TEST MATCH TIME!

The Silly Season Tours of 2017

Week 3

Yesterday I read an article by News24 journalist Lloyd Burnard. He was writing about the future of Allister Coetzee as Springbok coach. He believes Allister Coetzee is about to get sacked after two seasons of disappointing Springbok results.

However, says Burnard, it is not just poor results that are the reason for Coetzee getting the sack. He says that it is also Coetzee’s failure to transform the Springbok team into a lineup that represents the demographic make-up of the country.

He says that Coetzee had a very clear mandate: Ensure that the squad that travels to the Rugby World Cup in 2019 is made up of 50% players of colour. This instruction came because of the National Department of Sport and Recreation’s threat to pull the plug on allowing SA Rugby to bod for the hosting rights for major international competitions.

Now that France has been given the rights to the 2023 Rugby World Cup, the issue of bidding for hosting rights is of less importance. However, insists Mr Burnard, there is no getting away from the fact that transformation needs to be accelerated at a national level and that Coetzee has failed in this respect because he has not utilized certain players that Mr Burnard considers to be of international quality. (Every name he mentions is debatable!)

And that is exactly where I take issue with Mr Burnard and anyone else who calls for transformation “at the national level” as an absolute priority.

Let me be very clear: There is no doubt that participation in ALL sports and ALL recreational activities must be freely and equally available to every single person in our country. There can be no barriers to participation at any level of our society. Certainly, there should never ever be a barrier based on someone’s race, colour, religion, language, political persuasion, or creed.

But, let me be equally clear, it is NOT the task of a national coach or manager of any sport or recreation to be solely responsible for the transformation of the activity within which he is employed.

A national coach has just one task – ensure that the team he selects and prepares to represent the country is the very best the country has to offer on the day in question, regardless of any national demographic! Whomsoever wears the colours of the country represents the entire country and all the peoples of the country, save for the few political dinosaurs who are still living in that cloud cuckoo land of “bring back the good old days” when “we were the greatest” and tell us they are done with supporting their own country “because of politics” while serenely forgetting that it was politics in those “good old days” that prevented the majority of our fellow countrymen from participating in national teams.

Those that expect a national coach to pick a team that is less than the best, simply to accommodate a specific racial quota requirement, are equally ensconced in their own little cloud cuckoo land. That is a recipe for mediocrity and poor performance. If you want a winning team, and everyone wants a winning team, then meritocracy rules! If we do not select purely on merit, we are doomed to failure. (Look at some of our State-Owned Enterprises.)

Representing your country at the highest level of any sporting endeavor is about measuring the strength and depth of your national resources, the national will, the national pride, and not simply a flag-waving exercise to say “Look we are here and don’t we just look pretty in our Green & Gold?” It is about national pride and belonging, it is not about merely playing the game.

We need only turn to the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee’s (SASCOC) own published criteria for selecting South Africa participants for the Olympic Games. They state, publically and vociferously, that they do not send athletes to the Games, unless they have a realistic chance of winning a medal. With this as guideline, they have consistently refused numerous athletes and teams such as the South African Men’s’ Hockey team permission to join the national squad for the various Olympics.

Why then are SASCOC’s own guidelines ignored when suggesting or demanding that a national team, the Springboks, must be selected on a demographic basis and not purely on merit? It makes no sense whatsoever. Not only does it denigrate from the country’s pride in the performance of our best, it ushers in the specter of ongoing mediocrity.

If a player knows that his place is secure, based simply on the colour of his skin, then there is no motivation to continually improve and to perform at his very best. Conversely, if a player feels that he has no chance of selection, no matter how hard he works or how talented he may be, then his motivation to succeed either dissipates, or he disappears from the local scene to go and play his sport somewhere else, and possibly to represent some adopted country elsewhere in the world.

Let me add that any imposed team demographic is hugely insulting to the players who have risen to the top of their sport through personal endeavor, dedication, and sheer hard work. I speak of the likes of Siya Kolisi, who, in my less than humble opinion, has been South Africa’s outstanding rugby player of the year in 2017.

I speak of the likes of the Beast Mtawarira who has earned 98 Springbok caps based on his immense commitment, his ambition, and sheer hard work. I speak of the Bongi Mbonambis, Lwazi Mvovus, Scarra Ntubenis, Lionel Mapoes, and Sikhumbuzo Notshes. I speak of the Garth Aprils and the Elton Jantjies, the Sbu Sitholes, Oupa Mahojes….. I speak of real men.

I speak of real sportsmen, I speak of men who have done the hard yards and taken the bumps and lumps to rise above all others as contenders for selection.

