Tag Archives: South African Rugby

Super Week for South African Sides

By Nsovo Shimange


It was a great weekend for the SA sides in SupeRugby.

In the first couple of rounds of the SupeRugby competition we watched as the New Zealand teams took each other on with a break-neck style of running rugby, with play being taken from end to end in a matter of seconds. The result of this was an exciting feast of tries. In the eyes of the rugby-mad public it seemed as though the Kiwis had discovered a hidden chapter in the rugby manual and were now stunning the world with this secret knowledge.

A sharp contrast to this was the lacklustre brand of rugby which was being played on the southern tip of Africa, a brand of rugby where games were ground out and victories came mostly won by the boot. Fears were growing in South Africa that our teams would not be able to compete with the 7-point scores of the Kiwi sides if we were only moving up in increments of 3. However, something happened this past weekend that still has us stunned.

The first shock of the weekend came in the form of the Cheetahs where the young fly half Johan Goosen showed a superb return to kicking form and hints of what a great Bok flyhalf he will be one day. Cheetahs rugby in South Africa has always been a style of running rugby where the opposition find themselves chasing shadows more often than not. However, their let-down has usually been their defense. This time however they seemed composed, committed and very patient on their defense, thus allowing them to score off the mistakes of the Highlanders. With a final score of 36–19, this should be the confidence booster that they need for the rest of the campaign.

Stormers vs Lions 2011-02-28

Bryan Habana and his Stormers teammates had a 36-34 win over the Chiefs. (c) Paul Barnard.

Down in Cape Town, the Stormers were to face the current SupeRugby champions, the Chiefs, who were coming into the game with two wins compared to the Stormers zero, after having lost to the Bulls in Pretoria and the Sharks in Durban. Although the Stormers were expected to win in Newlands their ability to score tries was in question, having only scored 2 in 160 minutes of rugby.  They managed to hold on to a two point lead of 36–34 against the champions.

After a dismal showing against the Western Force last week, the Blue Bulls coach Frans Ludeke made wholesale changes which saw seven new faces in the starting line up to face the Blues in what is known as the Garden of Eden. This strategy worked as it saw the Bulls record their first ever win in Auckland with a 28–21 final score line and a game which saw Pierre Spies returning to form.

I had previously written about The State of South African Rugby and expressed my concerns. It may still be too early to get overly excited about the Springbok results from this past weekend as the competition is a marathon rather than a sprint. I do however take encouragement to see that we can take on the “world’s best” and beat them. Let’s hope that this will translate into a Rugby Championship trophy for the Green and Gold.

How do you think the South African teams will fare in this season’s competition? Feel free to leave a comment below with your views on their strengths, weaknesses and the SA players who have impressed you so far!

You can follow Nsovo Shimange on Twitter @NSOVOworksHARD.

The State of South African Rugby

By Nsovo Shimange

South Africa v Fiji

South Africa vs. Fiji at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, where the ‘Boks crashed out at the quarter-final stage. (c) Stewart Baird.

This year more than any other, I have become concerned about the state of South African rugby. It has always been mind-boggling that South Africa should struggle against any team in world rugby. To expand on this, Australia have a player base of 87,000 players, New Zealand have a player base of 140,000 and South Africa have 650,000. South Africa potentially has 4 and a half times more players to select from and yet after 1999 they have consistantly struggled to beat the All Blacks. Before 1999, both teams had won 24 games against each other but these days every game against the All Blacks, South Africa go in as underdogs.

This situation is not likely to improve and may get worse for the following reasons:

1. The Coach

The merits of Heyneke Meyer getting the top job in South African rugby are debatable at every point. We cannot dispute his track record at Currie Cup and Super Rugby levels. No other coach has had his kind of success at these levels in the last ten years and it may just take a miracle for anyone else to even come close to his success. However, Meyer’s gameplan is referred to in South Africa as ‘skop and jag rugby’ (kick and chase). Basically, the biggest pack of fowards are selected to bully the opposition for 80 minutes, aiming to force mistakes and then when the opposition does eventually succumb, the ball is given to the flyhalf, who is usually a 90% place-kicker.

This gameplan works when you have the best lock duo in the world (Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha), the best scrumhalf in the world (Fourie Du Preez), a 90% kicker (Morne Steyn), and if you are playing against The Border Bulldogs. If we take this system to test level, where the forward packs are matched, the opposition scrumhalf is on par with your scrumhalf and all flyhalves are 90% kickers, then it becomes obsolete very quickly.

Meyer’s player-selection also poses plenty of questions. The biggest criticisms against him are that he has not selected the strongest team but rather he is selecting players from the Blue Bulls. South Africa are in a sad position right now where their best players are not the best in the world. The recent end-of-year tour saw Meyer select a scrum-half in the wing position, a fullback at outside centre, and a flyhalf who is currently struggling with form was selected on the bench. It’s mind-boggling because Lwazi Mvovo has had an incredible year at wing, Juan de Jong had helped Western Province win the Currie Cup just two weeks prior to that and Elton Jantjies is in superb form and should have been on the bench as the backup flyhalf.

2. The Overseas Exodus.


Ex-Springbok centre Jaque Fourie is now playing in Japan. (c) Paul Barnard.

In the last couple of years, more and more South African players are opting to ply their trade overseas. The trend used to be that a player would only opt to go overseas as they approached the end of their careers. Now players straight out of highschool are choosing to forgo the classic route of trying to make the first team of your university, then the Vodacom Cup Team, then Currie Cup, Super Rugby and finally, hopefully get selected to the Springboks. This drain of talent is only serving to improve the standard of rugby in countries like France and England.

A recent example is CJ Stander (22 years old), who had an awesome year at the Blue Bulls but has now chosen to go play in Ireland. Other players also choose to go overseas once they get married for financial reasons but more importantly, because the longest you will be away from your wife is maybe one or two days compared to a couple of weeks during the Super Rugby Tournament.

3. Lack of Transformation Within the Game.

South Africa has had a lot of difficulties in the past with Apartheid and, even though it is now a democratic state where everyone enjoys equal human rights, rugby still seems to be run by the old guard where players of colour are not picked above white players. Often, they are instead relegated to the bench or even worse, included in the larger training squad so they can hold tackling bags for three weeks whilst on tour. Though this is not an article about race or politics, it is rather concerning that such actions are still allowed to happen in a country that calls itself the Rainbow Nation and as far as National Pride goes, the best players should represent the country.

Although the Springboks won more than they lost this year (58% win rate), most of the wins, with the exception of the Australia game, were lacklustre and you always had the feeling that if there were ten more minutes in the game, the Boks would have lost. At the time of writing this article there are less than 20 Springbok games between now and the next Rugby World Cup. It’s not much time at all and we need to catch a wake up if we want to at least try and be competitive.

You can catch the author of this article, Nsovo Shimange, on Twitter @NSOVOworksHARD

Photo Credit: Stewart Baird, Paul Barnard.