20 scrums in a match. In times gone by there were far more. Then there are the daily practice sessions where these men hone their technique.

"Perhaps 100 scrums or more in a week? If a season lasts more than 40 weeks, and they play up to 30 games in that time - you can do the sums."

August 19, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/19/2010

Warrior instincts make Smit a worthy centurion

Writing in the Irish Independent, Peter Bills heaps praise on Springboks hooker John Smit on the eve of his 100th Test cap.

"On YouTube there is a short sequence where New Zealand's giant 1.95m, 115kg lock-forward Brad Thorn catches the ball and starts to run forward. In the blink of an eye, this huge man is suddenly hurled backwards. Springbok captain and hooker John Smit has hit him so hard in a tackle most of the air in the two men's lungs has been sucked out by the impact.

"Smit, who has been playing top-class rugby since the last years of the last century, has subjected his body to gruelling physical torture. Hence our respect for a man who, this Saturday in Johannesburg, will win his 100th Test cap for the Springboks, 74 as captain, which is a world record.

"Smit becomes just the second South African to win 100 caps after Percy Montgomery. But the latter was a full-back, far removed from the constant physical excesses of Smit's role. Never in the course of those 100 caps has he taken a backward step. The punishment he has willingly inflicted upon his body is unimaginable to most human beings."

August 17, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/17/2010

Boks defend Smit's weight

The Springboks are not fat, unfit and slow. And the team’s captain, John Smit, does not weigh more than in previous years. That's the message coming out of the Boks' camp according to Sport 24's JJ Harmse.

"Smit and the rest of the team are playing with 16% more intensity than was the case when the season kicked off against Wales a little over two months ago.

"That was the reaction on Monday from Bok conditioning coach Neels Liebel to recent criticism about the team’s fitness levels and conditioning. He said there was a plan in place to ensure that senior Boks still have enough gas in the tank when next year’s World Cup is played in New Zealand.

“The players are monitored on a daily basis. We acquired new conditioning equipment this year that works with satellite navigation and it shows us exactly how much players run and when they need to be rested. It is being done scientifically and it’s not a matter of guessing. We have a plan and are sticking to it,” Liebel said in a swipe at critics such as sports scientist Professor Tim Noakes."


August 16, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/16/2010

Pride in the jersey


The Springboks have had little to cheer about in 2010 © Getty Images

Gavin Rich ponders the step up in class shown by New Zealand's players this season, and the flat performances of their Springbok counterparts on Supersport.

"If anyone was trying to justify the all-pervading depression that fell on many South African rugby followers at the end of the away leg of the Tri-Nations, All Black coach Graham Henry summed up why they were feeling that when he arrived in the country at the weekend.

“It has been going well so far, because there was a feeling in New Zealand after the Super 14 final that we would not be able to match the Springboks,” said Henry.

"Yes, and that was only two and a half months ago. Henry's words are a reminder that the South African expectations were not based on false hope and were completely justified. This was not a year when the Springboks should have been so emphatically outplayed away from home."

August 15, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/15/2010

Boxing clever

Richard Loe believes that a few All Black barbs have found their mark in recent weeks as they prepare for a Soweto showdown with the Springboks in The Herald on Sunday.

"The All Blacks have been clever in their build-up to next weekend's test match against the Boks in Soweto - and they need to be.

"The Boks will come at them very hard in front of 90,000 fans.The All Blacks in the two tests in New Zealand didn't just surprise the Springboks, they shattered the image of them being the best team in the world, put a question mark next to the future of many players and will have made them question their whole approach to the game, only a year or so out from the World Cup.

"Their response will be physical, committed and almost desperate. But will it be enough? After the first test in New Zealand, most of us thought (I certainly did) the Boks would come back hard in the second test."

August 14, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/14/2010

A potent mix

Wynne Gray predicts a potent atmosphere as the All Blacks take on the Springboks in Soweto next weekend in The New Zealand Herald.

"The Springboks against the All Blacks in Soweto. The nerves churn and the blood rises just imagining the atmosphere next Sunday if more than 94,000 cram into the National Stadium to watch the old rivals.

"One of our satellite sports is baiting South Africans, but one thing we should never do is chip them about the way they support their national teams. They do atmosphere as well as any rugby nation round the globe.

"Next week that may rise to a new level as the Springboks arrive for the first of their three Tri-Nations tests at home with revered captain John Smit set for his 100th Springbok cap."

August 12, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/12/2010

A wounded beast

Rupert Guinness gets the thoughts of former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones and Reds boss Ewen McKenzie about the Springboks' woes in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"Former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones has warned against writing off the world champion Springboks despite their Tri Nations form slump.

"And Reds coach and former World Cup-winning Wallabies prop Ewen McKenzie says the extent of the Springboks' ills won't be known until after they face New Zealand in Johannesburg next Saturday.

"The Springboks lost their first three away Tri Nations Tests - 32-12 and 31-17 to the All Blacks in New Zealand and 30-13 to Australia in Brisbane on July 24. Jones believes their decline is temporary and that they are more focused on the World Cup next year."

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/12/2010

Long live P Divvy

Wynne Gray calls for Peter De Villiers, and his now famous outbursts, to remain in place throught to the 2011 Rugby World Cup in The New Zealand Herald.

"The squeaky helium tones of Peter de Villiers will not be back in town until next year, as long as he makes the World Cup cut. In the meantime, though, his vocal gems are sure to bounce around the globe as other nations marvel at some of his sayings and wonder about his coaching connection to the Springboks.

"Let's hope he stays in charge to the end of next year because without him, the Boks would be a much more dangerous beast.

"This week, old P Divvy escaped the wrath of Sanzar when he was cleared of misconduct for comments implying some sort of conspiracy between referees to bolster interest in the 2011 World Cup. A South African judicial official ruled that he had not breached the code of conduct."

August 8, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/08/2010

De Jongh is a Bok 'must'

Centre Juan de Jongh must be part of the the Springboks line-up as they plot their redemption according to Sport24's Rob Houwing.

"Never mind just select him, Juan de Jongh may well have earned the right to be pencilled in as first-choice centre for the Springboks’ Vodacom Tri-Nations Test against New Zealand at Soweto in a fortnight.

"Certainly he looks the right stuff as a freshening presence for the Boks as they begin the journey to redemption after a shocking away leg of the competition.

"With the squad for the home Tests expected to be announced on Sunday, De Jongh could not have chosen a better time to remind the national brains trust of his potential as he starred in Western Province’s 50-3 battering of Griquas in their supposed Absa Currie Cup stronghold of Kimberley on Saturday."

August 5, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/05/2010

Consistency + Paddy = FAIL


Another fine mess: Drew Mitchell gets his marching orders © Getty Images

Brenden Nel wades into the refereeing debate, and calls for greater consistency at the top, on Supersport.

"Consistency. It is a wonderful word. One too often misinterpreted by referees across the world when it comes to this wonderful game.It is all you can ask for from a referee because, as they always remind us, they are only human.

"It is something now we need desperately from the International Rugby Board’s boss Paddy O’Brien when it comes to refereeing standards across the world. This week’s swift and harsh punishment for touch judge Cobus Wessels may have been welcomed after the fact by Australia, but to us here in South Africa it only served to highlight the gross lop-sided action by the IRB bosses when it came to refereeing indiscretions.

"But before we get into that, let me state this clearly. This is not an attack on referees. They are some of the best people in rugby, fit with sharp minds and who constantly bear the brunt of a losing team as the blame for everything that goes wrong."

July 25, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/25/2010

Smit's ton is a Bok poser

John Smit finds himself one tantalising Test away from 100 Springbok caps … yet arguably under the harshest scrutiny of his illustrious international career, according to Sport24's Rob Houwing.

"Captain of a Bok team that has been walloped in three successive overseas matches in the Vodacom Tri-Nations and out of contention now to retain their crown, the 32-year-old is, sadly, very high on the list of players whose shelf-lives are looking incredibly tenuous.

"That is the unpalatable truth after the latest near-debacle, Saturday’s 30-13 reverse in Brisbane to a Wallabies side supposedly still in a state of transition but simply too good for the wobbling World Cup champions.

"I have little doubt that, come August 21 and South Africa’s first shot at restoring some pride against the All Blacks back home in Soweto, Smit will be invited to lead the troops into battle and simultaneously post his poignant century. He has been a genuinely distinguished servant of the Springbok game, both as leader and player.

"But I’ll also bet you this much: a strong lobby during the merciful hiatus over the next few weeks will also howl that being on 99 caps is no special reason for sentiment and that Smit ought to be among several customers dropped on the grounds of rank indifferent form – even if not necessarily permanently."

July 23, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/23/2010

The brain behind the Boks


Springboks lock Victor Matfield watches his coach Peter de Villiers in action during a recent press conference © Getty Images

There's good reason why the Waratahs want Victor Matfield as a coach, writes the Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Growden.

"No wonder the Waratahs are sniffing around Victor Matfield - not as a player, but as a member of their coaching staff - in a bid to bring poise to the organisation.

"Matfield, 33, has intimated that he is interested in a coaching career after he finishes playing, most likely at the conclusion of next year's World Cup. And the Waratahs have good reason to pursue him, believing the very traits that have made him a standout Test performer will transform him into a great teacher and adviser.

"The essential ingredients of a successful off-field leader are there. He is forever composed. He is a master tactician. He knows the game backwards. He immediately pounces on an opposition frailty. He abounds in confidence, and knows how to get the best out of all those around him. Most importantly, he is intelligent."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/23/2010

Soweto Test ticket offer 'an insult'

A Soweto rugby administrator says offers of discounted tickets for township residents to attend South Africa’s historic match against New Zealand at the National Stadium (formerly Soccer City) next month was “an insult”. Sport24 reports.

"The South African Rugby Union (SARU) said in a statement on Thursday that 5 000 tickets costing R100 each for the first-ever rugby match at the venue of the FIFA World Cup final would go on sale to Soweto residents on Monday. The price of all but 9 000 of the iconic stadium’s 88 000 seats has been set at R500, with a first phase of 44 000 tickets selling out within 48 hours last week.

“I think 5 000 tickets is an insult,” Soweto Rugby Club secretary Zola Ntlokoma said. “This is a community of close to two million people and I think we deserve better. We are rugby people and 5 000 tickets are not much compared to the stadium’s capacity. Maybe they could have given us 20 000."


July 22, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/22/2010

The Jedi and The Cake Tin

Supersport's Matt Pearce is on tour with the Springboks, taking in 'The Jedi and The Cake Tin' in his latest blog.

"The stinging criticism of the Boks from back home after their second loss hit hard. Although there were serious issues with the one-on-one defending against a pacy and strong New Zealand team playing with great confidence, no-one can dispute the unfortunate role played by the referee. Not a single patriotic New Zealand pundit could justify the call against Danie Rossouw, nor the leniency allowed to Richie McCaw.

"It got me thinking that by winning in New Zealand two years in a row – having not done so for 10 years previously – this team have created a sense of expectation of victory against the ABs. However, what those victories in Dunedin (Ricky Januarie’s all-time moment of brilliance) and Hamilton (Frans Steyn’s three penalties from inside his half and some wicked bounces for the All Blacks in the dying moments) proved is that to win in New Zealand, you need absolutely everything to go your way, the minutiae, the bounces of the ball, the 50-50 calls. That was never going to be the case in Wellington."

