Nick Mallet and Ashwin Willemse and the Boks

For the good folk of Fremantle, Perth, it must have been an odd sight. In the local park, the Springbok rugby team was sitting on a little hill overlooking a marked-out ‘field’ while a team in smart green shirts was thrashing the living daylights out of bunch of oddballs in a game of touch rugby.

It was the 1998 Tri-Nations tour and Nick Mallett had challenged the travelling media to a game of touch against his management team. It was an ambush from the start given that Mallett’s team comprised either former rugby stars or very fit physios and conditioning staff, and Mallett knew it.

Most of the media had not touched a rugby ball since brief flirtations with the game at school and as for our physical conditioning … well we pretty much looked like the “before” pics that are taken before a body transformation challenge.

We lost 19-1 and Mallett was in his element. It had been compulsory for the Boks to attend the slaughter and they dutifully clapped as the tries mounted and the humiliation of the press deepened.

The coup de grace for Mallett came when he saw me running with the ball and he lined me up as if I was a Northern Transvaal wing and he was in his Western Province No 8 jersey. Instead of a touch on the back he flattened me with a full-on cover tackle. The crowd roared, Mallett beamed and murmured an expletive in my ear …

I didn’t mind, for me it was in the spirit of fun and entertainment, and the team doctor later graciously tended to my roasties.

That is Nick Mallett. He can be larger than life, a grandstander at times, and some have regarded him as a bully of sorts, often intellectually, but I have never found him malicious and got on well with him.

He is smart and he knows it. He is often the dominant figure in a room. That is how he is. I can understand that some people find him overbearing. I recall him and Mark Andrews (who stood back for nobody) almost coming to blows at a Springbok training session in Joburg. They could not stand each other.

I also have a memory of Ashwin Willemse that is vivid in my memory. It was Loftus Versfeld, the infamous 16-52 reverse to the All Blacks in 2003. Towards the end of the embarrassment, when most of the Boks were out for the count, Willemse out of nowhere conjured up a gem of a try. He was all determination as he weaved through defenders and then dived over for a fine try.

Not long after that game, captain Corne Krige said that even more disappointing than the result was the fact that he saw in the eyes of many of his (mostly white) teammates that they had given up. Willemse was not one of them. He stood out in that game when the majority of his teammates were left floundering. There was absolutely nothing “quota” about Willemse that day, and for that matter in any other match he played for the Boks.

Willemse is a strong character. He proved it by turning his life around from the most difficult of starts on the Cape flats, and he proved it by his efforts on the rugby field.

Cut to the present and the SuperSport studio drama that unfolded so dramatically last Saturday evening. Preliminary investigations by the pay channel have discovered no evidence of racism. There is still a lot of water to flow under the investigation bridge, and it may yet prove be a case of covert rather than overt patronisation that occurred. Or it may just boil down to a clash of strong personalities.

Whatever the case, far more disturbing has been the reaction of the public to the incident. The clear polarisation of opinion along racial lines is now more significant to this country than what was said by Willemse.

In general, white folk took to WhatsApp to ridicule Willemse, with endless jokes at Willemse’s expense doing the rounds. For example: “How do you get rid of a SuperSport presenter? With a Mallett.”

Blacks reacted, too, with Willemse being championed for taking a stand against (alleged) racism. Former Boks showed their support for him on Twitter. The Minister of Sport reacted immediately on Sunday when she called for Mallett and Botha to be suspended.

So here we are 25 years into unity and this country is as divided as it ever was. Nothing has changed and, most worryingly, it seems that few intend changing.

by Mike Greenaway

Sacking BOK Coach Coetzee would be like putting an elastoplast on an amputation.

It is as simple as this. If the South African Rugby Union was listed on the stock exchange, the Board of Directors would be fired. The investors would have looked at the plunging stock, the disappearing dividends, and heads would roll.

There is no sentiment in business. Not when there is cold cash involved and expectant investors.

Are we taking it too far in saying that the Springboks are far more than sport and a business and that the Saru Board should fall on its sword?

Of course not. And when we are talking about a brand as internationally famous as the Springboks, the economic impact of a brand in free-fall becomes more complicated.