I speak also of the Eben Etzebeths, the Malcolm Marx’s, the Handre Pollards and Stephen Kitshoffs. These are men who have put in the same hard yards and taken the same bumps and lumps to rise to the pinnacle of their chosen sports.

Perhaps one has had a better or easier opportunity to achieve than another, that is life. Yet the absolute truth remains that the cream will always rise to the top. Right at the top level of any sport, it is less about talent and more about sheer drive, commitment, serious ambition, and the blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to get to the top.

When the word “transformation” is included in a national sporting coach’s mandate, it is evidence of what is so very wrong in this country of ours. We seek to “deploy” people into senior positions based purely on their racial demographic; transformation with little or no consideration for their abilities, talents, or motivation to do the job they are deployed to do. People are appointed to do jobs that they simply cannot do to the quality level and standard expected of them.

This is not the fault of the person so deployed. In point of fact, it is hugely insulting to those who actually have the ambition, the intellect, and drive to succeed.

It is, however, the fault of those who deploy the person without the adequate qualifications, preparation, experience and, critically, the motivation and hunger to achieve. It is the fault of those that put demographic balance ahead of performance at every level in our society.

It is those who deploy the unqualified who set our country up for failure, in every single aspect of our national lives. Sports, academics, education, management, retail, manufacturing, airlines, railways, health services, power generation……..

What is missing is the commitment to identify, grow, nurture, develop and expose the truly talented individuals to all the aspects of the job of work he or she will be required to do. We have many many such people, but they are ignored.

Transformation cannot and will not succeed if it adopts the “top down” approach currently adopted in so many aspects of our national lives.

The approach that will guarantee the long-term success of our entire country and all the peoples of our country can only be a “bottom up” approach.

I will focus purely on rugby.

Transformation needs to be imposed, planned, and actively implimented right down at the seed stages of our game.

Rugby needs to start developing kids right down at the grassroots level.

I turn to the agricultural model I used in a previous article. From a well nurtured, composted, protected, and trained seedling the finest apple trees will grow. If you plant seed and fail to nurture them in every way, much like the sunbaked fields of dead wheat roasting in the drought stricken Western Cape, the harvest will fail. There will be insufficient wheat grains to harvest and feed the population. Those few that might get harvested will be of poor quality.

If we neglect the seedlings of our rugby, then there can be no doubt that the handful of players left to harvest for the national team will be of, mostly, poor quality.

And it is certainly not the task of the national coach to nurture those seedlings! This is the task of the educators, the physical education teachers and sports instructors at the schools. This is the task of the clubs and teams in local areas, in the towns and villages, in the suburbs of the cities.

This is the task of the National Department of Sport and Recreation! This is the task of the National Department of Education. This is the task of the rugby clubs and provinces.

And the failure of the national coach to find sufficient numbers of talented players representing every demographic sector of our society is thus not his fault!

The failure and fault lies with those politicians who have not implemented their dream of transformation at the very grass roots of our society.

Do not blame the coach for something that he cannot influence.

By all means fire him, but do that only because his rugby results have been shocking!

International Reviews

Italy vs South Africa

Date: Saturday, November 25
Venue: Stadio Euganeo, Padova
Kick-Off: 15:00 local; 14:00 GMT; 16h00 SA Time.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

Here is a Déjà vu moment for you.

Last year, in my preview before the corresponding fixture between South Africa and Italy I wrote:

“Sometimes I do not get it!

In fact, I often do not get it!

During the last two years, especially, I have frequently been left wondering whether I am completely misguided or inhabit a different planet to that which our Springbok coaches live on. When I first read the initial squad list released by Heyneke Meyer for last year’s World Cup I was more than a little puzzled by his selections. When he announced the final squad that would travel to England I was completely puzzled. Had he not learned anything in his four years as Bok coach?

Allister Coetzee has also contributed to the ongoing confusion in my world. I struggled to understand some of his selections against Ireland, Australia and New Zealand earlier this year. I did not understand his persistence with a misfiring and obviously out-of-his-depth flyhalf and the misuse of two established flyhalves in the fullback position, game after game. I did not understand the constant changes in the midfield.

I accepted that it is a new year, a new coaching regime, and that he needed time and space to build his own team and make his mark on the game. I hoped he would be learning valuable lessons along the way.

When I read Allister Coetzee’s team announcement for Saturday’s Test against Italy I found myself beyond puzzlement. I am astounded.

Has Allister not learned anything from the loss to England?”

