Silly Season Tour
Post Mortem Time
I guess I am harping on a bit, but this rugby season seems to be never-ending. Back in January the Southern Hemispherean Super Rugby franchises started playing their “warm-up” games, with the season itself kicking off in February.
That in itself is truly silly. January is still mid-summer for those of a southern persuasion. Our village teems with kite-surfers, school kids and students tanned to various shades of deep bronze, with a couple of unfortunates of the untannable fair-skin and freckles variety, shedding swathes of skin and revealing pink blotches as they pursue the unattainable darker shades that the adverts suggest are desirable. The boat of every variety are out on the water, sailboats, sail boards, powerboats, fishing skiffs, rowing boats, people standing on boards, and even some on lilos.
Fishermen fish, boaters boat, anglers angle, tanner tan, surfers surf, kites go skywards, and kids make a nuisance of themselves, while dogs run or sleep.
It is summer! Beach weather! Avoiding the heat weather! Gin and tonic in the shade weather!
Cricket players are strolling after the ball rather than running themselves into heat-stroke. Golfers are taking respite under umbrellas or trees between desultory shots into the distance. It is not raining, those umbrellas are keeping the sun’s rays at bay! Tennis has become a game of lazy thwocks at the ball, not huge smashing forehands………..
The entire Southern Hemisphere is doing summery stuff!
And the rugby players are bashing their brains out, sweating profusely, bruising those muscles, breaking some bones, and generally overheating in every way possible. In the summer.
In the winter months our village seems to hibernate. Once or twice a seriously heavy storm out as sea blows some howling Nor-Westerly winds into our lagoon and one or two foolhardy souls in arctic wetsuits grab their kites and go surfing. Often they have to be rescued at the far end of the lagoon, some 23 kilometers away, as the storm winds of the winter simply pick them up and then deposit them somewhere they never intended to be. Mostly the sane just batten down the hatches and ride out the storms of winter, waiting for summer to arrive again.
Here we are in November, at the tail-end of the same rugby season that kicked off with those warm-up games in January, almost a lifetime ago. This past weekend our village teemed with kite-surfers………. You know the rest of the story!
Because the rugby administrators have sold the game to the highest bidder, with no thought of the welfare of the players, the boredom and fatigue of the fans, in complete ignorance of the old saying “too much of a good thing….”
At some stage, we pray, sanity will return to the world of rugby.
New Zealand vs Wales.
This was the last day at the office for the All Blacks in 2017. And it showed. They were made to work exceptionally hard to get the job done, beating a game but underpowered Wales by 33 – 18.
It was tough, it was uncompromising, yet it was entertaining. The All Blacks are always entertaining, even when they seem to be half asleep for long stretches of a game.
It was a brutal game, with plenty of injury stoppages. Wales lost the services of Rhys Webb and Jake Ball early in the game, while the All Blacks saw Ryan Crotty having to leave the field early too.
The All Blacks eventually outscored Wales five tries to two with Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane each scoring two, Anton Lienert-Brown got their other one. Wales scored through Scott Williams and Gareth Davies.
The second half showed us an All Black outfit running out of steam as their long long season slowly fizzled out. They struggled to play their usual brand of fluent yet coherent rugby as the errors and wrong options started to mount up, yet they still had too much class and resilience for a very game Welsh outfit.
Not much more I can say about the game. It was end-of-season stuff, mostly.
Tries: S Williams, Davies
Pens: Halfpenny 2
For New Zealand:
Tries: Naholo 2, Lienert-Brown, Ioane 2
Cons: Barrett 4
Yellow Card: S Whitelock
France vs Japan
Probably the most entertaining game of the weekend. Not because of great rugby produced by both sides, it was not great rugby. But the Japanese enterprise and willingness to take a chance with the ball in hand was a pleasure to watch. In the end a 23 – 23 draw flattered the French and was not just reward for Japanese enterprise and spirit.
The French reminded me of the Springboks just a year ago, slipping lower and lower down a greased ladder with each game they play. On Saturday, they slipped right off the ladder and into some gooey stuff on the ground below. They were atrocious.
Japan had the better of it, stringing together some wonderful running and exciting interplay as they outscored their hosts three tries to two. It was just the steady goal-kicking of Francois Trinh-Duc that kept France in this game.
Tries: Slimani, Lacroix
Cons: Trinh-Duc 2
Pens: Trinh-Duc 3
Tries: Horie, Lafaele, Ishihara
Pens: Tamura 2
England vs Samoa
England might have made it three wins from three starts in this November International season, but I would suggest that they will not be wholly satisfied with their game. They have had some very good moments; solid defence, competitive forwards and slick backs, but it has been more than a little sporadic. Silly errors, inconsistent decision making, strange tactics from a team that has aspirations to being rated Number One in the world.