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/22/2010

Pocock's time

Greg Growden calls on Wallabies flanker David Pocock to strangle the Springboks at the breakdown in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"David Pocock's Test initiation is over, with the Wallabies calling on their openside breakaway to be a Tri Nations match winner by strangling the Springboks at the breakdown during the Test in Brisbane on Saturday night.

"The message from the Wallabies camp yesterday was that this was the season for Pocock to step up and be as authoritative as his predecessor George Smith by taking advantage of a shaky opposition, which has been criticised this week for messing up the balance of its back row.

"As Pocock is the only specialist openside breakaway on the field, and with the Springboks so obsessed with how they are being persecuted by northern hemisphere referees at the breakdown, the Wallabies know that the scavenging skills of their 22-year-old could destabilise the South Africans for the third week running. They realise that this could be the moment where Pocock, in his third Test season and 11th starting Test, arrives as a top-quality international back-rower."

July 21, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/21/2010

Time to think before talking


Is Springboks skipper John Smit the only one talking sense in the wake of his side's Wellington loss? © Getty Images

The outcry over the refereeing furing New Zealand's victory over South Africa in Wellington seems like a not so subtle attempt to deflect attention away from the reality that the Springboks have been overtaken by the All Blacks, according to Gavin Rich of Supersport.com.

"The most sensible words to come out of the Bok camp this week have predictably come from John Smit, and he is 100% on the money when he says that losing a player from the tight five in the first 10 minutes is crippling as that is when the two sides are trying to establish physical ascendancy.

"It is difficult to change momentum once it is established, and the Boks found themselves in a similar position to the one that they found themselves in when Schalk Burger was removed from play for the initial 10 minutes of last year’s second test against the British and Irish Lions.

"But mention of the Burger incident only serves to remind us that the Boks have been in this situation too often recently and that it is starting to become a malaise. It might serve the Bok purpose far more if instead of bleating in an unedifying fashion about external factors they took a long, hard look inwardly."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/21/2010

Saru to 'take up' bias against Boks

The South African Rugby Union are to take action in addressing what is believed to be bias against the Springbok team when it comes to refereeing and the judicial process in the sport. The Cape Times' Ashfak Mohamed reports.

"Saru president Oregan Hoskins told the Cape Times yesterday that he has instructed South Africa's representative on the Sanzar legal committee, Judge Lex Mpati, to "take up" the apparent inconsistent rulings against the Boks during the Tri-Nations.

"On the judicial side, I have asked Judge Mpati to take it up," Hoskins said. "A number of stakeholders have complained to me about the lack of consistency in the rulings of the judicial officials in rugby.

"I have stressed to Judge Mpati the seriousness of the matter, and he has promised that he will come back to me in writing hopefully by next week. I don't want to say too much further, as previously I have spoken about the issue in the media and nothing has been done about it."

July 20, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/20/2010

Viva la Revolucion


Mils Muliaina - front and centre in the war against loose kicks © Getty Images

Peter Bills believes that the All Blacks could soon inspire a revolution in rugby, one where old-school counter attacking is the order of the day, in The Independent.

"A strange, alien sighting was glimpsed in the skies above Wellington's Westpac stadium last Saturday night. Or rather, it was something that wasn't there that was so bewildering, so baffling.

"A rugby Test match was played without any aerial ping-pong, the great kicking plague of the modern game. Well, that isn't strictly true. One side did still try it. But they lost by 31 points to 17, four tries to two. So they don't matter, do they?

"Well, let's hope not. It might be stretching credulity to suggest that the rugby played by New Zealand these past two weekends in the Tri-Nations, at Auckland and Wellington, has been of a revolutionary nature."

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/20/2010

Whining will get you nowhere

Spiro Zavos has no time for the complaints of the Springboks in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"Saloons in the Wild West often carried a notice: "Do not shoot the pianist, he is doing his best." This instruction came to mind when the madcap coach of the Springboks, Peter de Villiers, tried to explain his team's two comprehensive losses to the All Blacks.

"De Villiers suggested the Springboks had been persecuted by the referees. He threatened to "prepare guys to cheat" to turn this around. For the record, the penalty/free kick count at Wellington under the Irishman Alain Rolland was 10-9 in favour of New Zealand. One penalty to South Africa was turned around after Danie Rossouw was given a yellow card for flicking Richie McCaw in the eyes and then kneeing him.

"This hardly seems like the persecution of a team that was outplayed. And at Auckland in the first Tri Nations Test, the Springboks were awarded seven consecutive penalties in the middle part of the match, and were well ahead in the penalty count despite being thrashed on the scoreboard."

July 19, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/19/2010

Life's not fair

Brendan Nel, writing on Supersport, believes that whining about the performance of Alain Rolland against New Zealand will not help the Springboks' cause come the World Cup.

"Baying for Referee Alain Rolland’s blood after Saturday’s defeat at the hands of New Zealand won’t get us anywhere. Rolland was not at his best on Saturday, and that is an understatement. For a referee who handled the 2007 World Cup final, he clearly is no slouch. But on Saturday he was the type of referee we all complain about – inconsistent.

"The Boks have the right to ask questions about the breakdown, where the All Blacks slowed the ball down, went off their feet and fell over at will, while the same indiscretions by the Boks were penalised by the ref.

"They also have a right to ask why Richie McCaw can get so many “official” warnings while Bakkies Botha was yellow carded last weekend for his first breakdown offence. But here’s the problem with whinging over the ref. One, it papers over the fact that the Boks simply weren’t good enough in both games. And two, it won’t help much as the Springboks will encounter these same refs at next year’s World Cup in New Zealand."

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/19/2010

There's no 'I' in 'team'

Greg Growden believes that the Wallabies can beat South Africa in Brisbane on Saturday, but only if they play as a team, in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"It is obvious why the All Blacks are standing tall at the top of the Tri Nations ladder. They play as a team.

"They do everything as a team. They are there in numbers. They back up. They support each other. They perform as a finely tuned ensemble.

"The All Blacks know when to lift the intensity, how to help each other to ensure they are in control of the combat zone. And when they reveal an opposition weakness, they know how to be there in numbers. Just watch how many times the swarming All Blacks score tries, with attacking options either side of the scorer. That is confidence. That is self-belief. That is being part of a real team."

July 16, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/16/2010

Cometh the hour...


Can John Smit inspire the Springboks? © Getty Images

Gavin Rich expects Springbok skipper John Smit to shoulder plenty of responsibility against New Zealand this weekend on Supersport.

" His ability to dig his team out of a crisis meant that at the Wanderers there used to be a saying that “cometh the hour, cometh Clive Rice”. In the Springbok rugby context, it could be adapted to John Smit, as it is the captain’s ability to take the world on his shoulders and stand up and be counted that holds the key to South Africa’s chances of redemption in Wellington on Saturday.

"The Boks take on the All Blacks in the second Vodacom Tri-Nations test under the sort of pressure they haven’t faced since the first match of last year’s British and Irish Lions series. Since then the winning momentum has tended to be with them, they have been on a roll, and the step back that appeared to be taken on the last end-of-year tour was hidden behind the excuse of fatigue.

"But as Jean de Villiers said during the week, the big defeat in Auckland seven days ago, where the Boks not only lost by 20 points but also conceded four tries to nil, had the effect of taking the Boks 10 steps backwards."

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/16/2010

New fire expected

Wynne Gray is expecting renewed fire from the Springboks when they take on New Zealand in Wellington on Saturday in The New Zealand Herald.

"In the cyclops world in which some New Zealand rugby followers dwell, the All Blacks will repeat their vast Eden Park-winning margin tomorrow.

"For those with greater peripheral vision, this looms as a much tougher contest than a week ago. Why? There are a multitude of reasons. Last Saturday was a hell of a beating - a 20-point thumping, though it was well short of the record 52-16 walloping they delivered in Pretoria in 2003.

"The All Blacks will do well to play or be allowed to play to the standards they showed in this start to the Tri-Nations. The Tri-Nations champions, who include the core of the Bulls side which won the Super 14 crown this season and others who annexed the last World Cup, are not a dud team."

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/16/2010

Bakkies can bounce back

Bakkies Botha's nine-week ban could be the turning point in his career according to those who know the Springbok and Vata Ngobeni in The Star.

"On Thursday, Botha met with Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, with an affirmation by the Bulls to support their beleaguered lock.

"Botha, 30, has one more year to run on his Bulls contract and speculation is rife that he could leave for big money overseas after next year's World Cup.Meanwhile, there has been some closure following the head-butting incident.

"Bakkies did go on TV on Monday night and apologised to the nation and we back him 100 percent in this," said Ludeke. "He put his hand up, accepted responsibility for his actions and said his actions weren't good enough."

July 15, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/15/2010

A message from Os

Ken Borland relays a message from Springbok scrummaging coach Os du Randt on Supersport.

" When Springbok consultant Os du Randt speaks, it is with the gravitas of a legend of the game and the two-time World Cup winner had a message for both his team and the lawmakers ahead of Saturday's Tri-Nations test against the All Blacks in Wellington.

"Messages are sometimes judged not so much by their content but who they come from, but Du Randt, with 80 test caps and two World Cup winner's medals, has impeccable pedigree."

July 14, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/14/2010

A quiet word

Peter Bills believes that South Africa are getting their just desserts after failing to curb bakkies Botha's indiscipline in The New Zealand Herald.

"Bakkies Botha caught an aeroplane out of New Zealand late Sunday night, the start of a long flight home to South Africa in which shame and humiliation would have been his only companions.

"Botha's 2010 Tri-Nations tournament ended after 51 minutes, the time it took his coach to substitute him during last Saturday night's test match against the All Blacks at Eden Park, Auckland.

"In truth, it should have ended with a red card after 29 seconds, the time it took for the giant Springbok lock to head-butt from behind New Zealand halfback Jimmy Cowan."

July 13, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/13/2010

Back to reality


It was All Black for the Springboks in Auckland © Getty Images

Gavin Rich goes back to work after the Fifa World Cup, and there's little to be happy about with the Springboks, on Supersport.

" The final day of the Fifa World Cup felt like the last day of a really enjoyable holiday. The enjoyment is still there, you want to make every last second count for something, but you also know that what you are feasting on you are feasting on for the last time and that the following day it will all be over.

"The Monday after the World Cup final was a bit like the day after a really excellent and absorbing cricket test match. You’ve been completely enthralled for five days, it all built up to a thrilling climax, but now somehow you feel bereft. How are you going to fill up the empty time that is suddenly available?

"For many the answer to that question will probably be that we go back to work and start concentrating on the labour that pays us. In the instance of us sports scribes I suppose it should mean we start concentrating again on rugby issues and really start being interested in it again rather than just pretending to be."

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/13/2010

Angry and embarrassed

Jacques van der Westhuyzen was left "angry and embarrassed" by the actions of Bakkies Botha in South Africa's loss to New Zealand, in The Star.

"There's a fine line in rugby between being an aggressive player and being a thug. On Saturday in Auckland, Bakkies Botha overstepped the line. And if he is branded a thug for the rest of his career, it'll be no surprise.

"His headbutt on Jimmy Cowan was inexcusable and he's rightly been punished. His absence in the Bok team will, fortunately, not be felt because there are more than enough quality locks to take over the No4 jersey. In fact, Danie Rossouw and Andries Bekker have played better rugby than Botha in the last 12 months and while they may not have the "presence" of him on the field, they're just as aggressive, robust and are, in fact, far cleaner players."

