Aussie, Aussie, Aussie; mooi; mooi; mooi
It wasn’t that long ago that three teams from South Africa’s Vodacom Super Rugby conference claimed a whitewash over New Zealand opposition, and back then we had no hesitation in celebrating it in the SuperWrap.
It is only fair therefore that we offer a grudging ‘congratulations’ to Australians for having done the same thing this past weekend.
Of course, when it was our turn back in week four, we did caution that once the early season cobwebs were gone their attack would still be better than our defence. “The trend of New Zealand sides getting the better of us on average won’t change until we do,” we predicted.
And how right we were. After that first cross-conference weekend, they have won six out of the seven encounters.
It is the exact opposite for the Australians. When the final whistle went in Perth on Saturday, the Western Force’s victory over the Crusaders was Australia’s sixth win out of seven against their neighbours from across the ditch.
To put that in perspective, in all of last year they managed to win only seven out of 20 cross-conference battles against the Kiwis.
Fortunately, they haven’t managed to bring about the same kind of dramatic turnaround against our teams. So far we’ve won eight out of 12 matches against them, with the Kings snatching a further draw away against the log-leading Brumbies. This despite the Bulls throwing away games in Brisbane and Canberra that were theirs for the taking.
Now we know that the league phase of the season hasn’t reached the halfway mark as yet, but we also know that a trend is only ever of any use if you pick it up early enough. And if we can figure out what it is that Australians are getting right in trans-Tasman clashes, then make our second half of the season can resemble their first, then this bit of trend-spotting could be well worth our while.
We dusted off the old calculator to see if the numbers can tell us anything. And they did, just not in the way we would have wanted. We've spent most of our column inches this year moaning about what our South African teams are doing with ball in hand, but the numbers aren’t bearing us out.
There isn’t that much difference between the 23 points we average against New Zealanders and the 27 that Australians do. The big difference is the ease with which Kiwis seem to cross our trylines. In the 10 cross-conference matches this year South African teams conceded an average of four tries a match. Australians conceded far less, meeting under the poles only once a half.
We need to figure out why.
Our humble opinion is that our defensive lines are more vulnerable on the flanks because we tend to bunch defenders in the midfield in order to double up on tackles. But we’re probably wrong. Just in case we’re not, though, here’s a question: is dominating physically in the tackle so important if you’re not going to make contact in the first place?
We’ll leave that one for the experts to figure out.
Here at the Wrap desk we’re far more qualified to talk about the other upshot of these inter-conference statistics. If Australians keep beating New Zealanders, New Zealanders keep beating us and we keep beating the Aussies, then overall success will depend far more than ever on what happens inside your own conference. If you want a shot at the title, you’ll have to step on your countrymen to do so.
Here in South Africa it is even worse, because with a promotion/relegation match looming, we are just as concerned with the bottom-end of our log as we are with the top.
This is where the fixtures list makes for interesting reading. It makes at least one one thing clear: in our conference the king maker (if not necessarily the maker of the Kings) will be the Bulls. They still have six of their eight scheduled derbies ahead of them, and after a string of disappointments on tour, they have a fair bit of ground to make up.
They are the only local team with a reasonable chance of winning away in Durban and Cape Town, and that is probably where our conference will be decided. Similarly, they’ve been so up and down this season that the Cheetahs and even the Kings won’t write off their own chances against them at home either, and points there will be just as vital.
The Sharks have a potentially tricky fixture against the Cheetahs this weekend, while the Stormers are enjoying the week off. After that they both hit the road. Traditionally they are our two best touring sides, so we hope to see a further improvement in our cross-conference stats.
But every win they pick up down under will in all probability be matched by someone back home, and it is only once they are back here that they can finish the business. We can’t wait to see how that pans out.
For now, our teams of the week:
Note: our weekly teams are selected on the past weekend's action only, so overall season form is not a factor. Players in teams with a bye are then obviously not considered.
