THE Springboks will be banking on this gameplan for the 2011 event.

MIKE GREENAWAY

THE Springboks will be banking on the game plan blueprint of the 2007 Rugby World Cup triumph at the 2011 event. This was much suggested in the naming yesterday of what amounts to be a preliminary Springbok Rugby World Cup squad that bares little difference to that of France four years ago and then confirmed when Peter de Villiers pointed to last November’s victory over England at Twickenham as the way forward, if that is the correct turn of phrase.

It is going to be a hugely contentious debate leading up the Boks’ title defence. Can the Springboks continue to successfully play the same way as ever while the game is continuing to evolve towards favouring the team that keeps the ball? Last year’s Tri-Nations hinted strongly that the strangulation game was up for the Boks but this was countered by De Villiers’ colourful contention that “the recipe was good – we just did not have the right pots and pans”, an allusion mainly to the absence of Fourie du Preez, the principle protagonist of the Boks’ brilliant kick-and-chase strategy of 2009.

As always in rugby, it is problematic to compare one year with another. In 2009, when a Springbok team at its absolute prime enjoyed unprecedented prevalence over the All Blacks, the Kiwis were in a rebuilding phase and the law focuses regarding freeing up quick ball at the break down were in their infancy.

The next year, the leaden-footed Boks were given a Tri-Nations hiding by adversaries that had bought into the new game. From champions in 2009 they won just once in 2010, a last-minute victory over the Wallabies in Pretoria.

The big question is this: is the Boks’ game plan out of date or was it simply a case of it being badly implemented in 2010? Can the Boks prevail in New Zealand or will the Cup go to a team that keeps the ball, which would be a first in World Cup history?

This year’s Super Rugby has already added fuel to the fire. The Bulls have Fourie du Preez back and while he personally does not look too bad, his team are playing wretchedly. Again, it is the question of whether it is the players (who are off-key) or the game plan.

De Villiers is convinced that the strategy is sound (make no mistake, the Boks played Bulls rugby on their end-of-year tour under Victor Matfield’s captaincy, not that it would have been different under John Smit.) And Bulls rugby is not far off what the Boks played under Jake White. To paraphrase – you dominate the set pieces and the tackle, you play territory with the kick-and-chase, you crank up the pressure via mechanisms such as the driving maul and earn penalties, and then you kick the goals.

The Boks were very poor at this against Scotland in November but then smashed England off the park, which is what De Villiers highlighted yesterday.

The thing is, England are not Australia or New Zealand.

The Sharks versus Crusaders match last week showcased rugby at its best and the Northern Hemisphere took serious notice.

But De Villiers did make one good point yesterday when he pointed out that competition rugby tends to be different to tournament rugby. Teams get increasingly conservative as the pressure cranks up.

Will this be the first World Cup where the team that keeps the ball wins? Again a question that nobody can really answer, which is what makes team sport so special.

A former Blue Bulls and South Africa U21 rugby player will appear in the Durban Magistrate’s Court


A former Blue Bulls and South Africa U21 rugby player will appear in the Durban Magistrate’s Court today in connection with last week’s grisly axe killings of three men in Lamontville, Umbilo and Yellowwood Park in KwaZulu-Natal.


The 34-year-old played for the Blue Bulls’ Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup teams and the South African Barbarians.

He was arrested on Tuesday – a week after the first of the bizarre deaths in southern Durban.

When police released information on the killings last week, they claimed the killer may have been avenging the rape of his daughter, who was infected with HIV during the ordeal.

However, police yesterday could not confirm whether the former rugby player has a daughter.

According to police, the axe-wielding man allegedly targeted random men who were returning from work at night.

A 27-year-old man, who narrowly escaped last Tuesday, told police he was returning from work when a man in a grey car with an Eastern Cape number plate drove past him slowly in Lamontville.

He alleged that the driver stopped the car, jumped out and accused him of raping his daughter and infecting her with HIV.

The man told police that the attacker pulled out an axe and tried to hack him, but he managed to escape.