They easily beat Samoa 48-14 at Twickenham on Saturday. Tries from Mike Brown, Alex Lozowski, Elliot Daly (2), Henry Slade and Semesa Rokoduguni saw them jog past a poor Samoa in a scrappy game that never rose to any great heights.
Piula Faasalele and Chris Vui crossed for Samoa, who tried very hard, but just lack the firepower and skills needed at this level. Spirit is not enough.
England started like an All Black outfit in full flow, as Mike Brown crossed after just two minutes. Eight minutes later Alex Lozowski
scored their second try. It was looking like a huge score.
But then it stopped flowing and started to fizzle and pop like some cheap fireworks bought off the back of a truck in the rain somewhere.
Somehow England were outplayed at the breakdown by the Samoans, perhaps as a result of playing two blind-side specialist flankers rather than the traditional open- and blind- specialists? The England forwards coughed up penalties to allow Samoa out of trouble time and again.
England will be happy with a three out of three record, and Eddie Jones has had a chance to look at some of his fringe players, but he will know that he has some problems that need to be resolved before the Six Nations!
Tries: Brown, Lozowski, Ewels, Daly 2, Slade, Rokoduguni
Cons: Ford 5
ries: Faasalele, Vui
Cons: Nanai-Williams 2
Yellow Card: Faasalele
Ireland vs Argentina
Ireland were clinical in their 28-19 victory over Argentina at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
This was another of the weekend games that failed to rise to any great heights. A bit like a loaf of yeasty bread that did not rise as much as expected. Still a loaf, but not a great loaf.
The Irish dominated the first-half and went into the break 13-0 ahead. The Argies fought back in the second, but could not breach the Ireland defences. And that is about the story of the game.
If we can take something out of this game, it is that even a somewhat subdued Ireland still plays good clinical attacking rugby. They are worth a bet for the Six Nations if you are the gambling type!
Tries: Stockdale 2, Stander
Cons: Sexton 2
Pens: Sexton 3
Tries: Tuculet, Leguizamon, Moyano
Cons: Sanchez 2
Scotland vs Australia.
If you are an Australian and had a quiet giggle at South Africa’s expense after their loss to Ireland, you must be feeling a bit of a fool after this weekend?
Australia have made some great strides in certain aspects of their game under Michael Chieka. Their esprit de corps is better than it has been for a long time, their willingness to play the game is so much better, their motivation seems to be back, pride even.
But their discipline has followed the opposite path. They have haemorrhaged penalties, yellow cards, and now a red card. This is not new! Go back to their record in 2016 and you find a team that gave away 45 points in penalties during the incoming tour by England in the mid-year. That record of penalisable error has been repeated right through to this weekend.
In the 2017 Rugby Championships Australia conceded 41 penalties, only perennial bad boys Argentina were worse.. Oddly, the 41 was a significant improvement over 2016’s 70 penalties! The fact remains, it is far too many!
The entire team questions every referee decision, with their captain Michael Hooper happily arguing every decision and resorting to blatant untruths at times. In the second Test against England last year, referee Craig Joubert had to stop the game and call Hooper over, remonstrating with him to stop his players sledging the referee as well as their opponents. It was unedifying, and very necessary!
In the last two weeks, we have had the unpleasantness of Kurtley Beale denying what were blatant transgressions of the law, first suggesting that he was trying to “intercept” a pass with a deliberate knock down that earned him a yellow card against England, and a week later earning another yellow card, another that he protested, saying that he was “trying to gather the ball” when he slapped it into touch. Video evidence does not lie, unlike Mr Beale.
Perhaps this Aussie penchant for arguing with the referee stems from their coach’s extremely adversarial relationship with match officials? I will not go into detail, these things are matters of public record, but it ranges from accusing Nigel Owens of bias through to calling the TMO a sexually active cheat last week. He encourages his captains to continually “engage with” the referee. He has publically lashed the referees so frequently and without hesitation, that his players no longer respect the authority of the referee on the field of play. If the Boss can do it……..
Back to the rugby:
Scotland scored eight tries as they demolished Australia by 53-24.
The first half was a relatively even contest, with the Aussies fighting back every time the Scots stretched a bit of a lead. They even took the lead for a bit.
The match turned fully Scotland’s way when Sekope Kepu was sent off right before half-time. It was a mindlessly stupid act and deserved the red. Even Hooper could not, and did not, argue that one. The camera on Cheika in the coach’s box saw him stony faced. No toys thrown, no expletives. He knew that the referee was 100% correct.