Super XV for week nine:
15 Charles Piutau (Blues), 14 Henry Speight (Brumbies ), 13 Richard Kahui (Chiefs), 12 Jan Serfontein (Bulls), 11 Rene Ranger (Blues), 10 Quade Cooper (Reds), 9 Will Genia (Reds), 8 Richard Brown (Force), 7 George Smith (Brumbies), 6 Steven Luatua (Blues), 5 Andries Bekker (Stormers), 4 Luke Romano (Crusaders), 3 Frans Malherbe (Stormers), 2 Steven Moore (Brumbies), 1 Steven Kitshoff (Stormers).
Bok Barometer for week nine:
15 Joe Pietersen (Stormers), 14 Willie le Roux (Cheetahs), 13 Juan de Jongh (Stormers), 12 Jan Serfontein (Bulls), 11 Ronnie Cooke (Kings), 10 Demetri Catrakilis (Kings), 9 Jano Vermaak (Bulls), 8 Pierre Spies (Bulls), 7 Wimpie van der Walt (Kings), 6 Siya Kolisi (Stormers), 5 Andries Bekker (Stormers), 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit (Sharks), 3 Frans Malherbe (Stormers), 2 Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), 1 Steven Kitshoff (Stormers).
Match of the week:
The Reds’ win over the defending champions the Chiefs in Hamilton this weekend certainly didn’t help anyone playing prediction games, but it did put the cat properly among the pigeons in both the New Zealand and Australian conferences.
It also showed that with Will Genia on his inside, Quade Cooper remains a world beater at this level.
Here are the highlights:
Please note that video footage is for the website only and is rights restricted, and therefore only available in regions that fall within SuperSport’s broadcast footprint.
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Try of the week:
This week it goes to Jano Vermaak, whose stunning try against the Cheetahs did as much as anything else to win that match for his Bulls.
Vermaak was known for these moments of individual brilliance when he played for the Lions, so you have to wonder why it took him this long to produce something like this in blue.
Nevertheless, here we go:
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- Robert Ebersohn, Juan de Jongh and Aaron Cruden, who all played in their 50th Super Rugby match this season.
- Gareth Anscombe, who became the first player this year to score 100 points in the competition.
Here is this week's look at what players got up to on Twitter:
| Centres of attention: Springbok management member Anne-Lee Murray had a surprise for the two birthday boys when they arrived at the camp this week. Who wouldn’t like to see Jan Serfontein and Juan de Jongh in partnership in the Green and Gold one day?
|Rally nice to meet you: Flip van der Merwe was excited upon landing in Johannesburg after the Bok training camp to run into Sarel van der Merwe. For our younger readers, Van der Merwe is the older fellow, and he used to drive cars pretty fast in his day.
|Jan Serf-and turf-fontein-: Serfontein may have had a good birthday but as his own pic proves, he needs to work a bit before becoming Masterchef.
|Fit for a King: The Kings received a heroes welcome when they arrived back in PE - and as Bandise Maku’s tweet shows, it was a bit of chaos that greeted them. Well done PE for supporting your team
While the worst kept secret in SA sport was finally confirmed and John Smit was appointed Sharks CEO, we know the role won’t be without its challenges.
Smit for one, will now be boss to his former coach Rudolph Straueli – the same man who gave him his first Springbok cap – and whose famous Kamp Staaldraad dragged Bok rugby literally through the mud.
But there will be other challenges as well, and it will be interesting to see how Smit finesses his way through the minefield that is SA Rugby politics, with the boardroom a lot different to the way of handling things on the field.
Having said that, the response has been overwhelmingly positive for Smit, who will assume the position when Brian van Zyl retires in February.
But it didn’t take long before the barbs started, most notably from former front row teammate Gurthro Steenkamp, who spends his time propping up the Toulouse scrum these days.
