Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Are the Boks a crap rugby team?

South Africa's Schalk Burger and Joe Van Niekerk feel the strain of the English onslaught at Twickenham. (Adam Butler, AP)

The Boks are ruining my productivity. And no doubt many other people's too.

Each Saturday they lose, I go into a blue funk and then spend ages online trawling for the reasons why on a Sunday.

I read keo.co.za, superrugby, rugby365, et al. And then I descend further into misery as I read the trash that people dig up.

So here is my two cents worth on my own blog.

The Boks forwards are not the stuff of a world-beating side. I read the parochial postings of SA fans slagging off the Province players and demanding bulls in the backline. But the reality is that forwards set the foundation. One has to worry: we have tons of talent in our pack: Os, Matfield, Bakkies, Schalk and Big Joe are incredible players. So why the underperformance? Race?

The racial bickering is past its sell-buy date too. We live in a deeply divided country treading onwards in its miracle transformation. Those who have worked in Zimbabwe will recognise the dangers of not really transforming. It's a reality, let's get on with it.

Eddie Andrews is not having a great tour, but attempts to blame him for the forward nightmare are naive.

If we have the talent, then why the disaster? One has to look at technique and emotion / motivation. At the very top it is seldom skill that seperates the winners from the losers. Our pack's technique must be examined more closely. In the set scrum, the forwards body position has been mentioned as suiting dry and not wet weather. This may very well be the case. Jake White's decision to arrive late in the UK could be justified (perhaps) if the team had practised on muddy pitches in the Cape for weeks beforehand. But this was not the case. Argentina have for years demonstrated that scrumming technque can make up for a hopelessly light-weight, "ordinary" pack. Frankly this is not good enough. Surely scrumming on wet pitches should have been thought of way-back-when.

England's flyhalf Charlie Hodgson breaks a tackle to score the first try against the Springboks. (Adam Butler, AP)

But motivation is key too. How Jake White could have made the Paulse selection mess-up God only knows. He is aware of the political realities regardless of whether Fourie is better than Paulse or not (an in my opinion Fourie certainly is not). Not only would that disaster have raised the political issues in the players heads again (read about what happened when Mallet made a similar error and Oberholzer went to the UK to talk to team about the realities of SA transformation). Poor Paulse - imagine returning to this nightmare after his recent celebrations regarding merit selection. Further, consistent selection is a good idea. But when your team is as tired as the Boks clearly are after their long season, rotation has to be the right option. Wholesale changes are never a good idea. A consistent rotation policy, with which the players have been made familiar would allow other players to become accustomed to the test arena and the Bok gameplan. There just has to be room for Etienne Botha and Brian Habana on a regular basis - as well as others. It is not a wonder there is no cover for Os - no one else ever gets a look in.

And speaking of game plan, for years it seems as though we have had none. I wonder if the team talk of match scenarios and how they would deal with them. No one probably dares mention "What if we are twenty points down after 30 minutes?" for fear of being negative. But is it any wonder that the team looks panic stricken in those situations. I worry about our captainship in these situations too. Bobby was a great captain for the big picture, but not good (I think) at managing gutsing it out and managing trench warfare tactics. Corne was great at asking players for an extra 20% and regularly managed to get his players to win matches they probably should have lost (think Stormers vs. Waratahs), but not great at big picture strategy. John Smit - articulate, non-political in the team, but in reality fighting for his own position. Not a great start. Is he really in charge?

Anyway, my thoughts. Got to take heart from the Proteas though. Shows that changes in strategy and thinking rather than massive changes in personnel can turn things around.

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