There are the direct stakeholders, the title sponsors and a whole bunch of supporting financial contributors that have their name attached to the Boks but, perhaps even more importantly, there is the countless multitude of “silent investors” that are the supporters.

The folk who buy (and burn!) the supporters jerseys and pay large sums to watch their team in stadiums around the world.

Springbok matches are watched by South Africans in virtually every city in the world. I have found a pub to watch a Springbok match in Bangkok and New York, others will have found a live screening in a startling array of arenas across the globe.

The Boks are big business. Those green and gold jerseys surface all around the world when the Boks play.

But what if more immediate supporters, those in South Africa, just stopped going to watch the Boks get humiliated …. again?

It is not debatable that the Boks are at their lowest ever ebb. Yes, they have lost a number of matches in a season before, such as in 1965 when there were seven losses and just one win (which was against the All Blacks) but that has been against top class opposition.

This year, the scale of the losses has been horrible, and how on earth can a Springbok team possibly lose to a very poor Italy team?

The easy target is Allister Coetzee and yes, he has been proved terribly out of his depth, but I feel sympathy for him and my sentiment is that the buck should stop with the Board that appointed him in the first place.

Allister was never going to be a success. And especially with the backroom staff that he was (mostly) given. I have nothing against Mzwandile Stick but how can he come from absolutely nowhere to coach the backline of the Boks? We know that it is because the coaching staff of Heyneke Meyer was seen to be too white.

Why on earth not continue with Ricardo Loubscher, one of Heyneke Meyer’s assistants who had spent four years with the Boks and is highly regarded? He would have been a merit appointment and offered continuity.

This is just one point among many that critics could make.

The bottom line is do not blame Coetzee for the blunders he has made this season, blame those who appointed him.

The stakeholders should be targeting the South African Rugby Union, not the hapless Coetzee. He did not appoint himself and he is surely doing his best.

But he was set up to fail by an amateurish Saru Board who did no forward planning – have they ever given that the Bok coaching staff changes entirely every post-World Cup year? – and appointed Coetzee almost by default. The suspicion is that nobody else could be found to take the job and the lateness of Coetzee’s appointment this year confirms that Saru were squirming ever since the end of the 2015 World Cup when they made it untenable for Meyer to continue.

Meyer did not want to leave. Yes he lost to Japan but in the end the Boks came third at the World Cup and almost beat the All Blacks in the semi-finals (18-20).

What would be soothing for the army of Springbok supporters worldwide (who can only voice their dissatisfaction on social media) is if the financial muscle that sponsors the Boks got together and read the Riot Act to the real culprits that are sinking South African rugby.

Sacking Coetzee, with no change among the green-blazered denizens of the Saru boardroom, would be like putting an elastoplast on an amputation.

BY Mike Greenaway

ENDS

Critical Thoughts on Allister Coetzee

In this post-World Cup year, the Springboks once and for all need to tackle a brave new world of attacking rugby and I am not certain that Allister Coetzee is the right man for the task.

I think Allister is an incredibly experienced and competent coach (21 years now with the whistle after 22 years as aplayer), and in 2008, I could not understand why he was not the successor to Jake White.

Coetzee had spent eight years as Jake’s assistant on the way to winning the 2007 World Cup and when for reasons best know to the governing body at the time, Jake was persona non grata, it made so much sense to give the reins to Allister.

There would have been a seamless transition from White to Coetzee. But apparently this made too much sense, and we thus had Peter de Villiers trust on us. Instead of Coetzee, the man nick-named Toetie, we got De Villiers, a maverick who liked to talk about tutus in never-dull press conferences that had media men queuing for front row seats.

We should also remember that Heyneke Meyer was chomping at the bit for the Springbok job in 2008, only to join Coetzee on the list of also-rans. The choice of De Villiers over Coetzee and Meyer is quite possibly the Eighth Wonder of the World.

So Coetzee lost out, De Villiers did incredibly well, results-wise, thanks to the most experienced squad of players in Springbok rugby history led by supremely wise men in John Smit, Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez.

Then Meyer finally got his chance, and the workaholic former Bulls man must lie awake at night and ponder how close he came to cracking it once and for all for the Springboks.