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/13/2010

Over-confident and under-prepared

Spiro Zavos believes that the Springboks were over-confident and under-prepared for their opening Tri-Nations Test against the All Blacks in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"Peter de Villiers, the zany Springboks coach, dismissed talk of South Africa not winning at Eden Park since 1937 with this comment to journalists: ''If you play the field as well as the opposition, you'll lose.'' I took that remark to mean that the Springboks didn't think they had to do anything extra or different to break their Eden Park hoodoo. This was a big mistake.

"They could have arrived in New Zealand earlier than six days before the Test. They were overconfident. A spy claims that on Friday night he spotted Ricky Januarie tucking into a McDonald's hamburger. Sean Fitzpatrick said the senior players looked tired not long into the match.

"The game plan of the Springboks did not involve much high-octane play. They played their usual kicking game as if they only had to turn up to win. There was thuggishness from Bakkies Botha, but no energy or thoughtfulness in their play."

July 12, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/12/2010

Streets ahead


Kieran Read celebrates after scoring the All Blacks' third © Getty Images

Peter Bills reserves plenty of praise for the All Blacks after a stunning start to their Tri-Nations in The Irish Independent.

"In the land where they filmed 'The Lord of the Rings', the world champions certainly had rings run around them. South Africa's beating, by four tries to nil, was a shuddering wake-up call.Their belief, arrogance personified, that they could just rock up a few days before this first Tri Nations Test of 2010 and ignore the ruinously wasting influences of jet lag, that no matter who the opposition, they could just turn up and it would be business as usual, suffered an almighty demolition job.

"They were off the pace, surprised and stung by the snap, crackle and pop of the All Blacks' game. Bakkies Botha's early yellow-carding, not to mention his wild headbutt upon Jimmy Cowan for which he was suspended for nine weeks yesterday at a disciplinary hearing, made the South Africans' lives so much more difficult. His early absence handed an initiative to New Zealand that the Boks were never able to wrest back."

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/12/2010

Botha should have got a year

Chris Rattue, writing in The New Zealand Herald, believes that the nine-week ban handed to Bakkies Botha for a headbutt is insufficient.

"Nine weeks sounds like a long rugby ban. In the case of Bakkies Botha it isn't long enough. Botha should have got a year for what he did to Jimmy Cowan at Eden Park, also taking into account his history of thuggery.

"Why a year? Well, I've plucked that figure out of the air, but it sounds about right, and much more right than nine weeks.

"The best that could be said of Botha is that he admitted to head butting Cowan from behind, on the ground, and apologised. Given the outstanding video evidence against him, there wasn't much else Botha could do but nod, politely this time, in agreement."

July 11, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/11/2010

Boks must resist alarm


South Africa's Bakkies Botha trudges away to the sinbin during his side's clash with New Zealand © Getty Images

Panic-induced, wholesale changes should be avoided when the Springbok brains trust begin the regrouping process after their relative humiliation in the Vodacom Tri-Nations opener against the All Blacks, according to Sport24's Rob Houwing.

"Unless the Boks can dramatically manage a turnaround victory of similarly large proportions in the follow-up encounter, they are likely to stay behind their great rivals on the table even if they redeem themselves with the basic triumph at the Cake Tin.

"But it would also be foolhardy, I believe, for South Africa to suddenly shake the selection bag to a ludicrous degree, signalling alarm and possibly disarray. It just seemed as if the collective Bok focus was off the mark in Auckland and they must take responsibility for it as a broad group without necessarily resorting to drastic measures yet.

"We can almost certainly assume one enforced change will be required, with the ill-disciplined Bakkies Botha set for suspension anew. Ever-loyal Danie Rossouw shapes up as the logical replacement as the “enforcer” No 4, albeit minus the headless-chicken element Botha has brought to the party once too often."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/11/2010

Boks pay the price for over-confidence

Writing in the Sunday Herald, Richard Loe reflects on the All Blacks opening Tri-Nations victory over South Africa.

"I wouldn't write the Boks off. They were very unhappy with themselves, as you could see when John Smit was asked at the end of the game whether he'd been surprised by the All Black lineout. No, he said, I was disappointed with ours. It was a day where everything went right for the All Blacks.

"They attacked them hard and with meaning - and it was good to see that purpose and that physical approach, combined with their willingness to keep the ball in hand and run at the Boks.

"There were so many players who had a good day - you almost couldn't pick one out above the others. If I was pushed, as an old front rower I might have to give man of the match to Keven Mealamu - what a great, physical, willing, unbending game he had."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/11/2010

Crazy headbutt should be end for Bok Bakkies

How much longer can South Africa afford Bakkies Botha and his crass indiscipline? Peter Bills writes in the Sunday Tribune.

"As the big Bulls lock went back to the Springboks' Auckland team hotel on Sunday night to pack his bags for home, so certain is it that he will be suspended from the game later on Sunday, major questions were emerging about big Bakkies' Test future. How can Springbok coach Peter de Villiers keep choosing Botha when he clearly cannot rely on him to keep his discipline?

"Botha's act here on Sunday was wild, cowardly and nasty. Sure, he'd been held back in chasing a ball into New Zealand territory. But if a player who has won 67 caps in a Test career dating back eight years cannot keep his discipline and control his emotions enough to ignore such niggling fouls, then he has no place in Test rugby."

July 9, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/09/2010

Eden Park hoodoo


Can South Africa win at Eden Park? © Getty Images

Tony Johnson ponders the Springboks' record at Eden Park, before going for a narrow All Black win, on Supersport.

"Eden Park has been kind to the All Blacks over the years. They have not lost a test match there since 1994, when the French scored arguably the greatest team try ever seen on that famous ground to snatch a win. They have not lost to the Springboks there since 1937.

"But right now, with the reconstruction project in full swing, it is half of a fortress, and the Springboks are sniffing a chance to break another hoodoo. Gradually this Springbok team is eating up a lot of old records. Two years ago they ended a run of defeats at Carisbrook that stretched back to the very beginning of great rivalry...their first victory in 8 tests there.

"A win at Eden Park must be a burning ambition, and if they can do it this year they’ll be very confident of repeating next year when it counts even more."

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/09/2010

Get the blood pumping

Wynne Gray is as excited as ever for the arrival of the Springboks and the Tri-Nations in The New Zealand Herald.

"All Blacks v Springboks. New Zealand against South Africa. Do the pulses quicken quite as much about duels between the superpowers as they did for those who watched the epic series in New Zealand in 1937, 1956 and 1981?

"Perhaps they do, but in a much different way from those infrequent visits of the Boks. Since the arrival of professional rugby in 1996, the men from South Africa have played annual tests in New Zealand.

"We have seen some extraordinary duels in that time in New Zealand, prefaced of course the year before by the controversy from that memorable World Cup shootout between the same sides."

July 8, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/08/2010

Vintage ordinaire


Best in class: Morne Steyn © Getty Images

According to Peter Bills in The Irish Independent, the Springboks have a responsibility to cut loose against the All Blacks on Saturday.

"Whatever side Springbok coach Peter de Villiers announces for Saturday's eagerly awaited opening Test of the 2010 Tri Nations against New Zealand here in Auckland, one thing is already abundantly clear: South Africa can do the game an enormous favour by producing rugby in this tournament that sets the standards the world ought to be aiming at.

"Never has there been a greater need for the top southern hemisphere nation to do this. This year, so far, has been what they call in the wine business a vintage ordinaire. Tres ordinaire, if you come from the northern hemisphere. Sure, France won a Grand Slam. But they froze with fear at the final hurdle against England in Paris and only stumbled across the line because of England's many inadequacies."

July 7, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/07/2010

Only yourself to fear


That winning feeling: The Boks rocked Hamilton in 2009 © Getty Images

The Springboks only have themselves to fear this weekend in Auckland, according to Brendan Nel on Supersport.

"The Springboks face a tough task in Auckland this coming weekend, but the truth of the matter is that the biggest enemy they face is themselves.

"This year’s Tri-Nations is probably going to be won or lost in the next two weeks in New Zealand, and the Springbok confident frame of mind will determine just how well they do ahead of next year’s World Cup.

"While there are those of us who naturally worry that the Boks may be peaking a year too soon, the counter argument is that they are simply achieving what the All Blacks have done for so many years – consistency in victory. It could be that we are so used to a post 1992-era where the pendulum swung for and against the Springboks with such gusto that we almost waited for a fall of the Green and Gold."

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/07/2010

Get them while they are not too hot

Chris Rattue believes that "there is no such thing as a vulnerable Springbok team anymore" in The New Zealand Herald.

"Get them while they are not too hot. That's the best advice for the All Blacks, when they take on the world champion Springboks at the Eden Park construction site on Saturday night.

"There is no such thing as a vulnerable Springbok team anymore. They've got world-class and often over-sized rugby players coming out of their ears, a tried and trusted game plan, the best lineout in rugby history, and an easy confidence that will help see them through tough times.

"Even their madcap coach Peter de Villiers seems to be on to something. I used to think of him as a potential weak link but with so much experience in the 'Boks, he's turned into a jaunty, lippy conductor of a mighty juggernaut."

July 5, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/05/2010

Soccer, I'm so over you

Brendan Nel has grown tired of the Fifa World Cup and is eyeing the start of the Tri-Nations on Supersport.

"Perhaps its just me, but I can’t wait for the Fifa World Cup to end so we can get back to some bone-crunching action on the rugby field.

"Don’t get me wrong. Fifa’s showpiece has been a magnificent advertisement for this country. It has inspired millions around the world and has had its fair share of drama and spectacle.

"As a sporting event I believe we can all agree that it has little equal – at least nothing that rugby could ever match. It has been a wonderful time for the country to prove to everyone how capable we are of hosting massive international sporting events."

June 4, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 06/04/2010

No time like the present


Peter De Villiers has some thinking to do © Getty Images

With impending surgery for Fourie du Preez, Gavin Rich believes that this weekend's Test with Wales couldn't have come at a better time on Supersport.

"With Fourie du Preez announcing that he is likely to undergo a shoulder operation that will keep him out of rugby for the rest of the year, Saturday’s first test of 2010 against Wales in Cardiff probably couldn’t come at a better time for the Springbok management.

"It is no secret that no-one really wanted this match. At least no-one directly involved with the Boks. When it was announced a few months ago there were raised eyebrows and not a few mutterings of discontent. With a Grand Slam tour due to come at the end of it, the year before the World Cup was already seen to be a taxing one.

"But coach Peter de Villiers’s response to the challenge was a wise one. Instead of throwing his frontline players into an extra match, he resolved to widen the net for this game and test his depth. It may be necessary given that the Boks during their successful 2009 campaign never looked comfortable when the core of experienced players that make up the spine of the team were not present."

June 2, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 06/02/2010

More than just a game

Gavin Rich re-evaluates his opinions on the Bulls' march to Soweto on Supersport.

"There were some brutish looking Bulls supporters, regaled in the unmistakeable light blue, standing somewhere between Hillcrest and Winston Park during Sunday’s down Comrades between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

"As they surveyed the passing show, proudly showing off their colours in the knowledge that their team remains the top rugby side in the southern hemisphere, a group of black runners ran up towards them. “Ah weh Soweto Bulls, Ah weh Soweto Bulls,” they chanted as they reached out their fists to touch those of the burly, white Bulls fans.

"If you didn’t believe the Bulls pulled off a coup by playing their Super 14 play-off games in Soweto, the proof was right there. They always claimed it, but we never had the evidence to believe them. Now we know the Bulls administration are right, they do have black supporters. And there are probably a lot more now than there were a few weeks ago."

June 1, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 06/01/2010

Don't panic!


