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Finding new ways to lose at Newlands: A rivalry resurrected

Harry Jones Roar Guru

By Harry Jones, Harry Jones is a Roar Guru

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    South Africa’s bid to host a second Rugby World Cup omits its spiritual home – the cramped, creaky, cacophonous old stadium called Newlands.

    Every space is compacted in this boxy patchwork place. From the horrific toilets and halls, to the player’s cloakrooms and rudimentary bars. The egress from the train past the pungent brewery lingers from the south or, as we chose, a beer-laden stroll down from Forester’s Arms or Barristers along the tiny Liesbeek River.

    That’s the nine-kilometre stream cutting from Skeleton Gorge on the rump of Table Mountain, to Table Bay, through both the poshest and sketchiest of districts.

    If you walk a while, you will find yourself in the company of Cape Crusaders, whose rugby patron saint is Sonny Bill Williams. The ratio of black to green in the Cape can seem equal at times, but once inside the friendly confines of the worlds second oldest big rugby park, it’s more clearly a four-to-one Bok tribal gathering.

    Strictly speaking, we were attending the penultimate match in a tournament already won, but in reality we were just going to a Test match against the All Blacks. The mood among Bok fans was tremulous, because our internal questions were whether we were still the Kiwis’ greatest rival. That, or whether the recent willingness to let them score 57 points on us and not even fire a shot in retaliation, had doomed the Old Enemy narrative.

    In typical Saffa fashion, this fear was expressed in anger. Anger at native son Allister Coetzee, who built a defensive juggernaut at the Stormers for many years typified by rugged tackling, superb scrummaging, clever and accurate kicking, and an unassailable lineout.

    Where were those bedrock skills in this Bokling side? It took the All Blacks all of fifteen minutes in Albany to completely break down the Springbok defence, and then they rained clown tries down on the hapless, Springboks, who seemed to give up.

    Courtnall Skosan South Africa Rugby Union Springboks 2017

    (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

    Anger also spewed preemptively on failed Stormer Elton Jantjies, whose shuffling pivot moves appear slower and slower, closing gaps for his centre pairing, who are reduced to battering rams, robbing the gasmen on the wings from any lane in which to show speed and skill.

    But it was just fear. Will we be humiliated or just embarrassed? How far are we behind?

    During perestroika, a delegation of Soviet automaker bureaucrats were allowed to tour a Japanese miracle car plant. All day the Russian engineers saw wonders of robotics and logistical brilliance. Trained never to betray inferiority, they merely stared, as if it was nothing to see such clear superiority.

    At the end, seeing a chance to speak privately, the head Soviet asked his Japanese opposite number: ‘Tell me honestly. How far are we behind? Five years? Ten?’

    The Japanese director said: ‘Forever. You are forever behind.’

    Are we doomed to chase All Black yesteryears? Was 2009 the last dying whimper of competitiveness? Are we just beginning the beginning of the end? How far are we behind? Forever? Is 57 the new 30 and 0 the new 27?

    Fortified by early morning runs, absurd wagers, beer and spirits, and vinegar-drowned chips to mute the sour smell of the river, the stadium, and the brewery, we settled into our seats as if forewarned by pilots of extreme turbulence.

    The warmups were similar by both squads, who were almost identical in size and build, now. Long gone is any notion of ‘huge’ Boks playing normal-sized All Blacks.

    Liam Squire is the same size as Pieter-Steph du Toit, all the locks on the field are within an inch of the same height, the visitors have one big centre, whippet halves, and a few mites; about the same as the home team.

    The only mismatch appeared to be at hooker, where Malcolm Marx strides as if a statue in Vienna, while Dane Coles is modest in size.

    The drills are similar now; compared even to my description of the 2015 semifinal between these teams (and doesn’t that 18-20 match seem like a million years ago).

    However, surly Jantjies seems to be lazy even pre-match.

    The match in Cape Town did not start differently from Albany: hammer and tongs, thunder and lightning, assault and battery.

    The difference was it took 79 minutes for the All Blacks (29 minutes into the second half after a 50-minute first half) to actually break down the Bok defence and score a try. Oh, and the Boks only committed four handling errors. Handre Pollard made a telling cameo. And there was this man Marx.

