The he­roes, the ze­ros and those that made up the numbers

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.