Tri-Series was perfect preparation
There might have been a trophy handed to the Stormers for winning the recent Neo Africa Tri-Series. I am not sure, for I didn’t stick around long enough after the final game to find out, and neither did most of the Newlands crowd.
I had a press conference to attend, the spectators had social engagements to catch up with, and Stormers coach Allister Coetzee had summed up the insignificance of the results of the tri-series when he claimed he could not remember if his men had lifted a trophy for their winning effort in 2010.
The question of what the tournament meant to the teams in question was asked often during the tournament. All the coaches, either directly or indirectly, agreed that results were meaningless. They are right, of course, and the whole question of meaning reminded me of the old Yardley Cup, which for a couple of seasons in the late 1980s and early 1990s kicked off the rugby year at Ellis Park. There were just three or four teams involved, and Natal won it in 1989.
It was the first trophy they had won since goodness knows when, so a bit of a fuss was made, but the following season it was all put in perspective when they didn’t shape but then went on to win the Currie Cup for the first time in 100 years.
Down in Durban we renamed the Yardley Cup the Arbitrary Cup.
Pre-season friendlies are funny fixtures to report on, for what you are writing about is no more than a glorified practice session. So I found it quite hilarious when someone told me in the wake of the game between the Sharks and Stormers that someone had a go at me on Facebook feedback for getting the name of the final try-scorer in the game wrong.
The eighth floor press suite at Newlands faces into the bright sunshine at this time of the year, and we were all shielding our eyes when that final try was scored, so all the hacks had to confer with one another afterwards for confirmation of the try-scorer.
Maybe I should have double-checked, but the guy sitting next to me thought it was Adriaan Fondse, and as I thought that after a game like that what the coaches had to say would be more important than blow-by-blow detail, I was in a rush to get the initial match report away. Apparently it was Rynhardt Elstadt who scored, but who really gives a tinker's cuss?
What mattered was that a Stormers forward scored to win the game, and even then it's debatable whether that should have mattered much. Getting ready for Super Rugby was what the tri-series was all about, and the 80-minute “hit-out” was the imperative for the teams, not the sequence of scorers, or even really who won or lost.
And with the teams participating in the tri-series all wearing a variation of white jerseys, thus making it almost impossible at times to distinguish between them, it’s debatable whether the organisers even considered the spectator to be of any relevance.
We were told after the game that the similarity of the jerseys was because the coaches all wanted their teams in white.
That just isn’t good enough, and if that really is the attitude, then maybe next year they should play this tournament in Parow and Bellville and call it what it is – which is an opposed training session – and not bother too much with trying to sell it to any kind of audience.
That said, the tournament would have given the participating teams what they were looking for – the Sharks and Lions both had wake-up calls which they were able to respond positively to in the space of four days, and hopefully the Stormers will heed theirs, for on this past Saturday’s evidence, they are nowhere near where they were this time last year.
Most importantly, the Sharks and Stormers, sometimes through design and other times through emergency, got to test their depth.
Young Stormers newcomer Gary van Aswegen got almost two games against top opposition, while the Sharks should be happy that their fourth- and fifth-choice locks came through with flying colours this past Saturday.
Only the opening weeks of Super Rugby will tell us for sure, but given the intensity of the contests, the three teams at the Neo Africa series should have taken a lot more out of their participation in the event than had they warmed up with a series of light-hearted romps against inferior opposition.