    The first half saw both sides soak up pressure from the other, defuse raids with brutal tackling and turnovers, and the classic haymakers of a heavyweight bout. This time, All Black turnovers won did not automatically lead to a Raymond Rhule missed tackle and a swan dive over the line by a jubilant Kiwi flyer.

    For one bright shining day (or maybe more?) the Boks were back to being Bokke.

    Heavy, horrible and rawboned defence; scrambling after a break, immovable at times, and giving nothing easy.

    Is anyone actually sure Ireland or England would have been able to score a try against the Boks in this mood?

    Steve Hansen likened it to stopping barrels rolling downhill at you.

    The bulldozers were Pieter-Steph du Toit and his quick pick-and-go style (20 carries); flame-haired Steven Kitshoff (15 strong carries and two superlative catches, a one-handed grab and a bootlace save) after the All Blacks tried to bully him early; a passionate Eben Etzebeth who broke five tackles during his 14 savage runs; and Marx, who played one of the most effective tests by a hooker in history, after looking fragile mentally in Albany at lineout time.

    Both teams pinched one lineout a piece, so this was not the story this time. It was Bok Force Trauma with box kicks, pillars knocked down, smashmouth rugby, and relentlessness.

    If only the home side had scrummed better, substituted better, and kicked better, a victory seemed on the cards. All three of those areas are ‘controllable’ and the Boks should rue the way they lost the day.

    The Boks survived the worst of it though: magic passes by Nehe Milner-Skudder, a muffed restart, the freakish Reiko Ioane crossing the chalk but not scoring (courtesy of a very good defensive effort by the still-unconvincing Jesse Kriel at 13), strangely inaccurate ruck cleaning by Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Sam Cane, and Dean Coles as well as Jantjies gave up a try on a platter.

    It was 3-3 and eight minutes before halftime. In the three minutes prior to Jantjies trying to kick a ball through Beauden Barrett’s elbow, the Boks had constructed a decent maul at their own ten-metre line, built a few phases to explore the seams, used Etzebeth, du Toit, and Marx and made good progress. Francois Louw then reclaimed one of the only well-weighted box kicks, spilled by Damian McKenzie, and reset with workhorse Jan Serfontein.

    Brodie Retallick New Zealand Rugby Union All Blacks 2017

    (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

    But then Jantjies, with plenty of space and time, and Kriel and unused Dillyn Leyds open to his right, on the Boks’ own 42 metre line, stab-kicked the ball into Barrett’s arm. Barrett did not even jump. The ball hit him in the elbow or thereabouts.

    There were about twelve different things Jantjies could have done in that situation, and eleven were fine. Feint the kick, take the tackle, skip pass, hoist a skyball with Siya Kolisi and Leyds perfectly placed to chase, dummy-kick, cut inside back to his forwards who were wildly rampant, pass normally to Kriel, or just sit down.

    But he tried to kick the ball through Barrett’s elbow.

    After a sequence of bobbles, during which Jantjies began jogging back and failed to beat Kolisi or the worlds slowest scrumhalf back to try and prevent the consequence of his rugby crime, Ryan ‘Crotchy’ Crotty ‘dotted down.’ Fair enough; at the ground, I saw it as a try all day, and only my Kiwi mates texting me made me question it. For me, it was a classic Jantjies brain freeze, thinking he had more time than he did; the prince of charge-downs.

    All credit to the Bok pack in shaking off this waste of great ball by a silly flyhalf: Cane and Liam Squire continued to be blown off the ball, Marx kept finding his jumpers and running around like he owned the place, and Etzebeth prolonged the first half, along with Macca, and nobody could say the home team looked less fresh than the ultra-fit visitors.

    Interestingly, Lood de Jager ran the lineout with Marx better than fellow Lion, Franco Mostert had, and Etzebeth seemed to partner with de Jager better in cleaning rucks. They were an insanely physical ‘bracket.’