Francois Hougaard feels the force of the Stormers' defence © Getty Images

Spiro Zavos calls on the Wallabies to stand firm in the face of a South African onslaught this season in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"This year's Super14 final between the Bulls and the Stormers had a one-minute 39-second, all-hell-breaking-loose start to a thunderous match. The ball was run wide by both sides during this opening blitz. Kicks were belted high into the air with forwards and backs charging after them.

"Hard-shouldered tackling was inflicted. And gangbuster tackling that would have stopped a runaway bus was delivered by the unsmiling giants of South African rugby. The match continued at this pace and physicality until, with time up, the Stormers, down 25-17, continued their assault on the Bulls' defensive line.

"After watching enthralled at the quality and power of the rugby, which was of a Test-match intensity, I remembered receiving a phone call from a high-ranking ARU official after a similarly intense and well-played final in 1998, between the Blues in their third consecutive final and the Crusaders. "How are the Wallabies ever going to defeat the All Blacks this year after a final like that?" he said."

Posted by Huw Baines on 06/01/2010

Step one

Brendan Nel calls for the Bulls' use of Orlando Stadium in Soweto to be the start of a new era in South African sport on Supersport.

"In the cold crisp air of this winter’s morning, it would be a difficult task to find anyone who doesn’t believe that the Soweto rugby experience wasn’t a success – both in terms of marketing, rugby and nation-building.

"But rugby’s biggest challenge now is to see how to take this further, and use the momentum created by the Bulls' Super 14 victory to the greater good for the sport.

"While it is fair to say the Bulls stumbled upon this goldmine thanks to the fact they couldn’t use their regular stadium at Loftus Versfeld thanks to the Fifa World Cup, the opportunity to take a massive rugby game into the townships was more than just a resounding success."

May 28, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/28/2010

"Why are those guys such bullies, Dad?''


Matt Burke has tipped the Stormers to beat the Bulls in Soweto © Getty Images

Former Waratahs fullback Matt Burke salutes the powerful defensive play of the Stormers prior to the Super 14 final in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"Why are those guys such bullies, Dad?'' Even a seven-year-old girl can understand the Stormers' tactics. As my daughter joined me to watch a replay of their match against the Waratahs, I explained that was the way the Stormers play. What they lack in finesse they try to make up for with brawn. And they'll need all of it against the Bulls in the Super 14 final.

"Thinking back to some of the Wallabies-Springboks games, we knew we had a smarter, more skilful team than they did but that counts for nothing when the other team is so aggressive. Your first thought in every game should be to go out there and bash them.

"What we saw in the Stormers' performance against the Waratahs was why they have the best defensive record by far in the competition. Their aggression and speed off the line was unbelievable."

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/28/2010

A golden era

Andrew Austin salutes the beginning of a golden era for South African rugby, and wishes that the All Blacks had some of their selection conundrums, in The New Zealand Herald.

"What Graham Henry would give to have Springbok coach Pieter de Villiers' selection headaches. The Boks may have won two Rugby World Cups, but history would suggest that the last time South Africa had this much talent was in the early 1980s.

"Those were the days of exciting runners like Danie Gerber and the Du Plessis brothers, Carel and Michael. The forwards were not too shabby either, with Schalk Burger snr and Hennie Bekker (the fathers of Stormers' stars Schalk and Andries) and talented opensider Rob Louw. The big problem with that team was that it did not play much thanks to apartheid."

May 26, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/26/2010

Much promise, but don't forget 1998

Writing for SuperSport, Gavin Rich admits the signs are good for South Africa ahead of the Tri-Nations but is not getting carried away.

"Regardless of what the reasons were, the Crusaders got well beaten, and the loss added to a miserable tally for New Zealand teams against South Africa in this year’s Super 14. In the final analysis, this is how it reads – played 26, won 10, drawn one, lost 15. As I reminded last week, that includes the five losses of a Lions team that were non-starters in the tournament in 2010.

"The Kiwis recognise this, and judging from what is coming out on the internet from New Zealand, there is recognition that like 2009, this year could be the year of the Springbok in the Tri-Nations. Certainly in a year where the two top teams in the competition are South African, and by some distance, you would say there should be an expectation of victory in the three nation tournament.

"What the Stormers and the Bulls have proved over the past three months is that this country has the talent to dominate. The raw material that used to be wasted is being converted by good coaching at franchise level into the real deal.

"...Let’s not forget that South Africa won the Tri-Nations for the first time in 1998, a year where there was only one team in the top four of the Super 12 in the form of the Sharks – and they were significantly off the pace."


May 15, 2010

Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 05/15/2010

Storming to the semis

The Bulls' decision to rotate 14 players is rightly being viewed as an invitation to the semi-finals for the Stormers, writes Gavin Rich in The Star.

"That the Bulls are coming to Cape Town with what amounts to a 'B' team has been well documented. Predictably, there has been an outcry, most notably in New Zealand and Australia, where they are rightly indignant at what they see as the Stormers being granted a free passage to a home semifinal.

"As predicted, the Stormers management have reacted by saying that this is the Bulls they are playing against, that the identity of the players wearing the light blue jersey is irrelevant, that they will concentrate on their own game, systems and structures. The Stormers are right to say that; the Bulls are equally correct in responding with a bit of chest-thumping and a promise that they are not coming to the Mother City to blow kisses.

"But at the same time, Stormers coach Allister Coetzee did give it away this week when he admitted that in order to prepare for this match, he had had to study videos of the Blue Bulls Vodacom Cup team in action. That is it in a nutshell - tough though the Bulls players might be on paper, the team shows 14 changes to the one that played the previous week. This team is thus playing together for the first time."

May 10, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/10/2010

Pity the Lions

Brendan Nel compares the current plight of the winless Lions with the 2002 Bulls in his column for Supersport.

"I remember sitting in the office of Heyneke Meyer at the time, where Meyer at one point looked exasperated, and turned to myself and a colleague from Beeld, asking us “So what do you think we can do to turn this ship around?” It was a moment which most people don’t get to experience, but also one which will sit with me for a long time.

"At the time Meyer was probably the most promising coach in the country, but was pushed without the necessary resources into a competition which is so unforgiving that a simple mistake could ruin your season’s hopes.

"Meyer, to his credit, went back to the drawing board, cleaned out the dead wood at Loftus Versfeld and made a power play to exclude the meddling officials. Sounds a bit like what Dick Muir should do at Ellis Park, doesn’t it? But he also had the support at the time of a chief executive named Stephan Pretorius, who is now at the Southern Kings, and together with an equally ambitious and hard-working talent scout Ian Schwartz, they started building an empire which now rules the Southern Hemisphere."

May 5, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/05/2010

South Africa poised for second-string selection

Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has indicated that he will use mostly northern hemisphere based players to fulfill the Boks' Test fixture against Wales in Cardiff on June 5. The Independent's Peter Bills runs the rule over some of the selection possibilities.

"In France, the likes of Joe van Niekerk, Shaun Sowerby, Ross Skeate, Gerrie Britz, Francois van der Merwe, Jacques Cronje and Daan Human would all come to mind for slots in the pack. Behind the scrum, Marius Joubert is fit again and playing well for Clermont Auvergne while Frans Steyn (Racing Metro) Philip Burger (Perpignan), Noel Oelschig (Stade Francais) and Brent Russell from Clermont could also be considered.

"From Ireland, the Springboks could draw Jean de Villiers, BJ Botha and CJ van der Linde. The versatility of van der Linde means that he could fill in on either side of the front row. In England there are many candidates.

"Bath's exciting late challenge for a place in the Guinness Premiership play-offs has been spurred by the outstanding form of three South Africans; half-backs Butch James and Michael Claassens plus No. 8 Luke Watson. They have helped lift a side that, back in January, seemed likelier to be facing a struggle against relegation than contesting the Premiership title in one of the play-off places. Then there is lock forward Marco Wentzel who has been a huge inspiration to Leeds Carnegie in their successful bid for Premiership survival."

May 3, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/03/2010

Healing in South Africa

The New York Times previews the latest '30 for 30' series of documentaries that looks at how the Rugby World Cup in South Africa in 1995 was used to help defuse apartheid’s racial divisions.

"Mandela would wear the Springboks cap and the Springboks jersey. Before South Africa played France in the World Cup semifinal, he spoke at a rally.

“I ask you to get behind them tomorrow,” he told a crowd that included some puzzled blacks, “because they are our pride, they are your pride.”

"[Director, Clifford] Bestall interviews numerous Springboks, including the only black player on the ’95 team, Chester Williams. But he most clearly establishes the divide over Mandela’s support of the team through the words of two people: Justice Bekebeke, a black activist who vehemently disagreed with Mandela, and Koos Botha, a conservative who once favored hanging Mandela.

"They are a fascinating and dramatic pair because, in Bestall’s use of their parallel stories, Botha’s resistance to Mandela melts long before Bekebeke’s."


April 26, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/26/2010

Tahs have the inside lane


Could the Waratahs spring a late surprise? © Getty Images

Gavin Rich takes a look at the Waratahs' place in the Super 14 standings heading into the final weeks on Supersport.

"While the Stormers and Crusaders tripped up this past weekend, the Waratahs came back from their bye week to see off a concerted but ultimately in vain Brumbies challenge in Sydney. They didn’t pick up a bonus point, but the win was enough to move them to within one point of the three teams jammed together in places two to four.

"The Stormers are second thanks to the lucky bonus point they picked up when the TMO in Brisbane ruled no try to what looked a perfectly legitimate score from Reds captain Will Genia.

"But they are only there thanks to a superior points differential, which means it is an insignificant advantage as the Cape team head into a tough three match sequence featuring matches against the Crusaders, Sharks and Bulls."

April 15, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/15/2010

Bulls lock dynasty to continue

Supersport's Brendan Nel believes the Blue Bulls pulled of a massive coup this past week when they extended the contracts of two of the hottest prospects in South African rugby.

"The press release filtered through almost unnoticed – in fact two of them – as they last week announced the signature of lock Flip van der Merwe until the end of the 2012 season and this week added the signature of Mthunzi “Fudge” Mabeta to that list – the latter also committing himself until 2012.

"Now I can see the cynics point out that the two have chosen a dead end street as the Bulls already have three Springbok locks in Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw. So why would any up and coming lock commit himself to a province where he has virtually no guarantee of good game time in the next year?

"I posed that question to Van der Merwe just before he left with the team to New Zealand and before he had signed on again for a further two years. In his deep booming voice, the gentle giant had a simple answer: “I want to become the best lock I can and where better to do that than under the best locks in the world. I’m learning so much from them that I can only benefit from it.”

April 5, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/05/2010

Not a vintage weekend


David Hill is mobbed by his force team-mates after his winning drop-goal against the Stormers © Getty Images

Gavin Rich reviews a bad week for South Africa's Super 14 franchises after losses for the Bulls, Stormers and Cheetahs on Supersport.

"Okay, so there goes the theme of my previous column, leaving a whole lot of Easter egg all over my face. Maybe one day a South African team will go overseas in the Super 14 and win all four or five matches. But it won’t be happening this year. That dream was ended just seven days after the members of the top two South African teams, the Bulls and the Stormers, opened the overseas leg with the Bulls playing the Western Force in Perth.

"The Bulls managed to scrape home in Perth, but the Stormers were made to pay for their lethargy and their continued inability to come out on the right side of Stuart Dickinson’s whistle when they visited the same venue six days later.

"Then on Easter Saturday came the big implosion, with the previously unbeaten Bulls getting smashed by the Blues. I had predicted a Bulls defeat in my preview to the weekend’s fixtures – but by less than five points."