Midway through Meyer’s tenure, the Boks began playing some of their finest rugby ever. Meyer was determined to add floursishing attack to resolute defence, and he was getting there. Who will forget those epic games at Ellis Park between the Boks and the All Blacks, where the only difference between the sides in the end was the superior fitness of the Kiwis.

If only Meyer had stuck to those guns. But he had two problems. Firstly he had gun to his head in that South African rugby is results driven and, secondly, he knew he would be judged on the World Cup.

If I might digress for a minute. Compare this to what is going on at the Golden Lions in Johannesburg. Johan Ackerman has been given a mandate to fix the Lions and to do whatever it takes over as long a period as it takes. And he has passed this freedom on to the players. Don’t worry about results, just attack, attack and attack. Play with passion and the results will eventually take care of themselves.

If only Meyer had had the same passport of freedom. He had the Boks on the path to becoming the best team in the world, indeed capable of beating the All Blacks at their own game, but then regressed to square one when the pressure to get results got too much. Nobody can blame Meyer. If only he had been told to continue playing positively into the 2015 World Cup with a view to winning the trophy in Japan in 2019.

So can Allister pick up where the Boks left off when in their attack phase under Heyneke? Heck does anybody recall the fantastic tries the Boks scored a few months before the England World Cup in Brisbane and Johannesburg? Possibly, but we all recall the Boks going back to medieval rugby in the tournament after losing to Japan, grinding out victories based on the kick-and-chase game.

My problem with Allister is that he could get the Stormers and Western Province to play an attacking game. He did extremely well to get the Stormers to a certain level, one where their defence was the best in Super Rugby for a number of seasons and their set pieces immaculate. But they could not score tries. For three years or so the Stormers plateau-ed out, unable to take the step up to mix it in the Super Rugby play-offs. They just did not have the attacking game to win the tournament.

So what will change when Coetzee takes over at the Boks on Tuesday?

by MIKE Greenaway

Egon Seconds take up the whistle at the Coca-Cola Academy Week

Former rugby players, Monty Dumond, Egon Seconds, Jacques Nieuwenhuis and Mpho Matsaung will take to the field as referees in the Coca-Cola Academy Week at the Isak Steyl Stadium in Vanderbiljpark from 6 to 9 July 2015
Egon Seconds represented Western Province and Griquas; Matsaung and Nieuwenhuis played for the Valke.

Egon Seconds was a great wing in his day – fast, elusive, skilful. Now, 34 years of age he was Born in Cape Town and schooled at Hoërskool Voortrekker in Kenilworth, Egon Ryan Seconds made his debut for Western Province in 2001 when he was 20. He played for Western Province 88 times till 2008 when he went to Griquas for whom he played 23 times. In a five-year Super Rugby career, in days when there were fewer matches, he played 11 times. He played in 2001, 2002 and 2005 for the Springbok Sevens, including at the Commonwealth Games in 2002 when they won the bronze medal. In 2004 went on the SA A tour to Argentina, playing against Argentina A and the Argentinian Provinces. In 2009 he played for a Royal XV against the B&I Lions.

Nieuwenhuis also played international rugby for Namibia, which included appearances at the 2007 and 2011 Rugby World Cups in France and New Zealand.

Nieuwenhuis will take charge of the clash between the Lions and Western Province on the opening day’s play on July 6

Egon Seconds will officiate the match between the Blouvalke and Nambia, Matsaung the match between Border CD and the Leopards, and Dumond the encounter between Griquas and Pumas CD.

Issued by SARU Corporate Affairs

One year today the Rugby World Cup kicks off in England . How are the coaches feeling ?

Exactly one year today the Rugby World Cup kicks off in England and wonders how well the coaches of the leading teams are sleeping as the countdown starts to the big September 18 kick-off in London.

Some are sleeping better than others, make no mistake, and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is no doubt one of them, and not just because his team are just about unbeatable, give or take a draw with the Wallabies earlier this year and their last loss being against the Boks in Port Elizabeth way back in 2011.

The thing with Hansen is that besides having the reassurance that his team annually sets the standards, each season he has full control of his players and a complete evaluation of their form.