    But the pack also had to overcome the planking problems of Ruan Dreyer, picked by stubborn coach Coetzee despite leading Super Rugby in scrum penalties (in limited minutes, as he is not even the Lions’ No.1 tighthead) and the availability of the most dominant tighthead in Super Rugby in 2017, hometown behemoth 133 kg Wilco Louw.

    Only scrum coach Matt Proudfoot could explain why the Boks negated one clear advantage – the All Blacks are also scraping the bottom of their loosehead bottle with Kane Hames, at scrum time, at least.

    Dreyer planked, as he did against Australia, and was pinged three times. He could have been penalised more. South Africa was only whistled five times on the day. Wilco Louw came on and the scrum was a Bok weapon the rest of the day. I will say no more.

    The Boks overcame Dreyer’s planking and Jantjies’ belief in a porous BBBBB arm, to score an 18-phase try early in the second half.

    Life was good at Newlands.

    The Boks were keeping ball in hand, using the big boys, and keeping the game out of their brittle halves’ hands. Until the 60th minute, when Cronje, who is a guy everyone can love and support but is a good club level halfback and nothing more, threw a loose pass at poor Skosan’s shoulder, scooped up by speed merchant Ioane, who showboated a bit on his try, and will probably be sorted by Kieran Read and the other seniors.

    At 10-15, with Barrett gone, and an obviously well-working Bok plan on the day, I allowed myself to indulge in some belief.

    My neighbour and I had a wager on the outcome; he is a lifelong fan of the All Blacks and the Crusaders.

    When Handre Pollard trotted on with fifteen to go, I bellowed like a gorilla, and punched my treasonous nemesis neighbour four or five times.

    “We’re going to take it now. Elton off our back. Go boy. Take it Pollard.”

    A star from the Western Cape, Pollard took it hard to the line. The backline finally looked dangerous. A half-break here and there, and then that moment of magic Pollard almost always creates.

    A real break, a perfect offload to steaming Marx, who drew the last defender and put a perfect pass in the surprisingly quick Jean-Luc du Preez .

    “Upset, upset, upset,” I chanted into my neighbour’s disloyal ear.

    But then, one too many box kicks that got out of the box. A beautiful fend by David Havili on my hero Handre, a Sonny Bill Williams-like offload to cheeky Macca, who outdid Ioane on his Ashtonesque try, having bamboozled the just-on Damian de Allende.

    That was the first time the All Blacks broke the cover defence.

    It’s a good thing Lima Sopoaga converted Macca’s try, because the fullback could have easily rounded to go under the posts, instead of planting a one-handed Nadia Comenici touchdown out wide.

    Lima Sopoaga for the Highlanders

    (Photo: John Youngs photography)

    On the whole, the Boks had broken down the All Blacks’ defence more often than vice versa, but poor kicking, Dreyer’s scrum woes, and Elton’s decision to kick through Barrett’s corporeal body gave the ruthless world champions just the chances needed.

    For some reason, de Allende was on. Why? Serfontein had been the best Bok back. He’s a clever defender, and underrated on attack. The undercooked de Allende was the matador to the Macca bull, and then decided to give Sapoaga a do-over on his missed drop goal attempt.

    The almost unbelievably good Marx was smart enough to score quickly, hand the ball to Jantjies, who did well to convert the maul try with two minutes to go, and a one-point game in the balance, but it’s a tall order to march all the way, especially with a referee who let the breakdown be wild.

    Matt Todd was very good on the day, as were the All Blacks’ back three, allied to a moment of brilliance, and it was done and dusted.

    I saw a video from the excellent All Blacks’ PR arm, with Anton Lienert-Brown interviewing his mates, as the Boks and All Blacks share a beer in blazers.

    Read and Etzebeth seemed to be having a good long laugh, but Dreyer was not. Macca and Ioane admitted fault in their tries and we will probably see two-handed dot-downs from now on.

    A battered Cane, a smiling Hansen, a relieved Coetzee and a great sense of comraderie all the way around.

    The rivalry has some oxygen, yet. But for it to resume, really, it isn’t enough for South Africa to do what Meyer did (play great against the Kiwis, but lose to Japan and too often to others). The Boks need to bully Ireland, continue to beat England, dominate the other Celts, win at home against Australia, and start to win close ones against the best.

