Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Springbok team vs New Zealand: 2011 Tri-Nations

The Springboks’ chopping and changing will continue on Saturday when they face the All Blacks, so much so that it’s impossible to tell which starting XV will take the field when the world champions play their opening World Cup game against Wales on September 11.

While their main rivals New Zealand and Australia are all but settled, ready for a tilt at ultimate glory, this is far from the case with South Africa and worse still it remains unclear who will be the side’s run-out captain for a World Cup that’s less than a month away.

It’s pretty worrying.

The Springboks

For this weekend Springboks coach Peter de Villiers has made five changes to the team. World Cup winning captain John Smit will drop to the bench and will be replaced at hooker by his Sharks teammate Bismarck du Plessis. It means lock Victor Matfield will therefore captain the Springboks against the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth, South Africa’s last match before their World Cup defence begins.

In the other changes, Gurthro Steenkamp, South Africa’s player of the year in 2010, starts at loosehead prop instead of Tendai Beast Mtawarira while there is a first Test start for Sharks loose forward Willem Alberts at number 7 ahead of Danie Rossouw.

In the backs, young promise Pat Lambie replaces the injured Francois Steyn at fullback while Morne Steyn returns in favour of Butch James at flyhalf.

It’s an important match; another poor performance would only serve to compound the scepticism surrounding the team and its coach, scepticism that is seemingly backed up the Springboks’ track record over the past four years.

Despite beating the British & Irish Lions and winning the Tri-Nations in 2009, it has by in large been an unproductive four years for the Boks – unproductive because South Africa has failed to build on their wondeful 2007 World Cup victory. In fact there is an argument that even that glorious 2009 was an anomaly. The Springboks at the time had outstanding players in the form of their lives, and were playing under laws that in some ways hid the deficiencies of their coaching team as no adaption or innovation was needed.

2007 World Cup glory
Fortuitous events and injuries also caused a change in some questionable selections. For example, Adi Jacobs and Ruan Pienaar were preferred ahead of Jaque Fourie and Morne Steyn at centre and flyhalf respectively. Metronomic fetcher Heinrich Brussow was also originally not considered a necessary weapon. All three changes were crucial to South Africa’s victory over the Lions and subsequent success for the rest of 2009.

The Boks also had a young Wallaby side and rebuilding All Black squad playing into their hands, and of course it’s a fact that really great teams can coach themselves. In football, Chelsea certainly did something similar when they reached the Uefa Champions League final in 2008 after the departure of Jose Mourinho.

So now fast forward to 2011 and its becoming clearer with each day that De Villiers doesn’t have the full respect of his team while the outside world has generally lost confidence in his captain. With 26 days to go to the Springbok’s World Cup opener it wouldn’t be wise to drop Smit from the team, a man who has been a true braveheart and ambassador for South Africa during one of it’s most successful periods. The Gary Teichmann episode ahead of the 1999 World Cup, when the then captain was unceremoniously dropped ahead of the tournament, is also a warning reference point from the past.

The real point, however, is that like other things this is a situation that was sadly missed by South Africa’s technical team over the past four years. Although hindsight is a wonderful thing, perhaps 2009 was when Smit should have then been slowly phased out of the team or a new leader given time to stamp their authority. Today as we speak Chilliboy Ralepelle and Du Plessis clearly offer a lot more than Smit. But this can’t be blamed on the Saracens bound stalwart.

All-round Peter de Villiers has failed to build on the 2007 platform that was so well built by Jake White and failed to take advantage of what is no doubt a golden generation of talent in South African rugby. Pat Lambie, Juan de Jongh and Gio Aplon are examples of world-class talent that hasn’t been properly integrated into the Boks setup. Australia young gun James O’Connor meanwhile has turned into a match-winner for the Wallabies.

In all De Villiers has displayed very little foresight, whether tactically or in his selections. It’s always easy to apportion blame but the sad fact is that, as things stand, it’s very difficult to see any light at the end of this particular tunnel for the Boks, especially looking at the tough World Cup group, including Samoa, Wales, Fiji and Namibia, they have been given.
Will the Boks be able
to stop the All-Blacks?
With less than a month to go to the World Cup it’s perhaps too late to fire De Villiers... though that is an option... it would at least relieve the side of the circus surrounding its sometimes comical coach.
The All Blacks meanwhile, comfortable and settled in their methods, have ominously sent a weakened squad to South Africa (much like the Boks did in 2007 ahead their World Cup victory). Flyhalf Dan Carter, captain Richie McCaw, number 8 Kieran Read, lock Brad Thorn, prop Owen Franks, fullback Mils Muliaina and centre Conrad Smith have all been left behind in New Zealand.
They, like the rest of us, will be watching on TV a match that, as early as it is, could signal the end of South Africa’s reign as world champions.
Springbok Team
1. Gurthro Steenkamp
2. Bismarck du Plessis
3. Jannie du Plessis
4. Bakkies Botha
5. Victor Matfield ©
6. Heinrich Brussouw
7. Willem Alberts
8. Pierre Spies
9. Fourie du Preez
10. Morne Steyn
11. Bryan Habana
12. Jean de Villiers
13. Jaque Fourie
14. JP Pietersen
15. Pat Lambie
16. Tendai Mtawarira, 17. John Smit, 18. CJ van der Linde, 19. Danie Rossouw, 20. Ashley Johnson, 21. Francois Hougaard, 22. Butch James

Head to Head
• South Africa’s record against New Zealand:
Played 82; Won 33; Lost 46; Drawn 3;
Points for 1 268; Points against 1 554; Tries for 125; Tries against 161; Average score 15-19

• South Africa’s Tri-Nations record against New Zealand:
Played 35; Won 10; Lost 25;
Points for 685; Points against 987; Tries for 62, Tries against 93. Average score 20-28
• South Africa’s home record in the Tri-Nations against New Zealand:
Played 17; Won 7; Lost 10;
Points for 391; Points against 474; Tries for 36; Tries against 45. Average score 23-28


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