Old school is cool
sport365 columnist Robbie Fleck is a happy man this week, having spent a few days playing rugby in Bangkok, before returning home to find out that his young UCT side smashed Tukkies in an FNB Varsity Cup fixture. Can life get better for Fleckie?
Well, contrary to what the editor might think or say, it wasn't all sipping cocktails and lying on the beach this past weekend in Bangkok...
We played two days of rugby in the Bangkok International Tens, with four matches on each day and we were forced to eat bugs. Ok, not forced, but I ate a grasshopper and was forced to down half a pint of beer during a match!
It was one of the best rugby trips of my life - a throwback to the good old days in terms of off-field camaraderie - and touring - and I cannot wait to head back there next year.
Myself and Bob Skinstad were some of the big names in the South African team, with Willie Lose (Tonga's captain at the 1995 World Cup) and Australian Warrick Waugh (lock) the other former internationals taking part. A bonus, too, was that we won it, although it was pretty tough going in the end.
The people in Thailand love their rugby - most of the rugby lovers are expats, to be fair - and they are desperate to grow the game in their country, which is why tournaments like this are so much fun and worthwhile.
Aside from the rugby on offer, the social aspect was brilliant. As I mentioned above, it was like the good old days when ALL the players got together after the tournament - dressed in their caps and blazers - swapping stories, having a laugh and, of course, having a serious fines session. One such session led to me eating said grasshopper, but I got off lightly compared to some of the other chaps... (For the record, it tasted like friend chicken!)
I made a number of friends during my professional career, both here and abroad, and I would like to think I have made a few more friends after this past weekend. From a work point of view it was also nice networking with a few of the local businessmen and some guys from London, New York, etc, so hopefully when the guys come out here for a tournament in the future we can all get together again.
Bangkok was magnificent and we saw and did a lot - feeding elephants on the streets, checking out the local go-go dancers and sampling the rather interesting food! - but I think South Africa, or Cape Town, in particular, would also be a fantastic destination for a tournament like this.
Of course, the International Tens are not to be confused with the World Classics Tournament I took part in in Bermuda last November. The Classics is entirely different. For starters, it is a bit more serious on the pitch (I can't wait till this year, with talk even of a fully-fledged tour beforehand!), and it's 15-a-side, whereas we played 10-a-side this past weekend.
Tens, as it is known, is a combination of 15s and Sevens and Bob and I both prefer the 10-man version to Sevens after this weekend. Five forwards and five backs line up in Tens and while there is plenty of opportunity to attack - like in Sevens - you still need to run 15s-like lines and defend properly. It's a great concept and with these new ELVs I might just get the UCT guys to play some Tens at training.
Speaking of UCT, I arrived back in Cape Town on Tuesday morning with a bunch of voicemail messages from John Dobson telling me not to bother coming to practice - 'my' backline had scored some brilliant tries as the Ikey Tigers beat Tukkies 55-24; without me even being there!!
I was obviously very disappointed to have missed the game, but Dobbo's ribbing aside, I was delighted with the result. I watched a video of the game and gave my feedback at training on Wednesday night - things are taking shape! The team's pre-season work is starting to bear fruition now, but most importantly the guys bounced back from a disappointing loss the week before to play some typically brilliant Ikeys rugby.
Maties also won at the weekend and it's great to see the two Cape sides in first (Maties) and second (Ikeys) place on the standings after two rounds of action.
They key thing now, however, is that we follow up our win over Tukkies with a victory over UJ next Monday. The Varsity Cup has been full of shocks and up-and-down results so far, but we need to break that trend and beat a fired-up side on their home patch.
If we can beat UJ, and follow that up with another away win the following Monday (against TUT), we could realise our dream of a semi-final place if all goes well at the George Festival. The coaches, however, are not allowing the guys to look too far ahead though and our immediate concern is UJ next Monday.
UJ, of course, is Francois Pienaar's alma mater and it would be great to put one over the sponsor's old university! Francois, I am told, was at the Ikeys-Tukkies game on Monday and he met the teams beforehand; it's fantastic to see him so involved. Francois has done a lot of work to get this tournament up and running, but yet he remains enthusiastic throughout - coming to the game and then rushing home to watch UJ on television afterwards.
Having guys like Francois playing a leading role in a tournament like this can only be a good thing and I have no doubt in my mind that the FNB Varsity Cup will replace the Vodacom Cup in the not-too-distant future. I see Stellenbosch had a Provincial player like Justin Melck playing for them; more and more of the players would rather be playing in the Varsity Cup than the Vodacom Cup it seems... SARU's response to this? Well, they have upped the Vodacom Cup prize money to R1-million this season! They must be worried...
Looking at the 'other' rugby this weekend, my PVR was forced to work in overdrive on Tuesday night as I caught up with all the Super 14 action I missed.
The Bulls and Lions both took big pastings at home against two very, very skilled New Zealand teams (the Crusaders and Blues, respectively) and Schalk Burger hit the headlines with his yellow card and subsequent ban for abusing the linesman, Willie Roos.
Firstly, looking at the Bulls, it all goes down to missing Heyneke Meyer. Yes, Gary Botha and Victor Matfield are big losses, but Frans Ludeke - as nice a guy as he is - is nowhere near Heyneke's level as a coach.
For years now the Bulls have been the shining light in South African rugby. In recent years, talented youngsters from Western Province, most of whom have been lifelong WP fans, have upped and left Cape Town for Pretoria and rightly so. At the moment, however, I can't see any more youngsters wanting to board this creaking ship.