March 25, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/25/2010

Things are looking up

Gavin Rich belives that it's time for the Stormers and Bulls to be looking up on Supersport.

"If anyone was wondering whether Stormers coach Allister Coetzee had any interest in the Comrades Marathon, the answer was provided at a press conference after the recent match against the Cheetahs.

“We are just starting on Polly Shortts! We are running from Durban to Pietermaritzburg!” said Coetzee.Unless he was departing completely from his usual script of taking it one game at a time and not looking too far ahead, Coetzee could not have meant that. Polly Shortts is the hill on the up Comrades that hits tired runners eight kilometres from the finish of the 87 km epic. It is a challenging hill to run up, make no mistake, but the point is that it is tough because it comes so late in the race.

"If the Stormers think they are at the Polly Shortts of the Super 14 then they are going to blow when they reach the real Polly Shortts, which for them should be the tough last trio of matches against the Crusaders (Newlands), Sharks (Durban) and Bulls (Newlands).

"They have played six games out of the 13 scheduled for the league phase, and as they are about to start their tour, Coetzee is right when he says there is a tough hill in front of them. Only it is Inchanga, the seven kilometre haul out of the halfway point at Drummond, and not Polly Shortts, that confronts their immediate future."

March 9, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/09/2010

Misplaced expectations


Big names: Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie have bolstered the Stormers © Getty Images

Gavin Rich struggles to get to grips with the expectations placed on the Stormers by the Cape Town sporting public on Supersport.

"Sometimes it is difficult to fathom what will really satisfy the Cape sporting public. Reading through some of the newspaper letters and SMS columns since last weekend’s big win over the Highlanders, you might almost be forgiven for thinking the Stormers are languishing near the bottom of the Super 14 table.

"With three wins in four starts, and a current third position on the log, the opposite is actually true. And yet you get the impression there are people who are expecting a lot more. It is fine having great expectations, but what are those expectations based upon?

"Since this time last year, when the Stormers were really struggling and were on their way to a 10th place finish, there have been two big name acquisitions in the form of Jaque Fourie and Bryan Habana. That though really is about it, and the bulk of the squad is the same one that played last year.

"So an expectation that the Stormers should somehow be doing better than they are now may be misplaced. If last March the Stormers had been offered their current position on the 2010 log table, and the wins they have scored, they would have been happy to buy it."

March 4, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/04/2010

'Boks schedule from hell to kill golden goose

Writing in the Irish Independent, Peter Bills fears that South Africa might be stretching themselves too thin by signing up to a 14-Test schedule.

"These players are being flogged all around the world on the back of a nightmare schedule. Could it be that is something to do with their union's desire for ever greater cash flows for their business? Is this not an increasingly familiar tale in the world of professional rugby?

"Ireland's players should be grateful that there appears to be much more common sense in their union. The IRFU have arranged 11 Test matches this year, plus a fixture for an Ireland XV against the Barbarians. But of the top players, the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Jerry Flannery, Stephen Ferris, Tommy Bowe and Jamie Heaslip, I'd guess they will play no more than nine or 10 Test matches in the year.

"That is enough, given the extreme physicality of this game these days. Unless, that is, you put financial profit ahead of the players' welfare. But surely, no one in world rugby would do that? Would they?"

March 3, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/03/2010

Spare a thought for Peter de Villiers

The news of yet another Test match for the Springboks can only be greeted with a sigh, a shake of the head and a lot of muttering under one’s breath, according to Brendan Nel of Supersport.

"The World Champions will face a mammoth year, playing 14 test matches in a period where there has been much talk about resting players, and where other nations are gearing up for next year’s World Cup campaign in New Zealand. Yet in planning the most important preparation year for the World Cup, poor Peter de Villiers was not consulted, and now has to best manage the nightmare schedule ahead of him this year.

"While it is easy to be flogging SA Rugby for their decision to impose the heavy schedule, rugby is a professional game and when the going is good, money is there to be made. This is the primary reason for the long test itinerary, especially with the Boks, as reigning World Champions and Tri-Nations champions, being the biggest drawcard for any rugby nation across the world."

February 4, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/04/2010

Pienaar: "You couldn't have written a better script"

In an exclusive interview with The Times, South Africa's 1995 World Cup winning captain Francois Pienarr discusses his relationship with Nelson Mandela, what he thinks of his portrayal on screen in Clint Eastwood's new film Invictus and the huge effect his side's victory had on his country.

January 31, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/31/2010

Pienaar recalls the day no one fluffed his lines

Former South Africa captain Francois Pienaar, in London for the British premiere of Invictus, tells the Daily Telegraph's Brendan Gallagher about the day when the Rainbow Nation became one.

"Pienaar is slowly getting used to the novelty of being the subject of a Hollywood film though anybody who witnessed the events of 1995 knew it would happen eventually. The world’s media arrived to report on a rugby tournament and we ended up as willing crowd extras secretly praying that none of the main players fluffed their lines.

“Francois, fantastic support from 63,000 South Africans here today?” TV anchorman David van der Sandt said straight after the Boks had beaten the mighty All Blacks in the final. Without missing a beat, Pienaar replied: “David, we didn’t have the support of 63,000 South Africans today, we had the support of 42 million South Africans.”

"Cut. That was a wrap, the 'Hollywood’ ending the 'story’ demanded. No scriptwriter could top it. The Springboks, playing in their first World Cup, had overcome a bad draw, injuries, sending offs, a biblical flood in Durban and then tamed Jonah Lomu and the All Blacks.

"Nobody knows what magic Mandela was working back then but Pienaar has always summed it up by quoting a short passage from French poet Guillaume Apollinaire – “ 'Come to the edge,’ he said. 'We are afraid,’ they replied. 'Come to the edge,’ he said. 'They came, he pushed them, and they flew.’ ”

January 29, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/29/2010

The Silent Assassin

Dan Retief recalls a memorable encounter with the late Springboks forward Ruben Kruger. Read his thoughts on Super Sport.

"He was shy and didn’t really enjoy being in front of the camera but the day provided an apt insight to who he was. In a cupboard he showed me a collection of all the Springbok jerseys he had ever worn; the shorts, the socks, even the training jerseys and shorts because, as he explained, they were too precious to give away!

During an immense 1995 he was awarded a try by referee Derek Bevan in the “monsoon” semifinal against France in Durban which he admitted might just as easily have been denied (“Sometimes they give them, sometimes they don’t”) but he was adamant that he was robbed of a certain try by Ed Morrison in the Final at Ellis Park.

“There’s just no way it wasn’t a try,” he said. “I had the ball tucked into my chest, Os (du Randt) was shoving me from the right and the other forwards were on my left. When I went over the line I fell on the ball and no-one else got near it,” he explained without a tinge of bitterness.

Sadly after that pinnacle Kruger’s career would be dogged by injury and misfortune."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/29/2010

RIP Ruben, a giant sleeps

Writing for Super Sport, Brendan nel pays tribute to former Springboks forward Ruben Kruger who lost his battle with cancer this week.

"I remember first seeing him as a glimmer on a television screen years ago when he led his Grey College side out for a schools match. For the life of me, I can’t recall the opposition or much about the game, but I do recall that Kruger, all of 18 years old, looked like a grizzled veteran on the rugby field, a man far beyond his youthful looks and one who made an indelible impression on me to keep an eye on.

"As the years went on, and on my move to Pretoria I slowly got to know Ruben, or “Ben” as he was more affectionately known, and formed an exceptional working relationship and friendship with the man. On the field, as a captain, when he spoke, he commanded respect, led from the front and was a giant of the game in more ways than one."

January 21, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 01/21/2010

No grudges


Carlos Spencer helped the Blues to the top of Super Rugby © Getty Images

Carlos Spencer is set to return to Super 14 action, but don't expect a grudge match when the Lions take on the Blues. He talks to Dylan Cleaver in The New Zealand Herald.

"Circle May 8 in your diary and set the alarm for 5am - that's when the team that offered Carlos Spencer a Super 14 lifeline meets the team that denied him.

"It is almost too unreal to comprehend. The 34-year-old Spencer, the spark that ignited three Super rugby titles, playing for the competition's biggest underachiever against Stephen Brett, the man the Blues chose to bank on ahead of Spencer.

It could be a beautiful reunion but what it won't be, according to Spencer, is a grudge match. Although he would have liked to come back and finish his Super rugby career with the only franchise he had played for, he does not spend his spare time sticking pins into voodoo dolls in the likeness of the Blues and New Zealand Rugby Union officials who rebuffed his advances."

January 20, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 01/20/2010

Also ran?

Can Carlos Spencer still cut it at the top? Marc Hinton takes a look at the former All Black playmaker for Rugby Heaven.

"The big question is, does he still have the physical tools to make those innate skills of his a factor for his latest team, Johannesburg's Lions, as he completes a much-anticipated return to Super rugby?

"That will be one of the major talking points of the start of the new Super 14 season as Spencer attempts to lead the Lions to a brave new world, somewhere away from their perennial status of competition also-rans.

"The signing of Spencer came as a shock to many as the Lions launched their new era under highly-rated coach Dick Muir. They've also picked up Springbok flanker Wikus van Heerden and there's an air of optimism around Jo'burg that the gloomy days as competition doormats could be behind them."

January 18, 2010

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/18/2010

Green and gold flows in Beast's blood

Springbok prop forward Tendai Mtawarira is at the centre of a war of words between the SA Rugby Union and the Sports Ministry over his eligibility to represent the country, but the Beast has given his heart and soul to his adopted country, writes Mike Greenaway in the Sunday Independent.

"I am a South African at heart," he says. "I love this country. It has become my home. It is everything to me."

Mtawarira, 25, has been living in Durban for six years since accepting a bursary from the Sharks Academy. He was spotted when his Zimbabwean school, Peterhouse, toured KZN. "Wearing the green and gold of the Springboks is a huge honour for me," he says."


January 11, 2010

Posted by Huw Baines on 01/11/2010

Long walk to the truth

Brian Moore recalls the 1995 Rugby World Cup as the UK release of Invictus nears in The Daily Telegraph.

"Due to the relative stability of South Africa today, recollections often fail to record that at the time this success was far from certain. I toured South Africa in 1994 and played in the World Cup a year later and took the time to speak about the political situation with a variety of people of all races and political hues.

"The consensus was that they had reached the point where initial euphoria at rule by the black majority had been replaced with a realisation of how difficult would be the task of satisfying their expectations. The phrase ‘knife-edge’ was used more than once.

"As with most films based on actual events, this will manipulate a number of things to ensure what its makers consider a coherent narrative."

December 19, 2009

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/19/2009

The Bath Bok who didn't hold his tongue

Luke Watson came to Bath for a fresh start in English rugby but he insists he wasn’t hounded out of South Africa. He talks to Chris Foy in the Daily Mail.

"'There was clearly an agenda in the media, but I was actually surprised by the positive response I got from the general population. A majority of people in the country, the black South Africans, play soccer — they don’t watch rugby because of certain perceptions that come with the sport in South Africa. So there was a large majority of people out there who really supported me.

"That was very encouraging. But whether I had that support or not, I had to be able to look at myself in the mirror and do what I felt was right, even if it was detrimental to my career or my reputation."


December 13, 2009

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/13/2009

Where are rugby's Ntinis in-waiting?

Makhaya Ntini will play his 100th cricket Test for South Africa when the England series starts in Centurion next week - writing in the Cape Argus, Gavin Rich asks where are the Springbok players of Ntini's ilk?

