Read this today about Rugby before the showdown at 5pm by my mate Mike Greenaway
August 28, 2010 Leave a comment
Read this today before the showdown at 5pm by my mate Mike Greenaway
THE sideshows that often accompany big Test matches are detested by coaches and captains who worry about the focus of the team being threatened by peripheral issues. The usual minor dramas can be blocked out but an event of the magnitude of Victor Matfield’s “ton” on his home ground, with 30 000 Matfield masks handed out at the gate, is a little tougher to ignore – and why should it be? – but the one sideshow that the team dare not mention but all know is skulking in the background are the repercussions of defeat, not only for the coaching staff but also for John Smit, Matfield and some of the other seniors.
Victory tomorrow against Australia in the Boks’ pen-ultimate Tri-Nations match would be a bone tossed the way of the scavenging hounds that are snapping at the heels of Smit and Peter de Villiers but a fifth consecutive defeat would resurrect in vivid technicolour the tempestuous days leading up to the Rustenburg Test against the All Blacks in 2006, when after five defeats it was known that a sixth would mean the sacking of White (and Smit), even though it was just a year out from the World Cup, which happens to be the case right now, funnily enough.
If the Wallabies win tomorrow, it would not be an exaggeration to quote the title of acclaimed African writer Chinua Achebe’s novel, “Things Fall Apart”, given that this time last year the Boks had won five in a row and beaten the All Blacks three times.
Despite the deadly seriousness of what is at stake, it has been a funny old week, what with Toks van der Linde named to sing the national anthem; a forgotten Springbok in Braam van Straaten pitching up out of nowhere to assist the Wallabies with their kicking; the Matfield masks; and even the interesting choice of Heyneke Meyer to present the players with their jerseys given that Super 14 title-winning Meyer was hotly tipped to take over from Jake White in 2008 but was overlooked by Saru in favour of De Villiers, precipitating Meyer’s sulky move to a coaching job in England.
In the Wallaby camp, the heat is turned up just about as much on Robbies Deans, De Villiers’ counterpart, with the difference that on one hand he has no sideshows to deflect but on the other, he has the heavy weight of historical Australian failure on the highveld to overturn.
Since the first match between the countries in South Africa in 1933, the Aussies have won just eight times in 37 matches. In the professional era (since 1996) they have won just twice in 15 matches (both wins were in Durban). Worse still, the Wallabies have not won at altitude since 1963 and have never won in Pretoria.
“This makes it a good game to win!” Deans will tell his troops, and they will be helped in their quest to rewrite history by their relative freshness given the fact that they had their feet up in their Cape Town hotel last Saturday watching the Boks sweat the marrow from their bones in their mighty (but ultimately unsuccessful) effort to beat the All Blacks.
The Boks played a “final” last week at the FNB Stadium, make no mistake, and replicating that gigantic effort will be a major test of their character and resolve.
It will help that this is the strongest Springbok team selected this season and the closest by some margin to the line-up that won five out of six last year, but the major challenge for them is keep the focus on being about the survival of this Springbok side as we know it and not about personal milestones.
As Test match centurions Percy Montgomery, John Smit and George Gregan will tell you – winning in your 100th can be a sentence as much as a celebration.
Springboks: 15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (capt), 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Substitutes: Chiliboy Ralepelle, CJ van der Linde, Danie Rossouw, Ryan Kankowski, Ricky Januarie, Butch James, Juan de Jongh.
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (capt), 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Saia Faainga, 1 Benn Robinson.
Substitutes: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Ben McCalman, Scott Higginbotham, Luke Burgess, Berrick Barnes, Anthony Faainga.