The view from his 'Soweto' couch
Inspired by the excitement generated from Soweto's first test match, this week the view from the couch puts a Lambie on the barbie and is quite frankly Smitten. Part-time contributor and full-time fan John O'Connor once again entertains us.
On any given Saturday afternoon I know I will be on a couch. Mostly it is my couch. It could also be the couch of a mate, so long as his fridge is well stocked and his family well trained. But whoever the owner of said couch may be; it is the view from the couch that is all important.
There is nothing that compares to the build-up before a big test. And besides the World Cup Final, they don't get any bigger than South Africa vs. the All Blacks (Yes, it is the whole country against you).
Factor in John Smit's 100th game, a sell-out for Soweto's first test, the biggest crowd to watch the Boks in more than 50 years; and well, even though it is only Thursday afternoon ... ek is nou so opgewonde, ek begin sommer nou braai! *
Part One – Mutton dressed as Lambie
I don't think I have ever seen such a fuss made of a young player as has been the case with the Sharks' Patrick Lambie over the last four months. What started as a murmur among the cognoscenti during the Super 14 has become a groundswell of opinion from every side that this boy is the real deal. Some of the prose written about him has implied that he can do anything short of walk on water.
I have spoken to at least one coach that has worked with Lambie, and the amazing thing is that all this waxing lyrical appears to be on the money. It's not all hype. The kid is the genuine article. All that remains is for him to be tested in the fire of the top level to see if he is a diamond or a lump of coal.
While the last column mentioned the startling similarities between Lambie and Francois Steyn, having seen Lambie make his flyhalf debut for the Sharks against the Lions, it's time to point out their differences.
Jake White used to say that one season of Currie Cup or S14 does not a Springbok make. In his four years he broke that rule twice, and that was for Francois Steyn and Bryan Habana. Both were supremely gifted physically – and Lambie is not.
At 19, Steyn was an enormous man – he still is. You don't become the designated crash-ball carrier in a world cup final if you don't have power, and plenty of it. Those air-mailed penalties are not merely a function of technique; he is swinging a big leg. Lambie does not have the power of a Steyn, nor the speed and step of a 19-year-old Gaffie du Toit.
For this reason I agree with the decision not to select Lambie now for the Bok jersey; maybe the end of year tour. I would definitely take him to the World Cup, even if he hardly gets any game time. Let him imbibe the winning culture from people like John Smit and Victor Matfield.
But what this mutton dressed as Lambie does have, is the priceless ability to see (or is it sense?) space, and the generosity of spirit to share that with his teammate. When Steyn plays there is an overwhelming sense that he wants to impose himself on the game. With Lambie there is a sense that he wants to impose his team on the scoreboard.
Part Two – … are doomed to repeat it.
Much has already been written about the selection of the loose forward trio for the Soweto test against the old foe. The purpose of this column is to point out those things not being spoken of by the normal rugby pundits and for this reason I don't want to harp on the non-selection of a fetcher – something that fills me with concern. But there is something to note if we look back.
The last time Spies, Burger and Smith started a test against the AB's was 2008 in Cape Town. The result was a 0-19 loss in which McCaw absolutely destroyed the Boks at the breakdown.
Those who do not learn from history…
Part One – It's getting crowded out here
I really thought I was going out on a limb in the last column, by stating that Spies was not a test level No.8 and should be replaced by the Incredible Schalk – only to be amazed by the number of posts from people in agreement. Upon reflection it showed that there are quite a few of us out there on the couch on a Saturday, who may now require CPR after twenty minutes of touch (rugby), but we are not blind.
Then it got really interesting. Within a week of that column going up with the supporting comments, at least two big-name Seffrican rugby scribes had written articles saying exactly the same thing. So from feeling out on a ledge all on my own, it has started getting a bit crowded now that the Filth Column (or is that the Turd Estate?) has joined us.