    The stadium did not clear quickly. Nobody wanted to leave.

    Can we call each other rivals, yet? Maybe not. But the whole rugby world saw what a Bok team with only 300 or so caps, a jittery flyhalf, a glacier-like scrumhalf, and a tighthead who cannot scrum, can do to the All Blacks.

    Maybe it’s another false dawn, and maybe the only way to really get back is to fire Coetzee sooner than later, but he saved his job again, and the quota is real, so if Pollard is to resume his Test career as the Bok field general, Rudy Paige will need to replace Cronje, and perhaps the rugged pilfer king Lukhanyo Am should take over from Kriel at 13, with Warrick Gelant getting a look at the fullback position.

    Here’s hoping the rivalry can re-emerge.

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    The Crowd Says (111)

    • October 12th 2017 @ 3:25am
      FunBus said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:25am | ! Report

      I think this was one that really got away from the Boks. For me the key moment was the thrown interception in the 2nd half when the

    • October 12th 2017 @ 3:25am
      FunBus said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:25am | ! Report

      I think this was one that really got away from the Boks. For me the key moment was the thrown interception in the 2nd half when the Boks had real momentum in the NZ 22. The pack had gotten on top and I think the ABs looked rattled.

      In the wider scheme of things it is too early to say the Boks are ‘back’. The game reinforced my belief that the ABs can lack a bit of forward quality coming off the bench if they have a couple of key forwards unavailable. The last 20 has been the ABs domain for a while, but not lately. Now, a number of sides will feel if you’re in the game with 30 to go, it’s by no means certain you’re going to get blown away.

      Great game.

      • Roar Guru

        October 12th 2017 @ 3:34am
        biltongbek said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:34am | ! Report

        Yes Boks need consistency beforeIeven consider them being back, sustainability iskey, but squad still needs better selections

        • October 12th 2017 @ 3:43am
          FunBus said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:43am | ! Report

          Good signs, though, Biltongbek. I thought the performances by Marx and Etzebeth were the best tight five performances I’ve seen this year. The backs still seem flaky to me, however.

          • Roar Guru

            October 12th 2017 @ 5:06am
            Harry Jones said | October 12th 2017 @ 5:06am | ! Report

            All the starting backs except Serfontein and Leyds were flaky. Ross does what he can, but he got no wheels and his pass is loopy.

            Pollard made a huge impact; on 3 phases he made mini-breaks, and then he made a real one. It opened up the field for support runners.

            I would still like to see more from Leyds, who is a fine footballer.

            I’d replace Skosan with a hard-nosed winger like Mapimpi or Nkosi, and I’d put Jesse on the bench (covers 13, wings, or 15) and try L. Am. If we gonna make quota, let’s start in all the speed positions.

            • October 12th 2017 @ 7:09am
              Riccardo said | October 12th 2017 @ 7:09am | ! Report

              Oustanding piece Harry.

              You can almost see the emotion.

              I agree Serfontein’s substitution was curious; best back on the park.

              But I thought Coetzee had some great moments too.

              Pollard’s cameo was telling wasn’t it. The halves are an issue.

              If Pollard gets to run on and they can start anyone but Dreyer (whom I agree should have been penalised more) and find a quicker scrum-half…

              Plenty to be positive about; to me the Bokke rivalry is special, steeped in history (probably because I’m old).

              May it continue…

              • Roar Guru

                October 12th 2017 @ 7:47am
                Harry Jones said | October 12th 2017 @ 7:47am | ! Report

                thanks, Riccardo!

                You’re a gent.

                Agree that the halves and the TH is quickest fix (Dreyer is maybe no 6 or 7 in SA, so that’s easy)

          • October 12th 2017 @ 8:40am
            Fionn said | October 12th 2017 @ 8:40am | ! Report

            FunBus, I’ve often thought that the Springboks and Wallabies are antithetical teams.

            As we both know there are common rugby adage that “games are won up front.”

            Both the Wallabies and the Springboks often disprove this notion in different ways.

            Australia often wins matches when our forwards lose due to the abilities of our backs, and South Africa too often does’t win matches that their forwards have earned due to poor play by their backs.