In the rest of my 2016 preview I questioned his use of players who were so obviously low on form or simply not of the standard required at the Test Match level. I asked about the leadership, or lack thereof in the team. I asked why two flyhalves were sitting on the bench? I wondered at his use of Rudy Paige as a starting 9 with Faf de Klerk left on the bench. I wondered why Willem Alberts was still in the team.

The team he announced on that day was:

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Johan Goosen

And now, in 2017, my thoughts remain pretty much the same.

I still do not get it!

In fact, I often still do not get it!

When I read Allister Coetzee’s team announcement for Saturday’s Test against Italy I found myself beyond puzzlement. I remain astounded.

Has Allister not learned anything from the loss to Ireland? (or New Zealand – insert which ever name suits your mood!) Has he not earned anything from the 2017?

Has he not noticed that his back three are misfiring badly. Very very badly.

Has he not learned that using Pieter-Steph du Toit as a flanker is a complete waste of the man’s considerable talents?

Has he not learned that Jesse Kriel is not the answer at 13?

When will he learn that Rudy Paige is not an international scrumhalf, nor is Elton Jantjies an international half-back?

I remain intensely puzzled by Allister Coetzee’s selection policies and processes.

Last year I got my prediction for this game completely wrong. Despite my puzzlement, I still suggested that South Africa would win comfortably. After all Italy had just given up 68 points to the All Backs….

Then again, almost every pundit and commentator in the world go this one wrong!

I wonder what will happen this time around?

The Springboks show a couple of enforced changes for this second last game of their season.

Bongi Mbonambi will make his first start at hooker, while Pieter-Steph du Toit returns to the starting team for the Springboks against Italy in Padova on Saturday.

Du Toit will, once again, start on the flank. Perhaps one can understand this week’s selection as Siya Kolisi has returned to South Africa for the birth of his second child, but it must be frustrating for some of the real flankers who are travelling with the squad. The likes of Cassiem and Mohoje come to mind.

Despite widespread calls for him to start the game, Warrick Gelant has only been included on the bench and should make his Springbok debut sometime during the match.

Malcolm Marx has been given the day off for this weekend, resting his shoulder after the injury he sustained against France. This gives Bongi Mbonambi a start in the No 2 jersey.

Perennial underperformer and naughty boy, Chiliboy Ralepelle, will sit on the bench as replacement hooker.

The rest of the team that beat France at the Stade de France is retained.

Italy have made two changes to their starting line-up for this Test.

In the backline, Angelo Esposito comes into the run-on side on the right wing in place of Leonardo Sarto, who drops out of the match-day squad.

Amongst the forwards Giovanni Licata starts on the blindside flank with Francesco Minto dropping to the replacements bench.

Prediction:

The Springboks will surely have revenge on their minds when they take to the field on Saturday. The humiliation of 2016 still rankles both players and fans, and there will be a determination to set the record straight in 2017.

The Springboks of 2017 have been a vastly different team to the woe begotten disarray of 2016. The team has found its guts, they have found leaders in most areas of the game, especially amongst the forwards, and they have found determination and focus.

Mostly.

2017 has also shown some serious inconsistency. A good series against France, two good wins against the Argentineans, a well-earned draw with the Wallabies in Perth, then a serious implosion in Albany, followed by a determined bounce-back draw with the Wallabies, and then a truly great game against the All Blacks.

That was followed by yet another implosion against Ireland and a determined, if a bit wayward, win over France.

Italy have not had a great 2017, with just one win in the 10 Tests they have played this year. They managed to scramble a less than convincing win over Fiji.

Interesting too, is the number of changes to the two teams from 2016 to the 2017 encounter. Just four Springboks from 2016 will start this Test again this year: Francois Venter, Lodewyk de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Tendai Mtawarira.

Some of last year’s bench are to be found in the squad again this year. In 2017 Bongi Mbonambi gets a start, while Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Rudy Paige, and Elton Jantjies will sit on the bench again.

The Italians also have just 3 returnees in their starting XV, Carlo Canna, Sergio Parisse and Marco Fuser. Tommaso Boni and Simone Ferrari, who will both start this week were on the bench last year. Francesco Minto has dropped to the bench having started last year, while Edoardo Gori continues in the splinter gathering role of bench sitter.

In all only 16 of the 46 players from 2016 are still to be found in this year’s team lists.

In essence, despite the knowledge that they have beaten South Africa, this is almost a completely different Italian team. It is certainly a different Springbok outfit.

What to expect from the two teams?

The weather prediction for Saturday suggests cold, wet conditions. This leads us to two expectations.