Now it just remains to see what happens on Saturday. If Spies is shown up by Kieran Read (again) we may just find P Divvy joining us. An early indicator would be Francois Louw substituting for Spies instead of Juan Smith, who is relatively short on game time.
Be that as it may, we may all just go over the edge on Sat.
Part Two – Like a prophet in his own country
It was one of life's little ironies that Francois Pienaar was considered more highly as a flank outside of the Republic than he was in his own country. In many ways John Smit has experienced the same lack of regard as a player. It is unjustified. He is the epitome of all that you wish for in a test hooker.
What has not been questioned is his quality as a leader. Bok captain is often a thankless task but he approaches it with humility, all the while retaining an attitude of thankfulness. His book is highly recommended for all lovers of rugby not just Seffricans.
As an indicator of the quality of the man, his choice this week speaks volumes. For our overseas readers, Jake White started a tradition in 2004 that on the Friday before a test, someone would be invited to address the team and hand out the embroidered Bok jerseys to the match-day 22. Most times this individual has been a revered former Bok such as Francois Pienaar, Frik du Preez and Andre Venter. But other notable figures have included President Thabo Mbeki and Ernie Els.
Because Saturday will be Smit's 100th test, he was given the opportunity to choose who he would like to hand out the jerseys. He could have chosen just about any South African or any person in the world for that matter who holds rugby dear; and they would have come. So who did he choose? A former hero whose poster hung on his bedroom wall as a kid, or maybe a prestigious political leader?
He chose the two men who coached him at high school. This coaching duo (one of whom is being flown in from Dubai) evidently moved with him through the age groups from U14 to first team. In Smitty's words – "They taught me the game."
When I next try to explain to the Perfumed Steamroller what it is that makes rugby special, I will use this story.
LIES, DAMNED LIES AND THE STAT OF THE WEEK
Bob Dwyer's assertion that in the 3N so far the Boks received one yellow card for every six penalties, the Ozmob one for every seven penalties and the All Blacks one yellow card for every 43 penalties; made a late bid for stat of the week. But he could not eclipse the stat arising from Patrick Lambie's performance for the Sharks against the Lions in the Currie Cup two weeks ago. Making his No.10 debut in senior rugby, Lambie put boot to ball for the first time in the 55th minute i.e. with 69 percent of the game gone.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"You are, and will always be, an idol to me"
Os du Randt sums up his view of John Smit in his foreword to Smit's book: "Captain in the Cauldron"
"In my 12 years of professional rugby, I've never encountered someone who has earned so much respect as a player and captain from friend and foe alike"
Victor Matfield speaks of John Smit; taken from the same book.
"If Teich had been the captain, we would have won that world cup - period, learn from that"
Bobby Skinstad's answer to a question asked in an on-line discussion. The question was what he thought about the argument that 2011 was a bridge too far for Smit, especially in the light of Skinstad having been right in the middle of the Teichmann/Mallett saga before the '99 World Cup.
THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
I have watched the Boks since the 1981 tour to the Land of the Wrong White Crowd. In thirty years, I have only missed the first 20 minutes of the last Newlands test against the French (I know, I know – I missed three tries. Don't remind me)
That is a lot of rugby. And to be honest, a lot of heartache – albeit interspersed with some soaring, glorious moments. I promised myself after the '95 World Cup final that I would never let a rugby match matter so much again. But I need to front up. Far too often over the last 15 years, my family (the Perfumed Steamroller, Cain and Abel) have had to endure a very grumpy husband and dad come Saturday evening.
Now Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter have a win percentage of 89 percent every time they pull on that black jersey. Just think about that for a second. No matter whom they play, home or away, they will win almost 90 of every 100 tests. Plus they play such quality rugby. Yet they have not won the world cup.
If I add up all the hours of test rugby that I have watched since that '95 World Cup (which has to be excluded for very obvious reasons) and you offered me a 90 percent win-rate in exchange for the 2007 William Webb Ellis trophy…
* I'm now so excited that I'm starting the barbecue right now.