"We have to use that odious term "black African" to explain what I am talking about, but it is a relevant question and one which should be disturbing to SA Rugby as the challenge of the Fifa World Cup approaches.

"Prop Lawrence Sephaka completed a handful of Test matches in the Bok jersey, but if you consider that Beast Mtawarira is a Zimbabwean, the fields have not reaped much of a harvest for rugby when it comes to that sector of the population the sport should be targeting as its new market."


Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/13/2009

Hollywood gets it wrong over Mandela

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Paul Ackford questions the Hollywood makeover of the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

"Last week Invictus, a film depicting the story of the 1995 World Cup, premiered in America and South Africa. Directed by Clint Eastwood, with Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, the movie purports to tell the story of how Mandela used the Springboks and the tournament as a mechanism to unite a divided nation.

The thesis of the film is that Mandela planned the campaign a year out from the World Cup to the extent that there are scenes of him in the film poring over the various qualifying groups, trying to work out who the Boks will face in the quarter-finals. That much is poppycock. Those close to the Springbok camp at the time insist that Mandela's involvement was much more spontaneous, though no one doubts the sincerity of his approach and the close bond he eventually formed with Pienaar which continues to this day."

December 12, 2009

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/12/2009

'Tis the season for giving





Springboks skipper John Smit spearheaded an historic year for South African rugby © Getty Images
The Star's Gavin Rich hands out some awards to the great and the good of South African rugby.

"Team of the year - It is hard to ignore the Springboks after a Tri-Nations win, but in terms of emphatically underlining their class over a 12-month period, the Bulls must surely pip the national team. Whereas the late season stumbles introduced doubts over whether the Boks ended the season as the top international team, and the current world rankings give backing to that, the Bulls went on from their emphatic Super 14 triumph to reclaim the Currie Cup. If they are not the best provincial team in world rugby, I would love to see the team that is.

"Man of the year - Who other than John Smit, and methinks this is the third year in a row that he has won this award. In fact, I also gave him coach of the year in 2008, which he could well have won again, such was his immense contribution to the Bok success both on and off the field."

December 8, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 12/08/2009

A fitting end

Marc Hinton believes that the All Blacks are still behind the Springboks in world rugby's pecking order in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"There was something vaguely fitting about the anti-climactic end to the All Blacks' year at Twickenham over the weekend. After the giddy events of Marseille just seven days earlier, perhaps it was appropriate that the year should end on a slightly bum note, with the 18-25 defeat to the Bryan Habana-inspired Barbarians.

"After all this has been a far from perfect year for Graham Henry's side, with those three straight test defeats to South Africa, another to the French in the early part of the season, and a number of other rather unconvincing performances along the way.

"So even though the All Blacks ended the test year as the world's No 1-ranked side, surely not even they would kid themselves that they sit above South Africa on anyone's pecking order, but the IRB's."

December 4, 2009

Posted by Mark Doyle on 12/04/2009

Burger shows all the class of a quarter-pounder

Writing in the Irish Independent, David Kelly attacks South Africa’s Schalk Burger over his try celebration during last weekend’s Test defeat by Ireland.

"CLASS has been defined as the "self-knowledge, self-discipline and surefootedness that comes from having proved you can meet life".

"Lack of class seems far easier to nail down and has nothing to so with social standing or monetary worth, but plenty to do with basic human interaction.

"Lack of class is a woman failing to acknowledge that you've held a door open for her; someone masticating (the posh description for chewing loudly) next to you in the cinema; sneezing without attempting to stem the spray or -- most irritatingly -- saying "hang on, I've got another call" (I'll just wait here until you're ready then, even though you rang me).

"Of course, lack of class is hard to detect by those who are already afflicted with it.”

November 27, 2009

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/27/2009

De Villiers the enigma

If Winston Churchill defined Russia as a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, what are we to make of South Africa's volatile rugby coach, Peter de Villiers? So asks Peter Bills in The Independent.

"Winning is not enough in the eyes of the new ruling generation. Turning the Springboks into a team open to players from all backgrounds no matter what the colour of their skin has been a much slower process than most envisaged when de Villiers was appointed.

"True, the Springboks have been graced by the presence of Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Adi Jacobs and prop Tendai Mtawarira. But four players in a team of 15 is not enough for the impatient reformers back home. De Villiers has been a crushing disappointment, in their eyes."


November 18, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 11/18/2009

The elephant in the room

Stephen Jones lays in to the aura surrounding South African props in The Times.

"Once we get a supposed national characteristic into our heads, a national trait or a so-called national strength, there is no shifting it. It becomes a consuming dogma.

"You know the sort of thing: West Indies produce great fast bowlers. The French are rude and shocking drivers. The Scots are tight as ducks' backsides. Wales produces wonderful sports journalists. Aussie and Kiwi referees are scandalously bad. Germans hog the towels on holiday. Well, most of these notions are just typecasting. Most.

"And South Africa produces great props. What a load of drivel. I admit it, I have subscribed to this hoary old rubbish. It is not true. It never was. South Africa is the home of Big Blokes Going Backwards."

November 15, 2009

Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 11/15/2009

John Smit: a man of stature

David Walsh interviews Springbok skipper John Smit who says the Lions series failed to capture his imagination - all because of a snubbed drinks invitation in The Sunday Times.

“The biggest disappointment for me,” Smit said in his just published autobiography, Captain in the Cauldron, “was that there was no socialising between the teams, due to a fair amount of bad blood.” Now, sitting in a hotel overlooking the Place du Capitole in Toulouse, he tells of a relationship between the teams that was never better than hostile.

“I had been getting our management and players to invite all our oppositions to join us for a beer in the changing room area immediately after the match. We do our media stuff, shower and then share a beer with the guys we’ve played against. On the Wednesday before the first Test in Durban, we threw the invitation out to the Lions. They said, ‘Thanks, but no’. They didn’t want to do that. It was quite disappointing and it didn’t help how the games were played.

“There was an unnecessary amount of niggle, chirping, pulling and pushing, and it overtook what should have been an amazing contest between the Lions and Springboks.”

November 4, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 11/04/2009

An indian summer

Paul Rees is hoping that the November Test matches provide something to shout about after mixed bags in the Six Nations and Tri-Nations in The Guardian.

"John Clare wrote about dark and dull November days, but how the game in Europe could do with an Indian summer as the autumn internationals beckon. South Africa, New Zealand and Australia arrive in Europe after a Tri-Nations campaign that was hardly more stimulating than the Six Nations championship which preceded it.

"The New Zealand coach, Graham Henry, was in typically waspish mood this week when he described most sides in Europe, meaning the Six Nations, as conservative in their approach. Dull, in other words. He cited Wales as the exception, but South Africa have hardly been a byword for adventure this year and their meeting with Ireland at the end of the month, who won the Six Nations by adopting similarly constrictive tactics, could come down to who blinks first.

"Henry laments the surfeit of kicking spawned last year by the experimental law variations, but Wales presaged the changes on their way to the 2008 grand slam when they kicked more often than anyone else in the Six Nations, keeping the ball in play and chasing hard. They were opportunistic and waited for the moment."

October 18, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 10/18/2009

Recession-proof?

Gavin Rich questions SARU's recent proclamations of the sport being recession-proof in The Cape Argus.

"There was a press release issued from SA Rugby headquarters the other day in which chief executive Andy Marinos celebrated the highest attendance figures for Springbok matches since 2004. I am more supportive of Marinos than many are, but it was a bit disingenious of him if you consider this was the year of a British and Irish Lions tour.

"Surely this year can only really be compared to 1997, when the Lions last visited here, and not to the other seasons where Tri-Nations games are preceded by matches against usually under-strength minor nations and are played in what could be described as a warm-up atmosphere.

"For me it was disturbing that this season I attended two top Test matches at King's Park which were both far from full. The one was against the British and Irish Lions, the other was against the All Blacks. Sorry, but I never thought I would see the day when the Boks would play those opponents at that venue and there would be empty seating."

September 23, 2009

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/23/2009

Is this really the best Bok side of all time?

Writing in the Sunday Independent, Gavin Rich asks if South Africa's Class of 2009 are the best Springboks side ever.

"Comparisons are unfair, however, as how do you compare John Smit's Bok team with Philip Nel's 1937 tourists, who beat New Zealand in a series after travelling there by ship, playing several provincial games and a series in Australia?

"As this is not a leap year, the relevance of which will become apparent later, we also cannot say that this was the most successful ever season for the Springboks. What we can say with reasonable certainty though is that this era of Bok players is the finest and most successful since 1992 - and a lot of it comes down to the continuity which has been a feature of the last six years."

September 11, 2009

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/11/2009

De Villiers' formula starts with listening to players

From all accounts Springbok coach Peter de Villiers is happy to embrace the thoughts of his senior players before he decides the appropriate strategy, writes Wynne Gray in the New Zealand Herald.

"Whatever the state of collaborative interplay between de Villiers, his staff and senior players, something has been working for the Springboks. They have beaten the Lions and so far in the Tri-Nations have been beaten just once, last weekend by the Wallabies.

"It has been some journey for the 51-year-old coach who grew up in the apartheid era when he suffered some unpalatable treatment.

"He and his daughter were chased out of a park by security guards because of their colour and under the distasteful Group Areas Act was relocated in the Cape. By all accounts a handy halfback, de Villiers chose to remain with a Coloured club during his playing days. He has fought for his rights and battled against prejudice throughout his life."

August 14, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/14/2009

If it ain't broke...

Gavin Rich, writing on Supersport, sees similarities between the 2009 Springboks and their 1998 counterparts - and has some words of warning.

"When you have followed or covered rugby in South Africa for a long time, and you possess a reasonable memory, it is sometimes impossible not to spot the recurring themes and arguments.

"For instance, while much of the country celebrates the Springbok feat of completing the home leg of the Tri-Nations unbeaten, there are still many critics bemoaning the way they are do it. “What has happened to the spirit of adventure?” ask some and “Surely we should be scoring more tries!” lament others.

"This is nothing new for it has happened several times, including in the aftermath of the 2007 World Cup triumph. But for me the current debates are most reminiscent of 1998, the year the Boks won the Tri-Nations for the first time without losing a game.

"Like now, suffocation rugby was pretty much the order of the day, something that was suited to that team’s strength if you consider that the Boks of that period boasted arguably the best loose trio in the world and that in Henry Honiball and Pieter Muller, who stood together in the flyhalf/inside centre axis, they had rugby’s equivalent of the Rock of Gibraltar."

August 11, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/11/2009

A little bit of history repeating

Rugby Heaven's Spiro Zavos sees plenty of similarities between the 2009 Springboks and the 2003 England World Cup-winning side.

"As I watched the Springboks kick virtually every ball their superb pack won from the Wallabies at Cape Town on their way to a 29-17 victory I had a sense that I'd seen all this before.

"When Morne Steyn kicked over his fifth penalty in the first half, with all the accuracy and aplomb of Jonny Wilkinson, I realised that this Springboks side is the clone of the England side that won the 2003 Rugby World Cup, with the tactical addition of the midfield bomb developed by Argentina in the 2007 tournament.

"It's fashionable for rugby writers (and I have made the comment myself) to accuse the Springboks of not playing any rugby. What is clear after the Tri Nations Tests this year in South Africa, with the All Blacks and now the Wallabies being kicked off the paddock, is that the Springboks are playing terrific "rugby football", rather than "rugby".