Often the loss of a player to a red card motivates a team to fight so much harder and with so much more focus and discipline. Sadly, the Wallaby fightback lasted just the two minutes into the second half with Kurley Beale’s try.
From that moment onwards, Scotland dominated totally. First, Maitland scored down the left wing, then Jonny Gray scored Scotland’s fourth try. Huw Jones added another try 55 minutes into the game. McGuigan scored his second try after 61 minutes.
If Russell had converted the three he missed the score would have been even bigger.
Australia scored a consolation try through Lopeti Timani with eleven minutes left on the clock, but Scotland were not done yet.
With six minutes to go John Barclay crashed through three tackles to score. This time, Russell popped the conversion over.
Then we had Kurtley Beale’s slap-to-touch-I-was-gathering-it-in moment in the 79th minute. The Scots set up the final lineout in the dying seconds, and Stuart McInally crashed over from the maul. Russell converted with the last kick of the game, and the Wallaby season was finally over.
Tries: McGuigan 2, Price, Maitland, Gray, Jones, Barclay, McInally
Cons: Russell 5
Tries: Kuridrani 2, Beale, Timani
Cons: Foley 2
Yellow Card: Beale
Red Card: Kepu
Italy vs South Africa
As I watched the Springboks take Italy apart in some of the worst playing conditions possible, I realised that they were actually playing to a recognisable game plan, and that they were, for once, playing to the correct game plan for the particular match. I hope I am correct in suggesting that they were showing that they had learned to adjust their game according to conditions and opponents?
Conditions were atrocious. Cold, alpine cold kind of cold. Wet, real winter in the mountains kind of wet. A field 8 meters narrower than usual. A pitch that was sandy underneath and limited the power of the scrum by cutting up beneath the forwards’ feet. The same sandy pitch made for a slow bouncing ball when it was kicked through, holding up rather than skittering along the ground. It was not a pitch conducive to running rugby.
The narrow field also made wide running very difficult, space was cut down very quickly and easily.
It was a day designed for the Italian game.
Yet it was South Africa that played the conditions perfectly.
They played direct, driving, mauling rugby. The Springboks took the ball into contact using their big powerful forwards to drive it in, time and again. Sucking the Italians into a physical confrontation they were not really expecting nor equipped to handle for a full 80 minutes. This was not the mindless crashball driving of previous years. In almost every such drive the intent was there to set up and either go again or go wide if the opportunity presented itself.
How a scrumhalf with some initiative and spark would have loved this game. I missed Faf de Klerk’s impetuosity and instant sparkle around the fringes with a silent tear! The Springboks could probably have added at least two more tries if they had exploited the gaps that appeared in the Italian close defence as their tight forwards and the loose trio worked to stem the forward rushes. They were there for the taking, but Ross Cronje just does not have that style of rugby in him. (He was not bad, before you think I am knocking him, but he does not have those extra game-breaking skills.)
Tries from Francois Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, Francois Venter, Stephen Kitshoff and Franco Mostert proved way too much for Italy. They had just two penalties to celebrate all game.
It was not spectacular rugby, it was never going to be that kind of day in that kind of weather. But it was good, disciplined, well managed and structured rugby.
There were moments of waywardness, from the usual culprits. There were mistakes too, that ball was slippery and the rain relentless. There were players who did well, and others that did not.
But it was a good win, nevertheless.
