Bok leg­end Mark An­drews re­flects on play­ing All Blacks

Cape Argus - - SPORT - MIKE GREEN­AWAY

MARK AN­DREWS, one of the tough­est Spring­bok locks to have graced the green and gold, re­mem­bers vividly pack­ing down be­hind two nutty hook­ers that both knocked the liv­ing day­lights out of Sean Fitz­patrick in matches against the All Blacks in New Zealand in the late ‘90s.

Once was when fiery John Al­lan in­fa­mously went into a head-butting frenzy against Fitzy in the first scrum of a match in 1997, re­sult­ing in an in­cred­u­lous Fitz­patrick ask­ing: “What are you on?!”

The sec­ond was a few years later when James Dal­ton was the hooker, and he was never shy of a scrap.

“Ja, our hook­ers were not too fond of Fitzy dur­ing game time. John and James would have been in a long queue of Boks that wanted to give Fiz­patrick a klap, and they are two that got it right,” An­drews said with a smile.

“James gave the best up­per cut I have ever seen, so much so that as the scrum broke up, from scrum­ming be­hind Os (Du Randt), I saw Fitzy’s eyes rolling — he was out cold on his feet and his nose was bleed­ing. When he came to, he asked James why he had done that, and James gave him such a tor­rent of un­savoury words as to why he de­served a smack that my eyes widened ....

“But af­ter the game we all had a beer. There was many a game like that, when we got stuck into each other, ab­so­lutely knocked the crap out of each other, be­cause that is the way it has been since the first Test be­tween the coun­tries a hun­dred years ago.”

An­drews says he is not cham­pi­oning vi­o­lence, and ad­mits the game has changed a lot in the mod­ern era, but he says that phys­i­cal con­fronta­tion (within the rules) re­mains a non-ne­go­tiable if you are to have a hope of beat­ing the All Blacks, es­pe­cially in New Zealand.

“You have to take them on, es­pe­cially at the break­downs, you can­not take a step back, and the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions showed that if you smash the All Blacks at the break­downs and pre­vent them from get­ting mo­men­tum, you have a chance,” An­drews says. “Al­low them to get on the front foot and have their strike run­ners hit­ting you with sup­port in num­bers, then it is just a ques­tion of time be­fore they score.”

But can the cur­rent crop of Boks em­u­late the Lions, who won and drew a Test in New Zealand in June, and the Wal­la­bies who led the All Blacks un­til the 78th minute of their Test in Dunedin a few weeks ago. An­drews is not too sure. “The thing is you do not be­lieve you can beat the All Blacks un­til you beat the All Blacks, and I don’t think there are too many guys in the cur­rent squad that have won a match against them,” An­drews re­flected.

The last time that hap­pened was at El­lis Park when an un­for­get­table late penalty by Pa­trick Lam­bie earned the Boks a dra­matic 27-25 win. The only cur­rent squad mem­bers in­volved that day are Eben Etze­beth, Jan Ser­fontein, Trevor Nyakane, Han­dre Pol­lard and Tendai Mtawarira. Of that small group, only The Beast, Ser­fontein and cap­tain Etze­beth are start­ing.

“Look you al­ways have a chance and it hugely de­pends on how you start be­cause catch-up rugby does not work against the All Blacks,” he said. “You have to get them on the back foot from the first whis­tle through sheer phys­i­cal com­mit­ment, be­ing very dis­ci­plined and get­ting a few ref­er­ee­ing de­ci­sions go­ing your way and, above all, you have to get the bal­ance right be­tween com­mit­ting num­bers to the break­down to stop them get­ting front ball and hav­ing enough de­fend­ers to close their at­tack­ing space.

“It is a fine line. Get it wrong, and they get front ball and you have not got enough play­ers out wide, they will run into the gaps and it is ‘good night’,” the 45-year-old said.

An­drew says you have to have a core of play­ers that know what it is like to go into trench war­fare in New Zealand.

“My first Test against the All Blacks was in Dunedin in 1994 and I looked for­ward to the haka. I thought ‘Cool. It will be quite funny to see this lit­tle dance’. But I have to ad­mit I got a fright. It was very in­tim­i­dat­ing. It took the wind out of my sails. I re­call Robin Brooke star­ing me down as if I had done some wrong to his sis­ter!”

But then you get used to it,” said the 18 Test vet­eran of matches be­tween the coun­tries. By my eighth Test against them, my op­po­site num­ber was Norm Maxwell, who was mak­ing his de­but. And it is a very big thing for the Ki­wis to make their All Blacks de­but and per­form their first haka. I smiled and blew kisses at him and it com­pletely threw him. He for­got the steps and looked rat­tled. Not sur­pris­ingly, he tried to kill me a few min­utes later.”

SOME THINGS DON’T CHANGE: Mark An­drews (left) ad­mits that de­spite all the changes the game has un­der­gone, the em­pha­sis on phys­i­cal con­fronta­tion re­mains a non-ne­go­tiable fac­tor.

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