Firstly, plenty of kicking, and we know that this is South Africa’s Achilles Heel! They do not kick terribly well tactically, and they are truly horrible under the high ball. We can expect Italy to do their very best to exploit this weakness.

Second. We can also expect a grinding forward battle. Italy have a good maul, but struggle in the collisions and over the ruck ball. South Africa have a very good maul and have mostly been good in the collisions and over the ruck.

Italy struggled against the Argentinean scrum a week ago, and that is where South Africa will look to establish a strong, dominant foundation. South Africa also have some very big men to carry the ball close in to the set pieces and rucks, with Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw and Pieter-Steph Du Toit being backed by the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, The Beast, and Wilco Louw, with Kitshoff to come on later.

South Africa should dominate the scrums, the lineouts, especially with four acknowledged jumpers in the lineup. They should also dominate the loose-ball and rucks.

With Ross Cronje providing a steady ball to his backline, and with Pollard’s educated leadership, even the backs might produce something extra on the day.

In all, South Africa should win this comfortably. (And that is exactly what I said last year…………)

The Teams

Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Giovanni Licata, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Andrea Lovotti

Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Francesco Minto, 20 Renato Giammarioli, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Ian Mckinley, 23 Matteo Minozzi

Springboks: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth (c), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Dan du Preez, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Warrick Gelant

Scotland vs Australia

Date: Saturday, November 25
Venue: Murrayfield
Kick-off: 14:30 GMT; 16h30 SA Time
Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), David Wilkinson (Ireland)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

I am not sure what to make of this one. The Scots looked good in many aspects of their game while beating Samoa, scoring some great tries, yet their defence was woeful as they persistently allowed the Samoans back into the game.

Then they ran the All Blacks very close; so close that many felt they had done enough to beat the world champions!

This is a confident Scotland, playing with passion and pride. And they will be looking to do the 2017 double over Australia on Saturday! They beat them 24 – 19 in Sydney earlier this year, and they know they can beat them again.

The Wallabies have improved immeasurably since those woeful June internationals, but they are at the end of a long long season with a tiring Silly Season tour too. They have had a year of all manner of distractions, including the Super Rugby Dumping fiasco, which is still dragging on back home as the politicians have gotten involved now. They have had serious administrative disruptions throughout the game in Australia, and they had the worst Super Rugby season in history. The highlight of their year was winning the 3rd Bledisloe trophy game against the All Blacks.

Of late, their disciplinary record has not been great, and they will be suffering from the hangover of their loss to England last weekend. Their entire Silly Season tour was focused on beating England, and they failed.

Scotland, meanwhile, have enjoyed a massive two years. Wins over Wales and Ireland in the Six Nations followed by their win over Australia has sent a message to the world. And then, again, there was last week’s close run thing with the All Blacks.

Scotland have four changes to their starting XV to face Australia.

Three of the changes are in the pack, where number eight Ryan Wilson returns after missing the All Blacks match with a shoulder injury.

Lock Grant Gilchrist starts his first match of the series alongside Jonny Gray, while tighthead prop Simon Berghan earns his first start for the national team in the front row.

Sean Maitland is the only change to an otherwise all-Glasgow Warriors back-line. He starts in place of wing Lee Jones, who drops out of the match-day 23 altogether.

Cornell du Preez, Ben Toolis and Zander Fagerson move to the bench.

Stephen Moore has been named as starting hooker in his final rugby match of a long and robust career. He has been joined in the in the match-day squad by Taniela Tupou, who is straight into the squad just two days after becoming eligible for Test duty.

Ben McCalman will start at flank in place of injured Ned Hanigan, with Lukhan Tui cleared of a hamstring injury to play off the bench, and Matt Philip dropping out. Tetera Faulkner replaces Allan Alaalatoa in the replacement loosehead spot. Henry Speight joins the bench, in a five-three combination.

Prediction: There are many who suggest that Scotland will win this one. They have shown themselves capable of winning against the best, especially with last week’s performance against the All Blacks.

I do suspect that they will have something of a hangover from that game. A little disappointment, some bruises, a sense of having peaked… In fact much the same as I suspect we will find if we analyze the Aussies.

I get the feeling that this game might not rise to any great heights, but that it will be driven by the determination of one Stephen Moore to go out on a high. I am going against many of the pundits by saying Australia to win by 3.

The Teams:

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay (c), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Darryl Marfo

Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Byron McGuigan

Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ben McCalman, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio

Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Lukhan Tui, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Karmichael Hunt, 23 Henry Speight

Wales vs New Zealand

Date: Saturday, November 25
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-Off: 17:15 GMT; 19h15 SA Time
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Frank Murphy (Ireland)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)