Pens: Canna 2
For South Africa:
Tries: Louw, Mbonambi, Venter, Kitshoff, Mostert
Cons: Pollard 4, Jantjies
15 Andries Coetzee
I remain utterly unconvinced of the value that this man adds to the Springbok team. Once again, he preferred to retain the ball rather than pass it. Once again, his tactical kicking was somewhere between atrocious and very poor. Once again, he struggled under the high ball, and even failed to take the first high ball kicked onto him. The best I can say is that he made some good tackles, and was fearless when taking the ball into contact, pointless as the latter proves to be time and again. 4/10
14 Dillyn Leyds
If this were a school report, the teacher might say “Dillyn did his best.” Not that you would have noticed. He saw very little of the ball, even when he went ball-hunting in broken play, showing some endeavor by doing so, but leaving his wing channel horribly exposed a couple of times. In essence, he did nothing seriously wrong, but neither did her do anything worth comment. 5/10
13 Jesse Kriel
Slightly better than in his previous games on tour. Ran a bit straighter, penetrated a bit more, with one very good run in 34th minute. Hs tackling was also improved. Still shows a complete lack of vision on attack and has no idea what a support runner looks like. 5/10
12 Francois Venter
When a journeyman centre is praised for doing the basics of midfield play correctly, we know how desperate the situation is amongst South Africa’s midfield resources. Yes, Venter straightened the line. That should be unworthy of special comment, because that is what all 12s are supposed to do! However, it was a fairly competent game by the Cheetah captain. He was very solid on defence, and he made his passes stick. Ran straight, looked for support runners, and ran good supporting lines too. Not as much “tuck & charge” as we saw against France. A very good interception. Good try in the 33rd minute. 6/10
11 Courtnall Skosan
Another iffy game, drifting in off his defensive line too many times, exposed and turned twice by Italy. Knocked one high kick when there was minimal pressure on him. At least he made an effort to jump for one high kick, even if it did look like a primary school playground netball intercept. Did not see much of the ball throughout the game, and did not really go looking for it either. Made a good contribution to Francois Venter’s 33rd minute try. 4/10
10 Handré Pollard
Fixed the kicking yips that saw him miss the posts and leave 11 points out on the field against France. Getting back to form and real match fitness too. Provided the team with some much-needed direction and leadership from the 10 position, something completely missing when Jantjies wears the 10. Happily played to the wet- weather plan of taking the ball the direct route, but provided enough variation to keep the Italians guessing all the time. Some very good carries, great support lines, and a sublime cross kick that set up a try. Now South Africa needs someone of similar skills to back him up. 8/10
9 Ross Cronje
Remains nothing more than a steady journeyman scrumhalf. Reliable, without any real spark of enterprise or the unexpected. His passing was steady, his support lines good, base clearance was fair… just a steady game, by a steady player. His box kicking is still a worry, especially one that went close to backwards and caught his entire forward pack offside and with nowhere to go. 5/10
8 Duane Vermeulen
Huge battle with Parisse, which went Thor’s way in the end as the Italian became isolated and angry… His leadership close in, the experience and game management nous is invaluable. His defence was outstanding. His support play, especially under the high ball, was good, positional play good. Made some strong carries. 7/10
7 Pieter-Steph du Toit
As usual, he gave his all. This game suited his physique and his game as an extra lock forward rather than a wide-ranging flanker. Carried the ball well, made endless tackles, supported with intent. Was a nuisance in the lineouts. Showed signs of fatigue towards the end. He did his job well. 7/10
6 Francois Louw
Very good at the breakdown, very good on defence, very good with ball in hand. Some great steals, a couple of really big hits that knocked opponents backwards. Scored the opening try for South Africa in the 14th minute. As good as it gets. 8/10
5 Lodewyk de Jager
Better, after total anonymity in the first game of the tour he has improved with every outing. Made his usual errors, a knock on or two, a penalty for not rolling away. But he did his job in the lineouts and was super in support play, carried the ball with some grunt too. Better. 6/10
4 Eben Etzebeth
He must be looking forward to a rest after next week. Injured last week, he was back at his uncompromising best just a week later. Carrying the ball with aggressive intent, leading from the front in all the hard stuff. Took on Parisse with dominant intention too. Not quite as physical as last week, but still great to watch a real powerhouse at work. 7/10
3 Wilco Louw
A prop doing a prop’s job as well as he can. The anchor of the Bok scrum, powerful when carrying the ball, super at the ruck cleanouts, and plenty of grunt in the tackle. A good day at the office. 6/10
2 Mbongeni (Bongi) Mbonambi
If Malcolm Marx needs a rest, Bongi will not let you down. Accurate line-out throws, just a slight wobble in this department. Scrummed well, played the supporting role at the rucks and mauls well. Tackled well too. Scored a great try. 7/10