That is because only Super Rugby players in New Zealand are eligible to play for the All Blacks. If you are a Kiwi and you go overseas to earn the big bucks, you surrender any chance you might have had to play for the black jersey. It does not matter whether you are Richie McCaw or Dan Carter. You play in New Zealand or your surrender your All Blacks status.

You can come back, of course, and re-earn your right to the jersey with a season of Super Rugby, but while you are abroad your international career is on hold or over.

It used to be that way in South Arica but a decade or so ago the South African Rugby Union decided that they would pre-empt their rivals and would be the first of the major unions to select overseas-based players, the thinking being that rugby must ultimately follow the oldest professional sport in the world, soccer, and that eventually the Springboks would be a team picked from clubs all over the world.

It makes sense, and maybe Saru has got it right and eventually professionalism in rugby will go the way of soccer. Currently, 75 percent of the Argentina team is based in France.

The point is that while money will eventually guide the world’s best players to the clubs with the biggest cheques books, even leading New Zealand players, the fact is that the “amateur” Kiwis are currently keeping hold of their best players in New Zealand with the lure of the Silver Fern.

Steve Hansen has the easiest selection job in the world. He just watches Super Rugby every weekend and, as far as his players are concerned, he is comparing apples with apples. It is a piece of cake, or apple pie if you like.

So let’s ask Heyneke Meyer the rhetorical question of how easy it is for him to pick a Springbok team for the June internationals and the Rugby Championship, and even the end of year tour, when his leading contenders have been playing all over the world.

He is comparing apples with pears and bananas. Obviously he sees how the Super Rugby players are going but can he honestly pick players based in Japan on form rather than reputation?

Fourie du Preez, JP Pietersen, Jaque Fouries, Andries Bekker (what happened to him? why can the other “Japs” be picked but not him?) are not the same players they were when they join the Boks after a holiday camp eating sushi in Tokyo. South African players go to Japan because they earn big bucks and have a fat jol. They come back unfit and over-weight.

Frans Steyn is over there now. He came back from his stint in France looking like the Michelin Man and took ages to get match fit for Super Rugby standards, and when he did. He went from playing terribly to be being outstanding . Will he be a sumo wrestler when he comes back next year?

It was Jake White who three years ago sounded a warning to South African rugby. He said “Select overseas players at your peril, you are making a rod for your own back. You send the wrong message to the players, and mark my word, the average age of our players going overseas will drop year by year because they know the back door to the Boks is always open, while the Springbok coach will have no yardstick to compare players because they will be in different competitions all over the world and in different stage of fitness.”

Bryan Habana to become Springbok Centurion No 4 against Australia on Sat

Bryan Habana will on Saturday become the fourth Springbok and 33rd player overall to play in 100 Tests when South Africa take on Australia in the third round of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship at Patersons Stadium in Perth (kickoff 12h05 SA time).

The 31-year-old Habana, who made his debut for South Africa against England at Twickenham on 20 November 2004, holds the record for the most Test tries in a Springbok jersey. His 56 Test tries places him fourth on the list of all-time international try scorers.

The three-time South African Rugby Player of the Year (2004, 2007 and 2012), who was also named the IRB Rugby Player of the Year in 2007, will lead the Springboks out on Saturday as he follows Percy Montgomery, John Smit and Victor Matfield in amassing 100 Tests in the green and gold.

“This is an unbelievable achievement by Bryan, who is someone every South African can be immensely proud of,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.

“Bryan is a true professional and someone who never gives anything but his best, on the field and off it. For him to reach this magnificent milestone is just reward for years of dedication and hard work.

“Apart from scoring tries and always giving 100% on the field, Bryan is also a humble servant to the game and a true ambassador for his family, his friends and his country. He will go down in history as one of the greatest rugby players of all time.

“He is always looking for improvement – I’ve never seen him play a bad game in the Springbok jersey.”

In total, the starting line-up shows six changes from the team which beat Argentina in Salta recently. Jan Serfontein and Morne Steyn will start in the backline, while Marcell Coetzee, Victor Matfield, Adriaan Strauss and Tendai Mtawarira have been included in the pack.

