The heroes, the zeros and those that made up the numbers
John Mitchell of the Lions stands alone here after turning his struggling team into one that, in the Currie Cup final, played outstanding rugby when it really mattered. John Plumtree of the Sharks and Allister Coetzee of WP deserve kudos though for making the semi-finals as this was a World Cup year when the bigger unions, who lose their Springboks, are expected to finish behind the Lions and Cheetahs. The Stormers win this one because at full strength they were undeniably the best – as shown by them comfortably winning the Conference trophy. No, not the All Blacks, but the Crusaders for getting as far as they did in Super Rugby when they never had a home base. Let’s not argue with the democratic process that arrived at Schalk Burger for the official SA Rugby Player of the Year Award. The Sharks win over the Bulls at Loftus in the deciding league game in Super Rugby was as close as we got to perfect rugby on a South African field this year. Had Alan Zondagh not spotted Josh Strauss playing club rugby for Parow/ntk and convinced him to take the game seriously the bearded would-be musician and veterinarian would never have held up the Currie Cup trophy. There were no Bulls jerseys in evidence in the Super Rugby play- offs or in the Currie Cup semifinals. This is a personal one but as one of John Smit’s biggest supporters I did feel let-down by his inability to look himself in the mirror and accept that Bismarck should have started the big games for the Boks. To Victor Matfield for not saying to Smit what he should have said when, as Matfield explained in his book, the skipper asked him if he should still be in the starting team. This is shared by the Sharks and the Springbok coaches – every time the Sharks started without Bismarck they came unstuck in Super Rugby, their better games coincided with when he was present. Ditto for the Boks, whose best win of 2011 was achieved against the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth with Matfield as captain and Bismarck playing out of his shoes as starting hooker. No, not to Bryce Lawrence, but to the gust of wind that saw Butch James miss a kick in Durban that prompted Peter de Villiers to change his plan about who would be starting flyhalf at the World Cup. He was undeniably the best referee at the World Cup, but like Bryce Lawrence the week before, Craig Joubert may have lost his nerve in the last quarter of the final. The French were rightly aggrieved at Joubert’s reluctance to penalise the All Blacks and thus ruin a party that, in truth, had already started in downtown Auckland on the morning of the game. The game was played in Auckland, but that didn’t stop every Irishman within 60km of Wellington piling into Molly Malone’s to celebrate their team’s win over the Wallabies. The decision makers at South African Rugby Union thoroughly deserve this award for staying fast asleep when the various provincial and franchise chief executives pleaded with them early last year to start the process of choosing the next coach in good time. The All Blacks have already made an announcement, we have to wait until the last week of January. Why? This is shared among the WP rugby administrators/politicians who by questioning the work Rassie Erasmus has done in making Wp/stormers competitive again (only team to host Super Rugby semi-finals in both 2010 and 2011) have reminded us what the biggest obstacle is to WP becoming a champion union again. Put quite simply – and this is not directed at the people who work for the professional arm – WP is run by people who have little or no understanding of the modern game. The way some of my media colleagues reacted when the Boks announced that players were to be rehabilitated during the Tri-nations and again when Div denied to a New Zealand television reporter that a “training camp” was being held in Rustenburg made me think I was among eight year-olds on a merry-go-round at the play park. “He’s lying, he’s lying,” they screamed. All it required was a bit of thought before the knee jerked to realise that the real ogres were Sanzar, who expanded their Super Rugby to 16 matches in a World Cup year. We rugby critics, this one included, thought Sonny Bill Williams was going to be the player that would define the recent World Cup, and we ridiculed Peter de Villiers when he questioned whether that would be true. Considering Williams only played as a reserve when it really mattered, that looks like one that Div got right. Some members of the Bok coaching staff came up with a plan for the World Cup quarter-final that would work the Boks into a position where they would strangle the Wallabies and set up drop goal opportunities for Morné Steyn. The players were told by the head coach that it was their call, and they waved it away on the basis they didn’t want to try something new. That was the problem with the player-driven system. If you are going to employ Rassie Erasmus as a Springbok technical adviser at least give him a say in selection.
Schalk Burger… player of the year.
The Stormers… what a team.
John Mitchell… local coach of the year.