1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Was doing his job well when he had to leave the field in the 28th minute. No mistakes, one very good carry, good scrumming. 6/10
16 Chiliboy Ralepelle (on for Mbonambi 60 minute)
I remain utterly unconvinced that he is the third best hooker in South Africa. In 20 minutes against a weakening Italy, he did absolutely nothing noticeable. Niks, Nada, Zero, Nothing. Simply vanished, apart from some fair lineout throwing. 4/10
17 Steven Kitshoff (on for Tendai Mtawarira, 27th minute)
Really should be starting Tests. Carried the ball well, made his usual powerful tackles, scrummed well, supported in lineouts. His ball carrying is great, especially as he can also pass the ball, and does! 8/10
18 Trevor Nyakane (on for Wilco Louw, 65th minute)
Did his job well, with solid scrummaging, good support lines and good cleaning out at rucks. One very good tackle. 6/10
19 Franco Mostert (on for Eben Etzebeth, 60th minute)
Kind of game where he would flourish no matter as a starting lock or an impact player off the bench. Revels in the tight-loose moments. Brought extra mobility and scored a good try. 6/10
20 Daniel du Preez (on for Pieter-Steph du Toit, 73rd minute)
Not enough time to be rated
21 Rudy Paige (on for Ross Cronje, 54th minute)
Nothing much to report. A somewhat invisible 20 minutes when he had a tired Italy at his mercy. Quick to the ball on occasion, but was missing at the base too often, leaving the ball for others to make the play. A couple of good tackles. 5/10
22 Elton Jantjies (on for Handré Pollard, 65th minute)
Actually found touch with his first kick, something he has not done for a long time. Did nothing special, just carried on with his somewhat invisible play. Nothing wrong, just zero spark. 5/10
23 Warrick Gelant. (on for Courtnall Skosan, 60th minute)
Sad that he did not get a run from 15. Almost scored a debut try, but was beaten by the low bounce of the ball on the sandy pitch. Chased everything and looked the part. Needs more time to tell us what he can do. 5/10
15 Jayden Hayward
Aimless kicking of the ball, no control on kick receipt either. Tried to get into contention at a couple of breakdowns, and made a tackle or two. Carried the ball well once. 4/10
14 Angelo Esposito
Not sure that he actually received the ball from a pass more than once in this game, and then he knocked on in the tackle. He chased kick after kick after kick. 4/10
13 Tommaso Boni
Spending an entire afternoon defending cannot be much fun. But he kept at it, all afternoon. Spent most of the time just getting in between Springbok ball carriers to prevent a pass or offload. 5/10
12 Tommaso Castello
A couple of good dashes with the ball in hand, but had no idea where his support runners were. Seemed to vanish in the second half. Lots of defending. 4/10
11 Mattia Bellini
Ran a lot of good support lines, but somewhat ineffectual with the ball in hand. Missed a tackle or two, made some good ones. 4/10
10 Carlo Canna
Some good tactical kicking, looking to exploit the spaces provided by the waywardness of the Bok back three. Avoided getting caught up in the forward drives to constantly marshal the Italian back division. A good game, despite it being off the back foot all day. 6/10
9 Marcello Violi
Some good passing, often under heavy pressure. A couple of astute box kicks that turned the Bok back three, or caught Coetzee out of position. 6/10
8 Sergio Parisse (captain)
You simply cannot play the Boks all on your own, and he got himself isolated far too often. Was everywhere for his country, but to no avail. Great courage is not enough to win Tests. 8/10
7 Abraham Steyn
Somehow thought he would be in the Bok faces, but was not. Seemed a bit lost on the field, with none of the physicality and aggression we expected. Perhaps overawed? 4/10
6 Giovanni Licata
Some great carries, with good pace for a forward. The only player to play towards his captain and support Parisse on the run. 6/10
5 Dean Budd
Somewhat anonymous in most aspects of the game, except in the lineouts, where he did his job, and when giving away penalties for getting into offside positions in the mauls. 5/10
4 Marco Fuser
Overshadowed by his opponents. Did his job in the lineout, and very little else noticeable. 4/10
3 Simone Ferrari
Torrid day at the office, struggled in the scrum and it rubbed off on the rest pf his game. 3/10
2 Luca Bigi
Made some good carries with ball in hand, made some tackles, lineout throws went wonky a couple of times. 5/10
1 Andrea Lovotti.
I would guess he would rather not talk about scrumming against the Beast and then the Big Ginger. It was not a great day for the prop. 3/10
16 Leonardo Ghiraldini (on for Luca Bigi, 47th minute)
Good carries and good support lines. Lineouts were a 50/50 affair. 5/10
17 Federico Zani
18 Tiziano Pasquali (on for Simone Ferrari, 60th minute)
Physical in the midfield clashes and scrummed well. 6/10
19 Francesco Minto (on for Marco Fuser, 68th minute)
Not enough time to be rated.
20 Renato Giammarioli (on for Abraham Steyn, 47th minute)
Worked hard at the breakdowns and brought some extra physicality to the Italian effort. 5/10
21 Edoardo Gori (on for Marcello Violi, 47th minute)
Not sure that he did anything notable at all. Made a couple of tackles, and that is about it. 4/10
22 Ian McKinley (on for Carlo Canna 54th minute)
Some very good tactical kicking to try ad get Italy into the Bok spaces and pin them in their own half. 6/10
23 Matteo Minozzi. (on for Tommaso Castello, 70th minute)
Not enough time to be rated.