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Structure trumps skill

Written by Jonathan Burt (VinChainSaw)

Posted in :Original Content on 4 Dec 2008 at 15:53
Tagged with : ,

A star-studded Barbarians side was last night unable to overcome a very youthful, but well-organised, Australian outfit.




Although the BaaBaas side had the majority of the possession, the majority of the attacking opportunities and forced the Australians to make almost double the amount of tackles they did, it was still not enough.

And tackle the Australians did. And tackled well. From the outset they held their nerve and their line and committed numbers to some very big hits.


It was youngster Quade Cooper who led the charge, steadying his line and allowing Adam Ashley-Cooper and Ryan Cross the opportunity to deliver tackle upon tackle. A talent for the future, Cooper easily had the better of his much-praised counterpart Francois Steyn.

In a twist of irony it was Australia, renowned for their fast and loose approach, who played with more structure and composure while Jake White’s team, brimming with all-stars, tried all night for very little rewards.


It says much about the modern game that the more organised team almost always walks away with the victory.

It worked in the World Cup last year for South Africa, four years previously for England and has worked for New Zealand every year since the game went professional. And it worked for Australia last night.

I sincerely hope Peter de Villiers was watching that game last night for even a team that included four of the last five IRB Players of the Year, a team brimming with international stars and the World Cup winning coaching team were still not able to beat an organised, if inexperienced, Australian side, let alone give them the hiding de Villiers speaks so fondly of.

The modern day game is about a team effort and structure, structure, structure, both in defence but also in attack.

Running the ball from anywhere on the park is a romantic ideal but even with the most talented attacking players in the world is not workable in the modern game. If you want to watch running rugby then you’d need to find a working VHS player and dust off some of those old tapes from the 70s and 80s.


I must stress that, apart from a few little issues, I really enjoyed the game. I thought it was fast and furious and had the grittiness of a test match. It’s the kind of game I really enjoy as it showcases oodles of talent and games of this magnitude only take place every few years. Yes I do realise the Barbarians play fairly often but to assemble a side with as much talent as they did, that doesn’t happen every day.

There were many highlights including some ridiculously big hits, some good line-breaks and some dogged defence. It certainly didn’t feel like the low-scoring game the score seems to suggest.


Now onto the negatives, mostly disturbing because they’re both ours…


First and foremost, how poor was Francois Steyn? Not surprising really as the game didn’t really suit his style and he was playing out of position, a position we now know is very certainly not destined for him. Thank goodness we have Ruan Pienaar as a first-choice flyhalf…

I think apart from his general all-round inept play I thought his decision-making was woeful and I’ll forever hold it against him that he attempted three drop goals in a Barbarians game (I heard it quoted as two, I seem to remember three).

Ignorance is no excuse and I’d expect better from any man that dons the striped Barbarians jersey. It’s simply not on and it was the greatest disappointment to me on the evening.

Barbarian rugby has always been about the team, the collective so to speak, and never about the individual.

Yet precious little Fransie Steyn went glory hunting, trying to win the game all by himself. A disgrace to Barbarians rugby and I hope to never see him in the jersey again. If you’re not willing to embrace the culture of the team you’re playing in then you shouldn’t be there. Simple as.


I’ll go as far as to say that if Steyn had been yellow-carded early in the game the Barbarians probably would’ve won that game. With a flyhalf such as Pienaar, Michalak or Carter I’d venture they would’ve won at a canter. Not a game Steyn should put on his resumè.


Then there’s Bryan Habana. 2 tries in the last 10 internationals. That should say all it needs to about his form but his performance last night was puzzling to say the least. Either he is carrying an injury or he needs some help from the head doctor because he is definitely lacking some confidence.

Look, let’s be honest, his form this year has been woeful and on form alone he doesn’t even deserve a Bok starting spot, not to mention a cap for such a star-studded Barbarians team.


The reason I bring up the confidence thing is that last night, at one point, Habs got the ball with a good five metres outside of him with only an eighthman in front of him and he decided against backing himself on the outside and ended up running back into traffic.

I mean, really, what the hell is with that? The man who raced a cheetah just over twelve months ago doesn’t back himself to get round an eighthman? When a wing gets to that stage of his career then he’s about as much use as an indicator on a taxi.

I give Bryan an A for effort last night as he seriously upped his workrate, yet still ended the evening with no rewards to show for it. It is very concerning the way he gets half-way through the gap and then gets hauled back.


It has often been voiced before that Habana was never really that good when you only look at his skill base. It has also been said that the loose game doesn’t really suit him as much as the heavily orientated defensive game employed by Jake White, where the backs line up their men hoping for a spilled ball or an intercept, and where straight line speed is all that counts. Hit your man, pick up the ball and give it to Habana to dot down under the posts.

Only problem with Habana is that it doesn’t look like he has that pace anymore.

Apart from cutting inside he was caught last night when breaking the line, something that has been happening quite often of late, Francois Steyn hauling him in the recent Currie Cup the occasion that springs to mind.


Is it the end of the Habana Express? Has he outlived his usefulness? Or does he just need to take a leaf out of the Tim Noakes book and have a few months off? I honestly don’t know but I’m hoping he takes some time off anyway and comes back stronger than ever.


As for Fransie, I hope one of the older boys have a stern whisper in his ear before his precociousness costs us a really big game. Rugby is never about the individual and if Fransie doesn’t get that fast he might spend the next season or two warming the bench and only taking the field when the game is already won, for the Sharks and for the Boks.


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