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Man Test!

Written by Jonathan Burt (VinChainSaw)

Posted in :Original Content, Springboks on 21 Nov 2012 at 15:23
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , ,

Those were the words used by ex-England number 8, James Haskell, when he explained to Tom Wood what it was like to play a test match against South Africa.

The English, themselves historically favouring a tough upfront war of attrition, are under no illusions as to what awaits them at Twickenham on Saturday.

With the likes of Duane Vermeulen, Eben Etzebeth and Willem Alberts to contend with, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that the English believe they need to front up to have any chance against the Boks.

It is, however, my immense hope that the Boks manage to mix a bit of creativity in along with their abrasiveness, but my prediction is for a game of attrition. Brutal and hard, the traditional Bull Bok way.

My man to watch this week will be Francois Louw and the break-down will be the area that the Boks end up winning this game. England, for all their great counter-rucking, haven’t quite managed to get their timing at the rucks quite right of late and, with Louw and Strauss playing the breakdown like the proverbial fiddle, I think it’ll be a long day at the office for the English scavengers.

On a related note, and this is a story I shared in the comments section of another article, I suspect I know what is squeezing the creative life out of some of our younger players and, believe it or not, I’m not convinced the problem lies with the coach, but rather the problem may just lie with the media and with you, me and everybody that passionately supports the gods in green ‘n gold.

Now I’m not a football fan by any stretch of the imagination, in fact I actively detest the game and don’t believe I’ve ever sat through 90 minutes of the boredom offered up by the the purveyors of the roundball game. Nope, couldn’t even get through the world cup final (notice the lower case for world cup?), but please bear with me as I relate the details of a conversation I had with a mate over the weekend.

The question raised and discussed with my mate, who incidentally is as big a football fan as a rugby fan, is why players like Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney etc can perform week in, week out whilst playing against the very best players in the world in both English Premiership and Champions League, yet when they pull on an England strip they seem to fall to pieces.

The answer, and it’s one I wasn’t expecting (as I don’t follow the game) was that it is simply down to the immense pressure from fans, and more so, from the media. These players are simply too scared to try anything creative for fear that if it doesn’t come off they’ll be lambasted by the media and ridiculed by the fans. It’s like they’re scared to make even the slightest mistake as they’ll then be singled out as the one that cost England the game.

Collectively this leads to a bland and boring form of the game as creative players impose a stifled approach on themselves, simply so they don’t become the fall guy.

Now Morne Steyn aside, as he’s been kicking away possession since before he could walk, could it be that some of the players in the Bok set-up suffer a similar affliction? I’m specifically referring to the younger players in the group who would undoubtedly feel this pressure, not only from us as fans, but also from the older players in the group.

Somebody like Lambie, for example, would have seen an endless list of players make their debut as Bok flyhalf and then get sent into the Springbok wilderness. The one player seemingly who managed to escape the cull was none other than Morne Steyn, a bit ironic, no?

Think I’m joking or over-reacting? What is the one article that every single South African rugby news or blog site has up the day after a Springbok game, Sharksworld included? Yup, you guessed it sports fans, a list of player ratings. An arbitrary, completely subjective, score out of ten compiled by an oft biased, more oft uneducated, armchair pundit. A scoring system which then seems to de debated ad nauseum in the comments section thereunder.

This is helped even less by having coaches who continually seem to have their heads on the chopping block and must seemingly win every game or they’re gone. I don’t like Meyer, but I’m starting to appreciate his problem. It’s no coincidence that Peter de Villiers before him, Jake White before that, etc etc etc, all had the same problem.

A collective problem seems to exist between fans, the coaching staff and the players.

Granted, every now and then a player comes through who doesn’t seem afflicted by this dreaded disease and simply gets on with playing the way they play and don’t get bothered by the negativity. Think Bob Skinstad, Francois Pienaar, James Small, to name but a few.

I applaud these guys but they are few and far between. It appears to me that we’re so determined to win against Australia and New Zealand that we don’t want to try anything original, whilst against our northern hemisphere brethren these seem to be non-negotiable wins and again we revert to type.

Where’s the middle road? Where’s the room to experiment with different strategies and selections?

A better solution for us as Springbok fans must be to just relax a bit, let the players and coach play without fear of getting the sack and simply get on with it.

We are our own worst enemies. We need to get over this “you’re only as good as your last game” mentality or we’ll be joining England on that list of teams that promise greatness but never seem to quite deliver.


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