As a result of these changes, Bismarck du Plessis, Lood de Jager and Damian de Allende shift to the bench, while Trevor Nyakane, Marcel van der Merwe and Pat Lambie will join the uncapped Warren Whiteley on the bench.

“We were always planning in moving our personnel around during the competition,” said Meyer.

“The only new player in the team is Warren, whom I’m very happy for and excited to see what he can do. He covers all three positions in the loose trio and can make an impact later in the game.

“It’s also good to see Pat back in the frame. He’s completed his comeback from a long-term injury and will provide necessary bench cover for flyhalf and fullback.

“Saturday’s Test against Australia will take a massive effort from every member of our squad. We’re not looking at their recent result against New Zealand and we know they will be a tough opponent.

“Similarly, we need to move on from our victories over Argentina, which are now in the past. This is a new challenge and one we have to overcome to stay alive in the competition.”

The Springbok team to face Australia in Perth is:

Position Name Test Caps Test points
15 Willie le Roux 17 35
14 Cornal Hendricks 5 15
13 Jan Serfontein 12 5
12 Jean de Villiers (captain) 98 125
11 Bryan Habana 99 280
10 Morné Steyn 58 670
9 Ruan Pienaar 78 135
8 Duane Vermeulen 21 10
7 Marcell Coetzee 18 20
6 Francois Louw 32 25
5 Victor Matfield (vice-captain) 113 35
4 Eben Etzebeth 25 0
3 Jannie du Plessis 56 5
2 Adriaan Strauss 36 25
1 Tendai Mtawarira 57 10
Replacements:
16 Bismarck du Plessis 62 45
17 Trevor Nyakane 5 5
18 Marcel van der Merwe 1 0
19 Lood de Jager 5 10
20 Warren Whiteley 0 0
21 Francois Hougaard 29 20
22 Pat Lambie 32 68
23 Damian de Allende 2 0

Stats and facts:

· The Springbok starting team boasts a total of 725 Test caps (358 in the backline and 367 in the forwards), while there a further 136 caps worth of experience on the bench.

· South Africa and Australia have played each other 78 times since 1933, with the Springboks winning 44 Tests, losing 33 and one was drawn. The Springboks have scored 1,501 points and 179 tries and conceded 1,357 points and 139 tries for an average score of 19-17.

· South Africa and Australia last met on 28 September 2013 at DHL Newlands in Cape Town, when the Springboks won 28-8.

· Bryan Habana will be playing in his 100th Test for South Africa, making him only the fourth Springbok in history to reach this milestone. The others are Victor Matfield (113), John Smit (111) and Percy Montgomery (102).

· Habana will also extend his record as the most-capped Springbok wing, with 98 Tests in this position and if he scores a try, will extend his record of 56 Test tries for South Africa as well as his Castle Lager Rugby Championship record of 18 tries and will extend his own SA record of nine career tries against Australia.

· Jean de Villiers will extend his record as the most-capped Springbok centre, with 83 Tests in this position. He will also extend his own SA record of 46 Rugby Championship games and will captain South Africa for the 27th time – fourth behind John Smit (83), Gary Teichmann (36) and Francois Pienaar (29).

· Victor Matfield will extend his own record as the most capped Springbok in history (113 Tests). He will also be playing against Australia for the 25th time to become the sole holder of the record he shared with John Smit previously.

· Morné Steyn will extend his record as the most-capped Springbok flyhalf, with 56 Tests in this position. If he scores a try, he will also extend his record of eight Test tries as a flyhalf for South Africa. Steyn scored 137 points in his career against Australia, just three points short of Percy Montgomery’s record of 140 points. He will also extend his own career record for most conversions (16), most penalty goals (32) and most drop goals (3) against Australia.

· If he goes on and scores a try, Bismarck du Plessis will extend his own record of eight test tries for South Africa as a hooker.

· If he goes on Warren Whiteley will become Springbok No. 863.

· The referee is George Clancy of Ireland and this will be his ninth Test involving South Africa. In the previous eight South Africa have won six and lost two. His last Test was on 7 September 2013 in the corresponding game of last year’s tournament at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane when the Springboks beat the Wallabies 38-12.

