View from the couch
The View from the Couch returns after a gap wider than the holes in a Sonny Bill contract.
The View from the Couch, the opinion of part-time columnist and avid reader John OConnor, returns after a gap wider than the holes in a Sonny Bill contract.
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.
The raison d'être for the start of this column nearly four years ago was to point out the things that the fans see, but are never discussed by the members of the media a.k.a. the Turd Estate.
Then I discovered that writing a column can be a draining and rewardless (Take note Ed!) task. But there is a time in the tides of men when we must stand up from the couch and say: "Can I rather have a cold one?"
So what caused me to rise like a leviathan from the recesses of my faux leather ecosystem? The first reason was the sound of anguish from the hordes of Bok fans as both the Bok coaching staff and local media have deeply and systemically underestimated us.
Part One - "I heard a lonely sound…"
It is no coincidence that 21 years have passed since our return to the international stage, because Seffrican rugby fans have grown up. We have won two world cups and what we are looking for most of all is… progress and vision.
We are no longer simply fixated on winning. We want to see the Boks going somewhere, being innovative, setting standards. In fact, if Harry Viljoen came along now and told the Boks not to kick for 70 minutes - he'd have his own version of Palm Sunday at the airport.
Why do the Boks (the best of the best) have to rely on being the biggest slabs of beef on the planet? Why can't they also be able to play into space? If schoolboys can get it right, why can't they have dummy runners, variation, options?
The issue is not kicking, or the lack thereof. The point is innovation and vision - on and off the field. Without vision… people perish. And that's how we are feeling.
Show us some vision Heyneke, and we will put up with losses on the way to that vision.
Wake up, Heyneke. We aren't roaring, we are weeping.
Part Two - Disinformation
The second motivator for this column was two articles written this past week by some scribes. The same point was made by both scribes and they were both incorrect.
Here's the quote: "… at the breakdown, our problem isn't stealing ball, it is protecting our own ball, and a fetcher does little in that department…"
The purpose of an opensider, "fetcher" flank is not to win ball on the ground while on defence. The primary purpose of an opensider is to secure his team's ball on attack. Winning turnovers is the cream on the top.
For all their success in Super Rugby, the Achilles heel of the Sharks was their tendency to penetrate the first line of defence and then be turned over. This was especially evident in the last 10 metres before from the opposition tryline and best seen in their loss to the Hurricanes. The reason: no fetcher flank to secure their own ball. So what does the Bok brain trust do? They select the same two Shark flanks continually and we continually battle to retain our own ball.
Keep an eye on McCaw against the Argies on Saturday and watch how many times he takes up the ‘king' position - crouching in front of the ball, head up, back horizontal - guarding the New Zealand ball. Or see how many times he cleans out defenders at the ruck. I saw him once clean out three Bok backline players by himself and make sure that the All Blacks retained the ball.
Yet this misconception regarding the role of the opensider continues to be purveyed in the local media. But one thing we do know: they could be playing in the Arctic Circle in a snowstorm, but the All Blacks and the Ozmob would still pick an opensider to start.
Part Three - "I'll be damned if I can see a reason to explain…"
Hindsight is always 20/20 but the fact that Pieter de Villiers was actually appointed should never cease to amaze us. The Boks were the #1 commodity in rugby after winning the '07 World Cup. And they were given to a man who had never even coached a top level Currie Cup team, let alone a Super Rugby franchise. With two Super 14 winning coaches (Meyer and Deans), the RWC winning coach and his assistant all available as options - as far as business practice goes, the board members that voted for that decision should have been replaced long ago.
"… why the profiteers and the spongers and the goons remain"
Part Four - Is there a defibrillator on standby?
So when the mandarins announced Heyneke Meyer as the new Bok boss, the vast majority of us breathed a sigh of relief. Make no mistake, the position of Bok coach is extremely stressful and some have simply thrown in the towel under that stress. Knowing that Meyer had experienced the pressure of carrying a Super 14 franchise (team loses -> fans stop coming -> people in the franchise lose their jobs) was a great comfort.
Then we saw Heyneke… mid-match… in the coaches' box…
Part Five - The more things change…
The following extract is taken from the View from the Couch, dated 11 September 2009: "About 10 minutes into the second half the Aussies dropped two Garryowens in quick succession. Sitting on the couch, I immediately thought - there we go, the Boks will target that and put them away. But they didn't and couldn't. It told me two things.
One is that they still have some way to go before they are comfortable with P. Divvy's intention that they can change plans during the game and adapt to what they see in front of them. They are very capable of playing in different ways (especially with Ruan Pienaar at first receiver) … but they are not there yet when it comes to changing mid-game.
The second is that Morné Steyn is not yet a general. He needed to take control, overrule the calls if necessary and drive his team over the line. Just watch Carter on Saturday and you will understand."
… the more they stay the same.
Part One - Best value
There can be little doubt that the best value for money provincial/Super Rugby/club player in the world is Keegan Daniel. He has everything you want in a player; including courage, pace, leadership and the X-factor. His offload on Saturday to create Ndungane's try against the Cheetahs was sublime. The only other Seffrican loosies capable of making that pass are Joe van Niekerk and Juan Smith (how we miss you!) There aren't many backline players that spring to mind that could have made that pass.
But Daniel's most valuable attribute is that no matter how well he plays, he will not get selected for his national team - or at least not be given any reasonable chance to establish himself in the national side. If I was recruiting for French or Japanese clubs, Daniel's agent would be at the top of my speed-dial list.
Best value, best buy.
Part Two - If only
Fitness and desire permitting, the Boks on Saturday could have been fielding a loose forward trio of over 150 caps. With the Incredible Schalk at No.8, Juan Smith at No.7 and Heinrich Brüssow at No.6; Heyneke Meyer would be sleeping a lot easier. And McCaw and co. the exact opposite.
Hope springs eternal…
Part Three - If you dare dream…
Talking of hope - if anyone had said to you at the start of the year that come September South Africa would be taking on the Ozmob in Perth with Tiaan Liebenberg at hooker and Craig Burden on the bench, you would have called for the men in white coats.
But if Adriaan Strauss fails his late fitness test, that scenario will play itself out on Sat. Proof that in sport dreams really do come true.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"I'm a guy who backs the players, will give them continuity and once we've played away from home then I'll look at the combinations" Heyneke Meyer
Wonder if Elton Jantjies and Keegan Daniel would agree?
"With JP out ... and I feel sorry for Lwazi ... it's not a question of him being dropped." Heyneke Meyer, after dropping Lwazi Mvovo to the bench.
THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
Both thoughts this week come from my ex-pat mate in Brisbane - the Great Pessimist.
I'm concerned that Heyneke Meyer is so hyped up next to the field; it shows how much emotion is involved in his coaching which clouds his ability to analyse and identify technical deficiencies
When Heyneke Meyer shouts into his walkie-talkie like that, is there actually anybody at the listening at the other end or is it just a release?