"The rugby football game is based on forward power, good structured play with strong set pieces, good restarts and a consistent kicking game with points accumulated, in the main, through penalty goals, drop goals and the occasional try. The rugby game, on the other hand, tends to see the set pieces as a means to the end of running the ball where possible, and scoring tries rather than penalties as the main way to score points. This is the game Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Nations have generally espoused, and the style the lost and lamented ELVs encouraged."

August 8, 2009

Posted by Mark Doyle on 08/08/2009

In Search of Bok Supremacy

In The Saturday Star, Mike Greenaway is backing South Africa to beat Australia in Cape Town as he believes that Peter de Villiers is in possession of the strongest Springbok squad of the modern era.

”The thing with this Springbok team is that in every position there is a world class player. In the past, if you ran the rule over the starting line-up, there would be question marks here and there: Is this guy up to it, should so-and-so not be playing in the place of this fellow?.....

“Most exciting is the youthful newcomers who are adding value to the old guard. They are the only two players with their tally of caps in the single figures, then there is The Beast on 15 and after that the average rockets into the 40s.

“You are left with this impression: this is the most experienced, best balanced Springbok team of the modern era; they are confident after beating the All Blacks on successive weekends and they are at home against a Wallaby team that has shown little appetite over the years for playing in this country.”

August 6, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/06/2009

Time to make history

In The Independent, Peter Bills challenges the Springboks to make history by defending their World Cup in 2011.

"If the Springboks' march towards their first Tri-Nations title since 2004 continues apace on Saturday against Australia in Cape Town, and there seems no reason on earth why it shouldn't, then just one more target will stretch before these Springboks.

"In the 22 years of the Rugby World Cup, no country has ever won back-to-back tournaments. The closest anyone has come to rugby's Holy Grail was Australia, winners in 1999 and runners-up in 2003, and then after extra time.

"Manifestly, these South Africans have the capacity to make history in that regard. By the time of the next World Cup, they should still have most of this side available.

"The only question marks would appear to be against three players: John Smit, Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha. Smit will be 33 when the 2011 tournament starts in New Zealand, Matfield 35 and Botha 32. Otherwise, there is an argument to be made that just about every other player in the team will be, injuries permitting of course, virtually at their peak.

"These will be the ages in 2011 of the rest of the team that played in Durban last Saturday: Frans Steyn 24, JP Pietersen 25, Jaque Fourie 28, Jean de Villiers 30, Bryan Habana 28; Morne Steyn 27, Fourie du Preez 29; ‘Beast' Mtawarira 26, Bismarck du Plessis 27, Heinrich Brussow 25, Juan Smith 30 and Pierre Spies 26."

August 2, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 08/02/2009

Deferring judgement

Gavin Rich, writing in The Cape Argus, advises caution over heralding Heinrich Brussow as the next big thing in world rugby.

"It's just that when you have been in this business for a while you learn to defer judgement. "Mistakes that have been made by this pen include referring to Chris Rossouw as 'the new Stephen Larkham' when he had played just one game for Western Province. Ouch!

"It happens to everyone. The other day I stumbled across the archive for my columns, and I came across one written eight years ago titled 'The new Joost is like Dolly the Sheep'.

"It was about a young scrumhalf being written up as the new Joost van der Westhuizen after he scored four tries for the Blue Bulls in a Currie Cup match. This was a guy many other critics, but not this one, were tipping to become a Bok. His name was Coenrad Groenewald. Anyone heard of him since then?"

July 31, 2009

Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 07/31/2009

Smit makes the most of it

Craig Ray speaks about his first sighting of a young John Smit in 1996 and the remarkable achievement the Springbok captain will complete this Saturday, in The Times.

"This weekend, when he leads the team against the All Blacks on his home ground in Durban, Smit will play his 86th Test and, more significantly, captain the Springboks for a 60th time.

"Smit will surpass the world record for caps as skipper which he shares with England’s Will Carling and Australia’s George Gregan.

"It’s a monumental achievement. Longevity in an attritional game like rugby is rare, as are the vagaries of form and selection."

July 28, 2009

Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 07/28/2009

Death-or-glory tradition is maintained

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Mike Greenaway says that those expecting free flowing rugby in Bloemfontein were always going to be disappointed.

"Most pundits predicted that this was going to be a fast-and-furious, try-studded extravaganza on the dry, quick fields of the Free State Highveld.

"In reality, given the will to win of the protagonists, it was destined to be a teeth-clenching, eyeball-popping, arm wrestle in the best traditions of the death-or-glory battles these countries have fought since 1921.

"In the end it was the assured Springboks who emerged clear victors to snatch the world No 1 ranking."

July 27, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/27/2009

The year of the Springbok

Spiro Zavos believes that the Springboks have a rare chance to claim the southern hemisphere's holy grail, on Rugby Heaven.

"The emphatic 28-19 victory by the Springboks over the All Blacks at Bloemfontein, with the visitors denying themselves a bonus point by a series of stupid plays, has opened the way for South African rugby to achieve the sport’s holy grail trifecta: a Super 14 title (won by the Bulls), a series victory over the British and Irish Lions (won 2-1) and a Tri Nations title.

"Australian rugby achieved its holy grail in 2001. New Zealand rugby did likewise in 2005. It seems the stars are aligned this year for South African rugby’s turn. The team is certainly up to the standard of the 2001 Wallabies and the 2005 All Blacks. There were 14 Springboks from the Rugby World Cup final team playing at Bloemfontein. Two years on, the team is being described (correctly I believe) by South African experts as one of their greatest ever. The team has confirmed this assessment by achieving the No.1 ranking in world rugby with Saturday’s victory, displacing the All Blacks from a position they have held for a couple of years.

"Aside from the undoubted quality of the team, there are several other factors working in favour of the Springboks to achieve their third Tri Nations title (and the third leg of the holy grail trifecta), and break the four-year run of success by the All Blacks. The schedule, for instance, gives the Springboks an easy travel itinerary.

"Their first three Tests are at home. Then they have a two-week gap before playing the Wallabies at Perth. The week before the Wallabies play the All Blacks at Sydney, so the home side will be backing up from an intense Test and then travelling to play the fresh Springboks. The Springboks play the Wallabies at Brisbane a week later and then the All Blacks at Hamilton to finish off."

July 25, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/25/2009

All in the balance

Mike Greenaway, writing in The New Zealand Herald, believes that the balance of the Springbok pack could take them all the way in this year's Tri-Nations.

“The favourable draw - three home matches in which to build up a head of steam before hitting Perth, Brisbane and Hamilton - is one of the reasons the bookies are tipping the Boks to add to their titles of 2004 and 1998.

“There is the more tangible evidence of a match 22 boasting 14 players who did duty in the Rugby World Cup final, while the new arrivals certainly add value - players such as Beast Mtawarira, Pierre Spies, Morne Steyn, Ryan Kankowski and Heinrich Brussow.

“The latter gives the Springbok pack much better balance, even though he is replacing a player of the stature of the suspended Schalk Burger, the 2004 IRB Player of the year.

“In recent years it would have been sacrilege to suggest a Bok pack would be better off for Burger's absence, but this year it has proved to be a fact because in Brussow the Boks at last have a semblance of a Richie McCaw, George Smith or Phil Waugh.”


July 6, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/06/2009

Cause for concern

Peter Bills, writing in The Independent, believes that the close nature of the Lions series is a cause for concern for South Africa.

"No doubt partly due to South Africa's poor, dreadfully uneven performances during the Test series, the Lions escaped the 3-0 whitewash which an efficient, properly structured Springbok side would inevitably have inflicted. In the end, the Lions left bemoaning the fact that, but for a mere handful of points, a 2-1 series defeat could easily have been a draw or even a win.

"No greater indictment of these misfiring Springboks exists than that fact. South African rugby has declined since the peak of the 2007 World Cup triumph.

"Yet perhaps even more importantly, in the course of just six weeks, Lions coach Ian McGeechan and his colleagues repaired a great deal of the damage done to the Lions ethos by Clive Woodward's mad japes in 2005 in New Zealand. Now there's a thought, incidentally – imagine a Lions side coached by Woodward against a Springbok side coached by Peter de Villiers. Endless material for the men in white coats...

"But significant factors still imperil the Lions. As Jeremy Guscott so rightly said last week "If the countries hosting the Lions do not give them proper respect by fielding as full strength sides as possible against them in the midweek games, then they place in peril the whole Lions idea."

July 5, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/05/2009

Rage against the dying of the light

Peter Bills, writing in The Independent on Sunday, believes that Peter de Villiers' recent media troubles are having a direct affect on the Springboks.

"The fact was, the Springboks were desperately poor, a weak shadow of the side they ought to be. But can we be surprised, given that they played for only the first 50 minutes in Durban and the last 20 in Pretoria ? Here, they faced a Lions side without probably its five top players yet they looked second best throughout.

"The ludicrous build-up to this Test, with the Springbok coach again the focus of attention, was a clear distraction. Peter de Villiers' lunatic antics and crazy statements are starting to have a direct effect on the performances of his team on the field.

"The world champions were all over the place, just as they had been for an hour in Pretoria. Sure, they were without eight of their best players but the talent coming through is such that they ought to have been able to beat a similarly depleted Lions side.

"The fact that the Springboks were so outplayed was a dire indictment of what is going on within their camp. Mistakes can always be made by individuals – that is inevitable and excusable. What is not acceptable is a complete lack of structure within a team that calls itself the world champions. Certain players looked only moderately interested – others quickly realised that, given the general mess and mediocrity, they had little chance of turning the tide. A couple of the youngsters brought back into the fray in the second half – Ruan Pienaar (as a scrum-half, after playing at fly-half in the first two Tests) and Frans Steyn (replacing a centre after playing full-back), raged against the dying of the light and the mess around them. But too few others managed much."

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/05/2009

Springboks finish cause for concern

Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett believes that South Africa's defeat in the third Test against the Lions shows some worrying deficiencies, in The Sunday Telegraph.

"To win in Johannesburg is a memorable achievement and deserves to be celebrated. The lesson is quite simple for Peter de Villiers and his coaching team: you cannot make 10 changes from the previous match and expect success.

"Some of the players who were given a big opportunity were disappointing. It was a further reminder that South Africa can get ahead of themselves. Jake White, the World Cup-winning coach, almost made the same mistake at France 2007 when he fielded a mixed-up team for the pool game against Tonga and at half-time had to rescue the situation by bringing on his No 1 players.

"De Villiers did not rush to make wholesale changes until midway through the second half. He had also lost another of his main men, Fourie du Preez, to injury at half-time.

"The Springboks have finished the series in a worrying state. They played their best rugby in the first half of the opening Test in Durban and since then have been anything but consistent. They did play well to win the second Test, by putting together a great finish, yet have combined to give de Villiers and his team of coaches all kinds of headaches. They have regressed and it is worrying."


June 20, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 06/20/2009

A way to go

Writing in The Times, Nick Cain believes that South Africa's new stadia still have a way to go after their Lions tour debuts.

"Earlier this week the first game was played at the brand new Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. It's an impressive 48,600 capacity bowl with a brilliant white ship-sail exterior which has been built for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa at a cost of £83m. However, the opening game featured the oval ball rather than the round one, with the Southern Kings - a South African invitation team - attempting to rob the British and Irish Lions of their unbeaten record in a rough-house encounter.

"The Kings, who lost 20-8, were less successful in their mugging attempts than two armed robbers, thought to be bogus cops, who slipped through the haphazard security at the ground to relieve 25-year-old barman Trevor Sanderson of his day's takings after the match was over.