A day later, Ndodo Hlongwa was decapitated in the area. His head was found in a bin in Himalaya Road in Merebank.

Two more bodies were found in Yellowwood Park and Umbilo.

Police allegedly found a 40cm axe and clothing belonging to one of the victims in the suspect’s Yellowwood Park home.

The former rugby player will be charged on three counts of murder and attempted murder.

Theron satisfied with progress of Baby Boks

Theron satisfied with progress of Baby Boks

SA Under-20 coach Dawie Theron on Thursday insisted that he was satisfied with the steady progress of his Baby Boks following their three-match tour of Argentina.

The South African national junior team secured two victories against the Argentinean U20s which included a 22-13 victory at the Lions Rugby Club and a 46-29 win at the Lawn Tennis Club. Both matches were played in the northern city of Santiago del Estero. The tourists though conceded an 8-7 defeat against an Argentinean XV team in their tour warm up game.

“We achieved one of our objectives of the season which were to win both internationals in Argentina, so I am confident on that front that we are moving in the right direction in terms of creating a culture which will hopefully be a contributing factor in yielding success for us during the next few months,” said Theron.

“However we are not fooled with what is expected from us in terms of achieving our ultimate goal which is to excel at the IRB Junior World Championship later this year. There’s plenty of hard work ahead for us as a team.

“We’ve had a decent look at the 30 players on tour, and let us not forget that we do have more players than before competing in the Vodacom Super Rugby and Vodacom Cup competitions that I am also monitoring. Then we also have age group players that are currently involved in the Springbok Sevens and their training squads, they will also be looked at.”

Theron is hopeful that many of the Baby Boks who competed in the three-match Argentinean tour will settle straight back into their provincial unions’ structures and achieve valuable game time before the next age group training camp.

The Baby Boks coach has the luxury of monitoring the likes of Tuks and SA Under-20 tour captain Arno Botha, lock Eben Etzebeth, scrumhalf Ricky Schroeder and flanker Nizaam Carr who are likely to feature for the UCT Ikeys and during the forthcoming FNB Varsity Cup final against Tuks.

Theron and the national selectors will also be tracking the performances of the likes of hooker Micheal van Vuuren, flyhalf Johan Goosen, scrumhalf Pieter Rademan, centre Francois Venter, winger Courtnall Skosan, fullbacks Ulrich Beyers and Riaan Britz who are all likely to participate in the current Vodacom Cup competition.

The Lions fullback Jaco Taute, DHL Stormers prop Frans Malherbe and hooker Siyabonga Ntubeni who have all earned valuable Vodacom Super Rugby this season, are all eligible to represent the Baby Boks at the IRB Junior World Championships in Italy as is Springbok Sevens talent Paul Jordaan.

Issued by SARU Communications

Public criticism of Springbok captain John Smit should be reserved

Public criticism of Springbok captain John Smit should be reserved until he has had an opportunity in his favoured position of hooker in the Super Rugby competition, says national coach Peter de Villiers, who has expressed his frustration at not being able to judge the form of his World Cup captain.

Speaking at yesterday’s announcement of the 23 contracted Springboks for the 2011 season, De Villiers said: “It is unfair that there has been negativity about John because he shouldn’t be playing prop after having lost weight to be a hooker once more.

“I respect him so much for the fact that when I needed him to play tighthead prop for South Africa, he agreed without question and put on weight so he could handle the position, then when Jannie du Plessis developed into a good tighthead and BJ Botha came back from Ireland, I told him I wanted him at hooker again, so he went and got into condition for the more mobile position but is now being played at prop,” De Villiers said.

“I can’t see why they (the Sharks) don’t give him a chance at his best position.” He added.

The answer is the imposing figure of Bismarck du Plessis, who is in sensational form and is quite possibly the best hooker in the world right now.

Sharks coach John Plumtree was asked at a press conference on Tuesday whether Smit would play hooker at some stage and he wearily answered, as if fed up of the old Smit-Bismarck debate: “It is a very long competition and I have only two hookers in the squad (Craig Burden is now with the Sharks XV in the Vodacom Cup) – everybody will get a chance to start and come off the bench. I hope that answers the question.”

