Why New Zealan­ders are so good

CityPress - - Sport - SIMNIKIWE XA­BAN­ISA sports@city­press.co.za

Three years ago, Ross Gelden­huys proved that tim­ing is ev­ery­thing when he left a South African rugby ca­reer in which he was des­tined to be a jour­ney­man (he played for the Pu­mas, Lions and Bulls, among oth­ers) to play in New Zealand. A year later, he joined the High­landers – the same year in which they won the Su­per Rugby championship. Now back with the Kings, he ex­plains why New Zealand teams are so good: What makes New Zealand teams so com­pet­i­tive? Over there every­one wants to play for the All Blacks and to do that, you have to qual­ify. That means get­ting a Su­per Rugby con­tract with the fran­chises. So, ev­ery week they pretty much play test footie be­cause they play at pace and with skill, and want to play for the All Blacks.

Hav­ing played for a lot of South African teams as well, what is the main dif­fer­ence be­tween South Africa’s and New Zealand’s rugby?

It is a dif­fi­cult ques­tion to an­swer. They are taught to have a go from a young age and maybe here we have fo­cused on size and run­ning over peo­ple. At Su­per Rugby level you can­not run over one or two peo­ple be­cause every­one knows how to tackle.

What is the most im­por­tant thing you learnt from play­ing – and win­ning – Su­per Rugby with the High­landers?

My time at the High­landers was all about the team. Every­one bought into the team and we only had three All Blacks: Aaron Smith, Malakai Fek­i­toa and Ben Smith. The rest of us were bat­tlers. We had to buy into the team and into our goals, and when we achieved them, more play­ers be­came All Blacks. It was all about the buy-in and the team.

Is the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions visit to New Zealand, which is set to take place midyear, a dis­trac­tion or an in­cen­tive?

They are all about in­cen­tives there and they don’t fall for dis­trac­tions. I think it is go­ing to be a mas­sive in­cen­tive for who­ever is play­ing well, be­cause they pick on form there.

Which team do you fancy to win the New Zealand con­fer­ence?

I thought about this at the end of last year’s Su­per Rugby. The Blues’ back line is go­ing to be made up of a bunch of stars who will in­tim­i­date every­one. They have guys like Sonny Bill Wil­liams and the Chiefs’ num­ber 9 from last year, Au­gus­tine Pulu. They hit their straps to­wards the end of the sea­son and [head coach] Tana Umaga is in his sec­ond year. It will be closely con­tested, but the Blues are my team to take that con­fer­ence be­cause of that back line.

Is there a player in their sys­tem whom you think we should look out for?

I think the Cru­saders’ 10, Richie Mo’unga. He was pretty good last year, but he was un­real in the Mitre 10 Cup fi­nal against us [Tas­man]. He will come into his own this year and be much bet­ter than last year.

What is the most in­tim­i­dat­ing venue in New Zealand?

It is prob­a­bly the High­landers’ sta­dium, Forsyth Barr in Dunedin, be­cause of the roof. Even when it’s not full, with the stu­dents there, it is pretty loud be­cause there is no rain or wind.

What is the worst thing about New Zealand rugby?

Train­ing when it was teem­ing down with rain – with the wind howl­ing and the tem­per­a­ture freez­ing.

PHOTO: ROB JEF­FERIES / GETTY IM­AGES

CHAM­PION Ross Gelden­huys knows the taste of suc­cess, hav­ing won the Su­per Rugby ti­tle with the High­landers

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