            Too often the Springboks have a better forward pack than their opponents and yet still don’t win. I would say that since 2010, during New Zealand’s golden period, the Boks have actually had a forward pack at least as good as the ABs, if not even better, and yet they have won, what, twice in this period?

            The Wallabies and Boks are about 50-50 over the period, and I would say that there hasn’t even been a single test (except for maybe the B Team SA sent over in the 2011 Tri-Nations, and maybe not even then) that Australia has won the forward battle against South Africa.

            Australia’s forward pack is usually worse than New Zealand’s, South Africa’s, England’s and even Ireland’s, Wales’ and even Argentina’s, and yet we usually do fairly well against all of those teams (these last two years excepted).

            I’d love to see a Wallabies side with South Africa’s forwards, or a Springboks side with Australian backs.

            • October 12th 2017 @ 8:58am
              P2R2 said | October 12th 2017 @ 8:58am | ! Report

              or a composite side of all 3 a la the BILs and WOW would they do some damage…!

              • October 12th 2017 @ 9:18am
                Fionn said | October 12th 2017 @ 9:18am | ! Report

                Would the composite side have any Aussies at all? 😛 Maybe Folau, Beale and, I would argue Pocock (if he were available).

                Actually, I think Kepu would arguably make the bench too. Imagine picking 3 locks out of Retallick, Whitelock, Etzebeth, Mostert, PSDT and Coleman?

            • Roar Guru

              October 12th 2017 @ 9:07am
              Harry Jones said | October 12th 2017 @ 9:07am | ! Report

              Might need to rescue the RC by combining green with gold with green with gold.

      • October 12th 2017 @ 8:55am
        P2R2 said | October 12th 2017 @ 8:55am | ! Report

        and you are right about the unavailability of key forwards….watch out with the FULL TEAM is on the field…

    • October 12th 2017 @ 3:25am
      FunBus said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:25am | ! Report

      I think this was one that really got away from the Boks. For me the key moment was the thrown interception in the 2nd half when the

    • Roar Guru

      October 12th 2017 @ 3:28am
      Harry Jones said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:28am | ! Report

      The FunBus is stuttering …

      But I agree it was a horrible moment.

      • October 12th 2017 @ 3:32am
        FunBus said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:32am | ! Report

        I think I’m under cyber attack from the Ruskies (or senility has finally won out).

        • Roar Guru

          October 12th 2017 @ 3:33am
          Harry Jones said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:33am | ! Report


          Just don’t collude w the Russians!

          But we could’ve still won; just needed Dumb Dumb de Allende not to be a fake tough guy

        • October 12th 2017 @ 8:58am
          P2R2 said | October 12th 2017 @ 8:58am | ! Report

          I’d go with the latter….

    • Columnist

      October 12th 2017 @ 3:46am
      Nicholas Bishop said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:46am | ! Report

      Very nice Harry, cuts to the core of the drama. Malcolm Marx was immense in a coming-of-age game – how on eath were Bongi and Strauss selected ahead of him last year??

      The back five is getting towards the shape I always felt would be best with PSDT at 6 and the bruise brothers in the row. Now just add a sprinkling of Jaco Kriel in the B/R!

      • Roar Guru

        October 12th 2017 @ 4:15am
        Harry Jones said | October 12th 2017 @ 4:15am | ! Report

        Yes, the loss of Jaco Kriel (which actually had the effect of losing Kolisi, in a way), the stubborn persistence with Elton J like a candle in the wind, and refusing to play Combrinck throughout the RC (L. Am, W. Gelant, and R. Paige could’ve balanced the quota, if Pollard and Combrinck started) doomed this unlikely upset.

        (And foolishly pulling off our most effective back on the day…)

    • Roar Pro

      October 12th 2017 @ 3:52am
      Andrew said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:52am | ! Report

      If only all match reports were as epic as this.

      Despite the loss I feel this match will be remembered as “The Marx Test” in years to come.

      • Roar Guru

        October 12th 2017 @ 4:16am
        Harry Jones said | October 12th 2017 @ 4:16am | ! Report

        We try our best, sir, to bring life to sport.

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