Meanwhile De Villiers says the slimmer Smit’s work rate is compromised by the fact that he is playing prop.

“He has to work very hard to hold his own in the scrums and it is taking the firepower out of his legs. It is hard for him to get around the field and get to the form people think he is no longer capable of.”

De Villiers is hopeful that as the marathon Super Rugby competition wears on, rotation will see Smit get his chance in the Sharks No 2 jersey.

“The way I see it, the Stormers are making a plan with their three (Springbok) centres (Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jongh), and the Bulls with their four (Bok) locks. They rotate,” De Villiers observed.

“The problem for me is that right now I can’t say John will be my starting hooker at the World Cup because I can’t judge him. Very importantly, if he is not No 1 he will definitely be No 2, but currently he is nowhere and I have to try and judge him on previous achievements.”

De Villiers says he will be out of the country for a week or so and then plans to meet with Plumtree.

“We have to work together to help a great servant of South African rugby,” De Villiers said. “We are talking about the most capped captain in international rugby. It is a frustrating time for me because to judge him I need to see him at hooker.”

There are no surprises in the squad of contracted players announced by the coach but he did add that these players were not guaranteed a free ride to the World Cup.

“We offer contracts so that we keep the best players in the country playing against each other, for the obvious reason of maintaining high standards,” he said. “But I have seen a number of new young faces putting their hands up this year and if they keep it up we could have some surprises in the World Cup squad.”

De Villiers said the door was also not shut on overseas-based Springboks such as Francois Steyn and Ruan Pienaar.

“A guy like Frans is certainly in the picture and I am hopeful that the Lions can get it right o bring him back from France for the second half of Super Rugby.”

Savage Super showdown with the Stormers on Saturday

IT does not get any easier for the Sharks. Four countries in four weeks, the (relative) horror of an overseas flight in cattle class between London and Johannesburg, a jaw-droppping battle with a Crusaders team that is skilled and brutal in equal measures, and now a homecoming war with the Bulls-beating, SA Conference trend-setting, Stormers.

Yesterday morning, the Twickenham sweat barely showered off their backs, the Sharks were back at the coal face on the Kings Park training pitch and getting their heads around the certainty of a savage Super showdown with the Stormers.

Coach John Plumtree yesterday fronted at a media conference in the Shark Tank and while he wasn’t exactly rattling his team’s sabres he was certainly letting the Stormers know that the Sharks mean business in the two home matches in front of them before their bye ( they host the Lions next week).

“Our big boys battled a bit in economy class (there were not enough seats at the front of the plane) and not having a bed to sleep in has probably been the worst part of a hectic month of travelling,” Plumtree said. “In all honesty I don’t know what effect all the travelling will have on us. When we agreed as a group to do the London trip, we all committed to it, and we’re certainly not going to use it as any kind of excuse against the Stormers. If how we trained this morning is any indication, we’re in good shape.”

Well mostly in good shape. The exception from the London excursion being flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter, who yesterday afternoon was having a scan on a calf injury, the results of which are not yet known.

Potgieter, of course, was standing in for Patrick Lambie (finger injury) against the Crusaders and if he is out, that is likely to mean Meyer Bosman moving from 12 to 10 and while that is exactly what he did when Potgieter got injured on Sunday, Bosman has hardly played in the position since Jake White picked him as a 20-year-old out of nowhere for a Test match against Wales in 2005.

If Bosman has to play 10, it could mean a recall for Riaan Swanepoel at 12.

“We’re hoping Jacques-Louis has a better than average chance of making it this week,” Plumtree said of the Sharks’ (surprisingly) only injury concern, although it is in a crucial position.

So how do the Sharks regard the Stormers after the hype and hoopla of Twickenham?