"A report in Port Elizabeth daily, The Herald, said Sanderson was behind a bar in the stadium when a man came in and started rifling through the money boxes, and he then noticed that he had an accomplice who was holding a gun. Both were dressed in blue uniforms with police badges on them "We had already closed and cashed-up," he said. "This one guy came out of nowhere and started fiddling with the money-boxes. I looked around and saw another robber cocking a gun, and a bullet fell out."

June 8, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 06/08/2009

South Africa's Superman

Nick Cain meets South Africa's Pierre Spies, the self proclaimed best No.8 in the world, in The Times.

"The self-confidence of some of 2009 Lions squad may be feeling a little fragile after Saturday's 26-24 escape against the Free State Cheetahs, but as the tour goes on it will also be dawning on them that South African rugby players do not do self-doubt.

"Their self-belief is best highlighted by Pierre Spies, the player dubbed the Springbok Superman, who said this, after being asked in a recent SA Rugby magazine interview who he considers to be the best No 8 in the world: "That player is still in the making. It's me."

"Quizzed further on whether the 23-year-old Spies really believes that to be the case - he is the same age as the Lions backrowers Stephen Ferris and Tom Croft - he responded that he is not going to apologise for having confidence in his own ability despite the world-class credentials of Italian No 8 Sergio Parisse."

June 2, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 06/02/2009

The sound of silence

Stephen Jones, in his Rolling Maul blog for The Times, is concerned at the lack of criticism being levelled at the Springboks squad.

"Last night, the wraps came off the Springbok squad for the Test series and this morning, there was a deathly silence. Very, very worrying for the Lions. Every time I have toured here, the announcement of any South African squad has been greeted by a barrage of criticism, horror, inter-provincial jousting and multi-media savaging.

"I have combed the morning papers and websites and caught some of the sporting radio programmes. Apart from the odd outbreak of muted whingeing and the priceless observation from Peter de Villiers that Earl Rose, a young and unproven fly half, is the equivalent of Tiger Woods, there has been nothing. This country is united. It likes the Boks squad.

"It suggests that the squad is settled and dangerous. It is hard to attack in terms of finding weaknesses for the Lions to exploit. Fly half? Morne Steyn, the likely No 10, is not a contender for the pantheon but is perfectly serviceable and Ruan Pienaar, the other contender, was superb at Twickenham last season. Not much change there."

Posted by Huw Baines on 06/02/2009

Let's get serious

The Lions should be mindful of the strength in depth boasted by South African rugby, writes Robert Kitson in The Guardian.

"Very shortly, though, things are about to get deadly serious. The naming of the Springbok squad for the Test series has concentrated minds in both camps and further underlined the depth at South Africa's disposal. Here is an illuminating quiz question for you: how many South African-born players were plying their trade at a decent level in European club rugby last year? The answer is positively frightening: according to the excellent SA Rugby Annual, there were no fewer than 228 of them living in voluntary exile, including 37 full Springbok internationals.

"When you add that little lot to the battalions of homegrown provincial Currie Cup players and schools representatives you begin to appreciate why even a scratch team like last weekend's Royal XV contains players good enough to give a decent Lions side the runaround. As well as the 2007 World Cup, South Africa have just won the World Sevens title and their coach believes they also have a decent chance of winning the upcoming World U20 championship in Japan. The Bulls' demolition of a Waikato team containing half a dozen All Blacks was merely the icing on an increasingly substantial cake. No wonder Saracens believe that recruiting a bunch of South Africans to play in the Guinness Premiership next season is worth a punt.

"The upshot is that competition for places in the Springbok squad can rarely have been so intense. "It's amazing to see how blessed we are as a nation in terms of the amount of talent we have," observed their captain John Smit after the list of names to face the Lions had been announced live on television. When the interviewer asked for assessments of certain individuals, Smit's smart response - "I'm really happy they're on my side" – pretty much said it all."

May 28, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/28/2009

No forgetting 1997

As the Lions get acclimatised in South Africa one of the key facets of the tour could already be unfolding - Springbok skipper John Smit's move to tight-head.Smit is bullish and predicting a rout as he talks to Chris Hewett in The Independent.

"There was a smidgen of good news for the British and Irish Lions as the majority of the squad continued their hard yakka on the training field while a small handful of those not required for this weekend's tour opener against an invitation side in Rustenburg – Brian O'Driscoll, Gethin Jenkins, Ugo Monye and Nathan Hines among them – headed off to an impoverished township to inaugurate a new rugby pitch at Masibambane College, a seat of learning set up at the request of the great anti-apartheid campaigner Walter Sisulu, no less.

"The glad tidings concerned John Smit, who led South Africa to the world title in 2007 while confirming himself as one of the finest hookers in Springbok history. Smit pretty much confirmed that in the forthcoming Test series, someone else will be doing the hooking while he continues in his old-new position of tight-head prop, the role he performed in age-group rugby. It is not a policy that convinces everyone in these parts – perhaps not even Smit, calmness personified as a general rule but a trifle prickly on the subject yesterday. When the 31-year-old forward from Limpopo province was asked whether it might not be a little late to start chopping and changing, he replied: "It would be if I thought my career was nearly finished." Which he doesn't, apparently.

"Smit will play at prop when a Springbok side shorn of their Bulls, who play in the Super 14 final on Saturday, take on a Namibian XV in Windhoek tomorrow by way of warming up for the important business ahead. And there was plenty about the captain – a glint in the eye, an edge to the voice – that left no one in his presence in any doubt as to the South Africans' burning determination to avenge the defeat by the Lions a dozen years ago."

May 7, 2009

Posted by Jean Smyth on 05/07/2009

Trouble at the back for the Boks?

Like the Lions, the Springboks have injury concerns of their own ahead of the 2009 Lions tour. So, who is going to play fullback following the retirement of Percy Montgomery and a serious injury to the incumbent, Conrad Jantjes? Gavin Rich, writing for SuperSport thinks that it could be a blessing for Bok coach Peter de Villiers.


"The unfortunate injury to Conrad Jantjes could on one level be a lot more problematic than a lot of people realise, but on another it could force a solution to the biggest dilemma facing Springbok coach Peter de Villiers ahead of the series against the British and Irish Lions.

Let’s start at the first issue, which is of course transformation. Like it or not, De Villiers is under pressure to make the Springbok team as representative of the demographics of this country as it can possibly be. Memories are surely not so short that we can forget the huff caused by some politicians when last year he dropped Ricky Januarie and Jantjes for the first game of the home leg of the Tri-Nations.

Up until a few weeks ago Jantjes would not have been assured of a place in the Bok starting team. That was when Adrian Jacobs was fit, healthy and playing well. Jaque Fourie was in excellent form too, and to my mind, he was the best centre in the country."


April 29, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/29/2009

A list of battles

In The Independent, Peter Bills meets Cheeky Watson for a chat about the future of South African rugby.

"Some men, it seems, spend their lives fighting. Not necessarily in a physical sense, although violence and the threat of it is no stranger to Cheeky Watson.

"But in a mental sense, Watson has been battling against the odds, against the authorities for much of his 54 years. This man of South Africa has been at odds with differing ruling bodies within this country for so long. The Apartheid Government, the current South African Rugby Union, past Springbok coaches: doesn't Watson become weary at a never ending list of battles? After all, even Napoleon got fatigued by constant campaigns. So can he imagine a day when he won't have a battle to fight?

"He shifts his (not inconsiderable) frame in the chair and smiles. "I look forward to that day, I honestly do" he tells me. "Sometimes you get tired of fighting. There is a time when you want just to relax and reflect. Frankly, I would like to walk away from all the fighting and sit back. Has all this wearied or enhanced me ? It has wearied me, there is no doubt. But I have become very disappointed in the integrity and character of many people that are leading South African rugby. I won't name names but they know who they are."

March 20, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/20/2009

Rugby is at a crossroads

Writing in The New Zealand Herald, Inga Tuigamala bemoans the lack of action from the NZRU in the recent SANZAR disputes.

"The Sanzar crisis is a major testing ground for the credentials of our top rugby administrators. Rugby is at a serious crossroads and by my reckoning, is simply in survival mode at the moment. It needs people with a vision and the ability to revamp the way it is run or else I fear the game many of us have treasured is in major trouble.

"The current Sanzar impasse is indicative of the problems. South Africa is sticking to its guns, wanting an even earlier start to the Super 14 seasons. Australia and New Zealand want a later start, and there are other issues of dispute. It's high time that the NZRU was much more assertive on the international stage."

February 16, 2009

Posted by Huw Baines on 02/16/2009

Merit panel noble but flawed

With the Super 14 season underway Spiro Zavos calls for the referee's merit panel to be rethought on rugbyheaven.com.au.

"In an email exchange with the journalist D.D. McNicoll, the retiring High Court judge Michael Kirby revealed that when he was a student at Fort Street High School he'd been a rugby union referee: "I refereed many games and could not sympathise with the advantage rule."

"This comment goes to the real issue of why SANZAR's noble experiment for this year's Super 14 tournament of an inaugural nine-referee panel based on merit rather than nationality won't work. The merit panel includes four South Africans, three Australians and two New Zealanders.

"The South African referees and the Australian Stuart Dickinson are, in my opinion, way ahead of the other merit referees in experience and quality. This raises the issue of what standard applies to the merit panel concept."

December 14, 2008

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/14/2008

So, you're looking for predictions then?

Writing in the Cape Argus, Gavin Rich makes some bold predictions for the year ahead.

"And so time to engage those nostril hairs and look ahead at 2009. It's going to be a good year in the Super 14, with one of the Sharks, Stormers or Bulls winning the competition, and two of those three making the semi-finals. I think it will be the Stormers and Sharks.

"The Boks will easily beat the British Lions, but the wake-up call will come when they face the teams that really matter, New Zealand and Australia, in the Tri-Nations, where they will unfortunately struggle again and a lot of the people who were getting positive are suddenly going to realise we are back at square one."



November 9, 2008

Posted by Huw Baines on 11/09/2008

Springboks hit the heights...for a while

The Springboks produced a great escape against Wales in Cardiff according to Mike Greenaway in the Independent on Sunday, and certainly Peter De Villiers and his side are left pondering both positives and negatives from their opening tour win.

"A ruthlessly efficient first half performance from the Springboks, straight out of their Rugby World Cup text book, was sufficient to see off a plucky but inefficient Wales - but only just.

"This was a sobering slap of reality for the South Africans in this first match of a tour that is unashamedly a precursor to the British and Irish Lions tour in June. The basic lesson learned will be that resting on laurels in test matches is the preserve of the foolish."

September 27, 2008

Posted by Huw Baines on 09/27/2008

Jones opens up on great leadership

Talking in the Independent, Saracens boss Eddie
Jones recalls what he has learnt about team leaders in his previous time working with the Wallabies and Springboks.

"I've been pretty fortunate with the senior players I've had. John Eales struck everyone as the nicest bloke in the world, but when he was captain of the Wallabies he could be pretty tough. I remember when a member of the staff came into the team room wearing a collarless shirt, which was against the very strict dress code. John took one look at him and said: "Out! And don't come back until you find yourself a proper shirt."

"More recently, I worked with the Springboks and was struck by John Smit's contribution. The South Africans still have an intense provincial rivalry within the Test squad: the Blue Bulls from Pretoria do things differently to the Sharks from Durban; the guys from Cape Town have a culture of their own. Smit was outstanding in stitching the different threads into something whole. He also had the guts to tell the coaches their fortunes. If he thought that day's training had been dreadful, he was prepared to say so. There aren't too many players with the confidence to do that in the up-front way he did it."

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