They were average against the Stormers in Week One and diabolical last Friday. They will get hurt overseas.
The Lions, too, disappointed against the Blues. I backed the Blues to win, but I really did not expect to see the Lions capitulate like they did.
In the Currie Cup you can play for your coach and toss the ball around at will, but you will get found out in the Super 14. That's what's happening here and it's a bit worrying that the Currie Cup finalists from last year are both battling in the Super 14. Yes, both sides have lost a few senior players to injuries and the overseas market, but it does ask questions about the quality of the Currie Cup without the World Cup Boks.
Lastly then, a look at the Schalk Burger incident from Saturday...
It was like Robbie Fleck of old, I guess, and I'm sure I will get a lot of stick commenting on something that I did more often than not during my career! Schalkie, I got penalised and carded more than you did for having a go at refs - but I can see both sides of the argument here.
Clearly, the Stormers were unhappy with Willie Roos from the previous week. They must have discussed his performance from the Bulls match in their video session and Schalk's reaction was clearly one of a 'gatvol' player.
In my opinion, he should never have been carded for the incident. It was a simple case of argy-bargy, with no punches thrown and I think that's why Schalk got so upset. He's a passionate bloke, like I was in my day, but he should not be vilified for what he did.
Having said that, I think two weeks is probably a fair ban as you don't want rugby becoming like football, but if the referees are being protected, who protects the players when a wrong call can get a player dropped and, ultimately, affect his career in the long run?
Roos got some calls wrong the previous weekend and there is nobody better to judge a ref's performance than the players themselves. André Watson says he knows more about the laws than the players. I disagree, he might know as much, but the players are the ones making the errors or being penalised - they know the score better than anybody else and it's often something discussed between opposition teams after a game.
I see Schalk has issued an apology and I think it's the right thing to do. Whether he disagreed with the call or not, he will know better for next time, but the refs need to be accountable when situations like this arise.
Well, there you go then - that's my take... Although I'm sure many of you will think it's pretty rich coming from Robbie Fleck...
Let the abuse begin, but first my weekend predictions! (And no doubt more abuse - ed.)
HURRICANES v CHIEFS:
Friday, February 29 - 8.35am (SA time)
Both these teams are still trying to find their feet in the 2008 competition. The 'Canes are always tough to beat at home, but they were not too impressive against the Reds last week and Ma'a Nonu was the difference between the two sides.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, did well to snuff out the Waratahs last week. They're a good side and have plenty of gas out wide.
Fleckie's prediction: I have a funny feeling about this game - the Chiefs to take what should be a high-quality match.
LIONS v FORCE:
Friday, February 29 - 6.30pm
Loffie's Lions will be relying on their spirit and squad system to beat a Force team that has been very good on its tour of South Africa thus far. Unfortunately, the Lions are not mature enough for this competition, whereas the Force have a wiser team and a superb coach at the helm in the shape of John Mitchell.
Fleckie's prediction: The Force to edge out a dour encounter.
STORMERS v CRUSADERS:
Friday, February 29 - 8.35pm
I thought the Stormers were unfortunate to lose to the Sharks last week, as they were against the Bulls last week. They are a team on the rise, but they are a year or two from winning those close matches against top three sides.
The Crusaders are an awesome side and Robbie Deans continues to show why the All Blacks could rue losing him to the Wallabies this year... They love playing at the 'Bull Ring', but they love playing in Cape Town just as much. In their last three games at Newlands, the Crusaders have won 51-13 (2003) and 51-23 (2005), although they went down 28-17 in 2006.
Fleckie's prediction: The Crusaders will win this one, but expect a competitive Stormers team to run them fairly close.
HIGHLANDERS v WARATAHS:
Saturday, March 1 - 8.35am
This will be a tough one - the Highlanders are notoriously tough to beat at the 'House of Pain', but they are without the likes of Anton Oliver, Carl Hayman, Nick Evans and co.
The Waratahs came back nicely against the Chiefs last week and very nearly stole a win away from home.
Fleckie's prediction: 'Tahs to nick this one away from home.
BRUMBIES v REDS:
Saturday, March 1 - 10.40am
Aside from George Gregan and Steve Larkham moving on last year, the Brumbies have lost a lot of players due to injuries this season.
The Reds, on the other hand, are playing decent rugby and they seem to save their best for these all-Australian derbies.
Fleckie's prediction: Reds to win.
CHEETAHS v BLUES:
Saturday, March 1 - 5pm
Unfortunately for the Cheetahs, they lost yet another home game at the death. I rate Naka Drotské as a coach, but it's a tough old school, the Super 14 - for players and coaches.
The Blues, along with the Crusaders, are the form team in the Super 14. Their forwards handle the ball like backs and their backs are simply awesome.
Fleckie's prediction: The Blues are too strong this year and will win their second one on the road in South Africa.
BULLS v SHARKS:
Saturday, March 1 - 7.05pm
Forget what happened last week against the Crusaders, the Bulls tend to bounce back well, especially in a South African derby match at Loftus.
The Sharks have not been in the best of form, but they are still unbeaten, which shows their character and ability.
Fleckie's prediction: Anything can happen in an SA derby, but this one will be down to the coaches - Dick Muir and John Plumtree are too streetwise for Frans Ludeke. The Sharks will take home the points.
Until next time,
* Email Fleckie at firstname.lastname@example.org with your Super 14 picks for this week!
* Fleckie's 'Last Word' will appear weekly on sport365.co.za - and also on rugby365.com and iafrica.com - so log on next week for more Super 14 views and predictions.