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Sometimes history is just bollocks


It wasn’t long after the final whistle sounded on South Africa’s emphatic triumph over Australia in Brisbane that an indignant message popped into my inbox. The timing was perfect, for it was a question I was already asking myself.

“I read your preview and everything you said there seemed to indicate that you thought the Springboks were going to beat Australia, and yet when it came to your prediction, you went for Australia? How the hell did you manage that? It came across as a cop-out.”

So let me answer the question with one word: gutless. And yes, it was a cop-out. What I was scared of was being lumped with those people who are classified as mad because they keep trying the same thing even though it keeps not working. When you look at a list of fixtures and you see how many times consecutively the one team has won at a particular venue, it just seems a bit crazy to ignore the statistical evidence and all that balance of probability mumbo jumbo.

I will also own up to being one of those who does believe we can learn something from history. If the results at a certain venue have all been similar over a long period of time, there has to be a reason for that.

But there are also times when history is just a load of bollocks and needs to be disregarded, and perhaps this past weekend was a time when it should have been ignored.

My colleague Brenden Nel loves it when I bring up the 1990 Currie Cup final between Natal and Northern Transvaal, so hopefully his already good mood in Auckland – after witnessing his gloom when the Boks got dumped out of the World Cup in 2011, I can only imagine he’s grinning like a Cheshire cat right now! – will be even further improved by this reference.

When Craig Jamieson’s Natal team went to Loftus for that history-making final, no-one gave them a chance. They hadn’t won the competition in 100 years of trying, they had only beaten Northern Transvaal in Pretoria twice, and the last win had been 10 years previously.

However, I remember giving Natal a better chance than most critics believed they had based on one significant fact: the reason they hadn’t succeeded in the competition before was because they’d never had a decent forward pack, but that had changed.

That 1990 Natal scrum, with big Wallaby Tom Lawton hooking the scrum alongside the equally gargantuan Guy Kebble and with Rudi Visagie, Andre Botha, Steve Atherton, Gerhard Harding and Wahl Bartmann adding further beef, was perhaps the most destructive I’ve ever seen. So of course they had a chance of beating a Bulls team that relied so much on forward dominance. And that’s what happened.

Had the rugby media been unaware of the history between the unions on that day back in 1990, and based their view on what might happen just on recent form, they would have given Natal a much better chance than they did.

And it was the same with Brisbane this past weekend. Let’s imagine for a moment that we were all less aware of history and the respective identities and cultures of the teams than we are. Let’s say we identify the teams only by the colour they wear, and we watch all the games with the sound button on our television sets firmly in the off position.

I’m not sure about you, but if I was an alien from outer space who had watched all international rugby in that fashion over the past few months, I would be pretty convinced that the team that wears the gold jerseys are the whipping boys of world rugby. They’ve won just once in their last six matches, and they were fortunate to win that one. In their last four games they haven’t come close to the opposition on the scoreboard.

By contrast the team wearing green and gold only ever seem to be doing one thing whenever I turn on my television (or when I was present at the home tests), and that is suffocating their opposition with their physicality and pinpoint field-kicking game before running riot when the process is complete.

Until this past weekend the detractors said they’d played no-one, but notwithstanding what I’ve just written about how poor the Wallabies are, we have to change that line. Even a poor Wallabies team in Brisbane is still a Wallabies team in Brisbane, and I’ve been at enough games featuring those teams at that venue to know what the victory must have meant to Heyneke Meyer and his men.

There is such a massive chasm between the Bok and Wallaby packs at the moment that it is hard to see how the Australians are going to beat the Boks again in a hurry. The South Africans, like the All Blacks, will have to be significantly off their game for it to happen, and it won’t happen if the Boks get their mental attitude consistently right.

It also won’t happen until the Wallabies' coach understands that what worked at Super Rugby level for him is not going to work at international level. Australians love touch rugby so much I sometimes wonder why they don’t set that up as a major sport rather than mess around with all this contact stuff that they seem to struggle with.

A game without contact and no kicking would be perfect for Australians, given that it seems they are so pre-occupied with running everything. But rugby union does include kicking, it does include a lot of crashing and bashing, and seeing that those are things that South Africans are good at, why would anyone want to negate those strengths by expecting the Boks to play any other way?

Why indeed. On Saturday the Boks showed that the Heyneke Meyer way, when perfected, is far from boring.


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