Ek is so opgewonde, ek begin sommer nou braai
Part-time columnist and full-time rugby fan John OConnor returns this week with his unique 'View from the Couch' - as he reminisces on the All Black/Bok rivalry and ponders the sudden euphoria generated by clubbing the baby seals that were the Wallabies.
THE VIEW FROM THE COUCH
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 something unbelievably special about the Boks vs the All Blacks. It brings to mind a post I saw some years ago on the Thursday before a big Bok test match: “Ek is so opgewonde, ek begin sommer nou braai.” (I'm so excited; I'm firing the barbecue up now)
And the fact that this Saturday's game is going to be played in from of 90 000 people in Soweto, is such a testimony to how far we have come as a nation. If only our style of play had evolved to the same extent.
Part One - Love in a time of horror
One of my treasured childhood memories is waking up long before dawn to watch the '81 Boks play rugby - and dodge demonstrators - in the Land of the Wrong White Crowd. It was a really troubled time in the history of our country, but it was those wee hours (as the Kiwis would call them) with my father where I learnt to love this brutal, glorious, frustrating, exhilarating, scarily courageous game.
It was also where I learnt the peculiar vagaries of Seffrican rugby supporters, as my Dad morphed from someone who couldn't stand Naas… to Botha's greatest praise singer. For all the internecine provincial rivalry, our blood is green.
Part Two - Greatness needs a counterpoint
From that point 31 years ago until now, there has been no doubt in my mind that there is no greater game in rugby than the Boks vs the AB's. Over 110 years of international matches, these are the two teams with the highest winning percentages - effectively #1 vs #2 across the history of the game.
Australia, England, France and Wales can believe what they like; Six Nations, Bledisloe and Murray Cups notwithstanding - when the Springboks face up to the haka it is the high point of the sport.
Part Three - The jury is out
In the midst of all the jubilation over the improvement in the Bok backline performance, many of us were not convinced the Goosen is the messianic figure that Heyneke and the press have painted him out to be.
This sense of misgiving was summarized in the first try. Instead of simply straightening and fixing the first defender before passing, Goosen ran sideways turning his shoulders towards the touchline (a complete no-no for an U13 player) before shoveling the ball on. As a result, Kirchner had a lot of work to do before finishing and to his credit he did finish. But it should've been much simpler.
What the improvement did show was how poor the Bok backline performance had been to date.
A good friend is currently the U19 Craven Week coach for one of the big unions and he always tells me that as good as Goosen is, it is Jantjies that is the real deal - a general. Could he be on the right track?
Part One - The unsung hero?
In next week's column I will be looking at the differences between All Black and Springbok rugby and how they are run, but one of the differences was highlighted this week by the different reactions to the performance of Francois Louw. Kiwi scribes described his performance as “colossal” while Seffrican scribes barely mentioned him in dispatches. It is an indicator of the value placed on openside flank play in the Antipodes and the continuing lack of understanding in this country.
What will really be interesting is the outcome of the duel between Louw and McCaw. With Pocock injured, McCaw is the pre-eminent opensider in world rugby. With the tight fives evenly matched, come Saturday Louw is going to earn his salt.
Part Two - The Wobblies
Someone has to say it: The emperor is naked and the Wallabies are awful. They currently have 30 players boasting test caps out injured, with the resultant lack of dynamism against the Boks glaringly obvious. They were lucky not to ship 50 to 60 points.
The only reason that they have not lost all their games so far in the competition is due to a combination of the pride they have in the jersey, the lack of quality in their opposition and a respect afforded to them that is based on history and not current fact.
But they have been exposed and it is time the Argies put them away.
Part Three - The second pass
Has anyone else notice the subtle shift of the ball that the AB's have introduced to vary the one-off-runner play? When the Boks and other international teams pass from the base of the ruck to the one-off forward runner, they double team and drive the ball carrier forward. The AB's have introduced a second short pass that shifts the ball to the second forward, and thus varies the point of the first tackle. Watch out for it on Saturday.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“We have achieved a lot this year but we feel if we lose on Saturday a lot of the progress we have been making will have gone to waste and it will all amount to nothing… definitely, if you want to be recognised as the best you can't just win at home.” - All Black No 8 Kieran Read
This after an unbeaten season! That's striving for excellence.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Of the last 113 games that the All Blacks have led at half-time, they have won 106 i.e. 94%
It's difficult to think of a better stat to indicate this relentless pursuit of excellence.
THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
There was a typo in last week's column, so I with apologies I'm going to repeat the “Thought of the Week.”
Heyneke Meyer and Jean de Villiers keep on reassuring us that inexperience is absolutely no excuse for not performing… and then immediately tell us how inexperienced their players are.
Guess what fellas - every time you say it, it's an excuse!