· Springbok Test match records at Paterson Stadium, Perth (previously known as Subiaco Oval):

o Most points – 15 by Joost van der Westhuizen (3t) against Uruguay on 11 October 2003.

o Most tries – three by Joost van der Westhuizen against Uruguay on 11 October 2003.

o Most conversions – five by Louis Koen against Uruguay on 11 October 2003.

o Most penalty goals – three by Percy Montgomery against Australia on 18 July 1998; by Braam van Straaten against Australia on 18 August 2001; by Percy Montgomery against Australia on 31 July 2004 and by Percy Montgomery against Australia on 20 August, 2005.

o Most drop goals – one by Percy Montgomery against Australia on 20 August 2005.

o This will be the Springboks’ 10th Test overall at Patersons Stadium in Perth since 1998. In the previous nine, South Africa have won four, lost four and one was drawn. The Springboks have scored 214 points (24 tries) with 174 points against (16 tries). It is a winning percentage of 44% and an average score of 24-19.

Issued by SARU Corporate Affairs

The last time the Boks won a Test match in Brisbane, Morne du Plessis was making his debut at the age of 21

The last time the Springboks won a Test match in Brisbane, Morne du Plessis was making his debut at the age of 21, Hannes Marais of Eastern Province was the captain, legend Frik du Preez was 35 and playing his 36th test at lock and the halfback pairing was the Griquas pair of Joggie Viljoen and Piet Visagie.

It was the year 1971, and it has been the Boks’ ultimate bogey ground ever since. It is true that they did not play much in the Queensland capital until rugby went professional in 1996, but they have been fairly frequent visitors since then to the ground that is now known as the Suncorp Stadium (previously Lang park), and even the best Bok teams in the readmission area have failed at a ground that the Wallabies treasure as a strong hold, as is the case with the Boks at Ellis Park, where even the All Blacks have struggled to win.

Even when the Boks were at their peak under John Smit, in 2009, when they easily won the Tri-Nations, the match that prevented them from a clean sweep was the fixture in Brisbane.

They beat the All Blacks three times that year after having earlier won a series against the British and Irish Lions, and that campaign they had a convincing win in Perth, but the following week twere out played by a Wallabies team that had been struggling. The next week, the Boks went to Hamilton and were convincing winners against the All Blacks.

Since 1996, the Boks have won only three times in Australia, with all the victories coming in Perth, a city where rugby union comes a distant third to Aussie Rules and Rugby League, and while not quite an away game for the Wallabies it is certainly a more comfortable visit for the Boks given the massive ex-pat population in the Western Australian capital.

So what are the chances of the 2013 Boks triumphing in Brisbane when so many of their predecessors have failed?

Only the best Bok sides have won away from home in Australia and New Zealand. They have been special sides that went onto win South Africa’s three Tri-Nations titles.

Is this side under Jean de Villiers special? Not by a long shot. They may still build to be a very competitive side by the World Cup in 2015, but right now there are more questions than answers, and if they were to beat a desperate Wallabies team at their favoured ground on Saturday, it would be one of the Boks’ more famous victories.

The South Africans did not have the best start to the week because of the late arrivals of five players from weekend duty with their clubs in France.

That is crazy stuff and a result of the controversial game SARU are playing by allowing foreign-based players to be eligible for the Boks.

The likes of Bryan Habana and Morne Steyn went from playing Argentina in Mendoza to club rugby duty in France, to Brisbane to belatedly start preparations for a match at a venue where the Boks never win.

This should not be allowed to happen again. Heyneke Meyer has not said much publicly on the matter but privately he will be frustrated that a third of his team was in France on the one weekend when the Boks had a chance to rest before their Australasian leg.

And the Wallabies are hardly going to be in complacent mood. They have lost three Tests in a row, starting with the third Test against the Lions, and then two in a row under new coach Ewen Mackenzie, both against the All Blacks in the start to the Rugby Championship.

They are desperate, the Boks have still to prove they are beyond the ordinary. The smart money is certainly going to be on the locals.

by Mike Greenaway

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