“In terms of physical presence, they are pretty similar to the Crusaders: they’re big in the midfield, their pack is physical, and defensively they’re well-organised,” Plumtree said. “I guess in terms of skill level, the Crusaders are superior, but then they’re superior to everyone.

“We’re playing a top side on the weekend, they’re top of the log and haven’t lost a game, it’s going to be a huge challenge. These types of games have a different edge because they’re local, and I’m sure it’s going to be a really good game.”

The defeat to the Crusaders has given Plumtree plenty to think about, a fair amount to be proud about, and plenty to build on this week.

“In the first quarter we made one or two errors defensively and bang, it was 14 points because of the skill of Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams. The Stormers have very good players in those same positions and hopefully we won’t again miss the one-off tackles that allowed line-breaks and subsequent tries,” the coach reflected.

“Our restarts weren’t good enough in terms of scrums and kick-offs – we let them in too early,” Plumtree continued. “You can’t afford not to be clinical against the Crusaders, especially with the basics, and some of our basics weren’t good enough on the weekend.”

On a positive note, Plumtree noted that his team ultimately made less tackles than the Crusaders.

“I was really pleased with the way we played in the second half. They had to make 60-odd more tackles than us in the end, and that was how we played last year where the tackle count of the opposition was higher than us every game. So if we can get more clinical in our bacics and play with that kind of intensity, we will have a good chance of beating the Stormers.”

by Mike Greenaway www.iol.co.za

crunch time for the Sharks

MIKE GREENAWAY

THE next fortnight will be crucial to the ultimate outcome of the Sharks’ 2011 Super 15 campaign reckons coach John Plumtree of his team’s matches this week at home to the Stormers and away next week to the Lions.

The much-travelled Sharks will then enjoy their bye week and will take stock of what have they achieved, where they are on the various logs and the condition of the troops after what will have been eight battles on consecutive weekends.

The Sharks return from their Twickenham showdown with the Crusaders with mixed feelings. Their four-match overseas tour yielded 12 points from a possible 20, which is actually pretty good considering the general record of SA teams abroad, but Plumtree says a vital juncture has now been reached with the home game against the table-topping Capetonians and then the visit to the cellar dweller Lions which, with respect to his old mate John Mitchell, is a game the Sharks really ought to win.

“It is a big two weeks for us going into the bye, make no mistake,” Plumtree said shortly after returning from London yesterday. “It is very important that we finish this stage of the campaign on a high, with confidence in what we are doing. If we want to be any good in the second half of the competition, how we play in the next two weeks is extremely important.

“To be honest, this travel all over the world has been bleak (four countries in four weeks) and we now need to get everybody fit, brush up on the obvious areas of our game that are taking strain and move our performance up a level.”

Against the Crusaders, the set scrums were a disaster, the line-outs creaked at times, the restarts were occasionally clumsy and the midfield defence was shown up.

Regarding the scrums, Plumtree forthrightly said: “There are no excuses. Jannie, Bismarck (the du Plessis brothers) and John Smit are disappointed in their performances, but it is not just the front row, the whole pack contributes to the scrumming. It is a big wake-up call for all of them.”

On the injury front, there is a big worry regarding the calf injury sustained by flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter, who in turn was standing in for injured Patrick Lambie (finger).

“We are holding thumbs that Jacques-Louis will respond to treatment and be okay for the Stormers,” Pumtree said.

If he does not make it, Meyer Bosman will move from 12 to 10 (as he did in the Crusaders game).

Plumtree said that the overall mood in his squad following the 44-28 defeat to the Crusaders was buoyant.

“At half time the question put to the boys was this: ‘Are they that good or are we that bad?’ The guys said that as well as the Crusaders were playing, they had personally not been up to scratch, and that come what may over the next 40, they would give a proud account of themselves,” Plumtree explained.

“They did, and there have been many positive reflections on the game, but it is nevertheless a concern that we knew before the game that we would have to play above ourselves for the whole 80 minutes and then didn’t in the first 40,”Plumtree said.

The Sharks were the first South African team the Crusaders encountered this year and Plumtree had this warning for the Sharks’ countrymen.

