Staying calm under grenade attack
As the Bulls and some top Springboks from other franchises continue to battle with their early season form the same question keeps being asked – is it now time to start panicking?
The question was asked of me during a Q and A last week. My answer then was that no time is ever a good time to panic. In this instance when people talk about panic the vision that comes to mind is of all the South African rugby followers running out of their houses and offices into the streets with wild looks on their faces and screaming indecipherable nonsense.
If you want to imagine the picture think about Imran Tahir’s celebration after he took a wicket during the recent Cricket World Cup. A whole lot of people doing that together would be a pretty weird sight, and I don’t want to be responsible for such behaviour.
And we definitely don’t want the Springbok selectors, coaches or anyone else directly involved in rugby to panic for the old-timers among us remember all too well how often we used to be reminded during the bad old days of what happened when the selectors panicked during the series against the 1974 British Lions.
More than 30 players were selected across four test matches, and a No 8, Gerrie Sonnekus, ended up playing at scrumhalf. Duane Vermeulen is a fine player, but I wouldn’t want to see him wearing a No 9 at the World Cup!
Panic has never done anyone any good, and the only time it is thoroughly justified is if you are a passenger in an airliner that suddenly has its nose pointed to the ground at 39 000 feet. And even then you would expect the pilot to remain calm. In my school days they used to talk about the measurement of leadership being the ability to stay calm when the hand-grenades are being thrown into your bunker.
Well there are grenades being thrown into the Springbok bunker from all directions at the moment, and while it is not a time to panic, it would only be sensible to be concerned if real grenades were landing near you.
What was disturbing about the Bulls’ latest defeat was that it came in a game where everyone, including the Australian commentators, kept saying they were much improved. If there is a time to be concerned, it is when the Aussies start to become patronising. For goodness sake, the Bulls were out-scored by six tries to three, and two of their tries were late consolation efforts.
Had Quade Cooper had his place-kicking boots on, the Reds would have hit 50 – and this against a team with so many established Springboks and who started the season as two-time defending champions.
No, that is definitely enough reason for concern, but hey, before giving into any inclination to panic and do that Tahir imitation, let’s just have a moment of sobriety here and a small reality check. It may be clutching at straws, but most of the overseas teams didn’t look too flush in last year’s Super 14 in comparison to the Bulls and the Stormers, and their countries ended up dominating the Boks in the Tri-Nations.
So maybe there will be a reverse this year and maybe those Saru officials who tell me there is a right time and wrong time to peak have a point. I was asked last week to draw up my own Springbok team, and with a bit of tampering by switching positions for some players, the team of players who have shown a relative level of form in this year’s competition still looks a strong one.
To my mind Andries Bekker can play No 4 lock, and while Jaque Fourie has to play centre for the Stormers because of his defensive organisation, maybe he can also play on the wing.
Frans Steyn will be at fullback at the end of the year, and Butch James might well be at flyhalf, but here is my team with alternatives in brackets: Gio Aplon (Frans Steyn), Jaque Fourie, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers, Bjorn Basson or JP Pietersen, Peter Grant (or Patrick Lambie), Fourie du Preez (he WILL regain his form), Willem Alberts, Schalk Burger, Heinrich Brussow (one game was enough to show he still has it), Victor Matfield, Andries Bekker, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira or Gurthro Steenkamp.