“They have been building for a few years and are now the benchmark of the competition. Their set pieces are outstanding; if they turn over possession they make you work very hard to get it back and, of course, they have game-breakers everywhere.”

by Mike Greenaway

Sharks and the Crusaders turned on a Super Rugby classic yesterday

THE Northern Hemisphere had a reverberating jolt of reality in their backyard yesterday when the Sharks and the Crusaders turned on a Super Rugby classic that signposted the direction in which the Rugby World Cup is headed.

The New Zealanders prevailed 44-28, but the try count was closer at 5-4, and while the first half was an exhibition of Kiwi precision finishing, the second half mostly belonged to the tenacity of a Sharks team that at one stage had looked in danger of getting an embarrassing hiding.

It truly was a memorable match that was befitting of the historic first of a regulation Southern Hemisphere competition fixture staged to the North. The 40 000 patrons at Twickenham will hope it is not the last.

The occasion certainly got all the bells and whistles of a Test match, national anthems and all, and the only thing missing was the Haka.

An element of this game was about the Red Cross appeal and in the first half the Sharks seemed to have charity ever present in their minds.

Their backline defence was disturbingly poor, especially around the 10-12 axis and the Crusaders’ flamboyant showman, Sonny Bill Williams, created try-making havoc.

The Crusaders’ first points came from a Dan Carter penalty that was earned when the Sharks slowed the ball down following a clean break from Williams, who brushed off a weak tackle effort by Jacques-Louis Potgieter.

That should have been negated three minutes later by Potgieter, who missed a sitter after the Crusaders were penalised at a ruck.

It did not matter at that stage because Willem Alberts bulldozed over the line following a passage of clinical driving from the forwards. Potgieter converted and the Sharks led 7-3, only to concede a penalty shortly after the restart for Dan Carter to convert into points.

And the Kiwis took the lead a few minutes later in exhilarating fashion when Williams again broke through the Sharks’ midfield with ease to set up winger Sean Maitland for a try.

The Crusaders’ second try was very worrying for the Sharks. On 20 minutes their set scrum was demolished, the ball was scooped up from a fumbling Charl McLeod and once more Williams broke clean through to make the try for Carter.

At 20-7 the Sharks were faltering in the face of the red and black storm and there was brief respite when Potgieter kicked a long-range penalty in the 23rd minute.

But fullback Israel Dagg scored a minute later, again off the back of a dominant scrum that saw outside centre Robbie Freuan making the telling break.

It was 27-10 and the Sharks were facing a hiding.

That seemed a reality five minutes before half time when that man Williams picked up the ball at the back of a ruck, danced through the defence and ultimately set up winger Zac Guildford for a try.

From the restart, the Sharks enjoyed momentary cheer when Potgieter brilliantly broke through from the halfway line to score a wonderful individual try. He missed the conversion but in the last play of the half kicked a difficult penalty to give the score-line a degree of respectability at 34-18.

Ominously the first points of the second half went to the Crusaders when the Sharks were penalised after their scrum had disintegrated, but the Durbanites revealed strong character when they fought their way up field through well controlled phases that culminated in Alistair Hargreaves doing extremely well to get over in the corner from a ruck.

And it was game on when the Sharks capitalised on a moment of madness from Dagg, who took a quick lineout throw that was never on. The Sharks turned the ball over on the Crusaders 22 and Odwa Ndungane finished superbly.

It was four tries apiece at 37-28 and the Sharks would have trailed by less had they not been missing their conversion attempts.

The momentum was all with the Sharks but the killer blow came with 15 minutes to go when Guildford, against the run of play, scored his second try.

Scorers

Sharks: Tries: Willem Alberts, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Alistair Hargreaves, Odwa Ndungane. Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter. Penalties: Potgieter (2).

Crusaders: Tries: Sean Maitland, Dan Carter, Israel Dagg, Zac Guildford (2). Conversions: Dan Carter (5). Penalties: Carter (3)

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