“Let me know if you need a dietician in 5 years! Hahahaha I have loads of experience!” Steenkamp tweeted to Smit, acknowledging the battles both have had with weight in the past.
But Smit was quick to fire back: “Thanks bud, chat in 5yrs then?” he retorted.
A nice story out of Australia ahead of this year’s British and Irish Lions tour about Martin Johnson’s jersey in the 2001 second test, which Australia won to clinch the series.
The man who won the match by stealing a crucial ball was of course, the famous “plank” (in Austin Healey’s words) Justin Harrison. But the jersey was handed to John Eales by Johnson.
But Eales later gave it to Harrison in recognition for his line-out jump that secured a series win for Australia. ''Ealsey gave me Johnno's jersey, and said, 'You deserve to have this,''' Harrison told the Sydney Morning Herald, adding that he doesn't underestimate the jerseys' value.
As for whether Johnson knows he has his old jersey, Harrison says: ''I don't think he does and he will probably ask for it back if he does.
''I have washed them. They are not framed. I feel I should have them up somewhere, but I don't want to look like the w*nker who has the honour room, walks in and feels good about himself. I probably will later on for when the boys want to ask. It's nice to have them. It proves it did happen.''
Stephen? Lark him...
We enjoyed reading Brumbies halfback Nic White’s attempts to be the prank-man on tour recently when he chose to target his backline coach Stephen Larkham.
White showed the old rugby off-field antics are still alive, although it may have cost him a bit, as he wrote in his column on greenandgoldsrugby.com.
“What started as a few simple 3rd-grade pranks, like knock and run, and ordering room service to their room, turned into a much-larger-than-expected war. Let me take you through move by move…,” White wrote.
“I realised, when four meals of toasted sandwiches topped with diet coke and tailed with warm brownies were ordered to my room, that Stephen Larkham’s hefty wallet was enough to meet my match in the room service pranks. It was time for me to escalate proceedings.
“Quick tip for beginners – even if your iPhone is locked, cunning individuals like myself are still able to take thousands of photos and clog up your memory! Steve and Byron didn’t consider this when leaving their phones lying helplessly around the team room. Credit to the boys, they were on to me quicker than a five-legged greyhound.
“Much to my disappointment, the boys thought if they ignored me and didn’t react, I would forget about it and let it die. Who are they kidding? I called on my roomie, Matt Toomua, for my next instalment. I had Matty help me drag all of our furniture to their front door, knocked, and was back in our room within seconds. I heard their reaction and was pleased with myself. In hindsight, this was really a lack of concentration on my behalf.
“Not giving it a second thought for a while, I left my room only to notice that all of our furniture was gone. I learned later that our whole bedroom was in one of the lifts, essentially making it unusable for a few hours. It was only a matter of time before the hotel intervened and took the troublesome furniture – fire hazard 101. I felt it was only fair to take Steve and Byron’s furniture and re-decorate my room. I got a key cut a reception, and took the liberty of taking their furniture when they were both out sipping lattes.
“This...gave me the opportunity to end this once and for all. I had one question to ask myself – is it fair play to take their passports, and all of their sheets and bedding to the shower and let it run? Of course it is!
“I mustn’t be mistaken, I’m not dealing with first-time pranksters. They have taken the time to inform me that my move was not the last one. Are these two stupid? Or have I finally met my match? I guess this week will tell.
“Jail time? Colombia? With a tattoo? Who knows where this will end.”
We’re waiting in anticipation for the response.
Not exactly out in Force
Interestingly enough the same website posted an article about average Super Rugby crowds this season and New Zealand, not Australia has the lowest average if they are to be believed.
The average crowd in NZ is just 15 000, while Australia has 17 000 and South Africa 27 000. It was also interesting to see the Stormers and Kings posting the highest average crowds, followed by the Reds, Bulls and Blues.
The lowest were Force, Rebels, Highlanders and Hurricanes.
Not very good for the world champions. Isn’t theirs a country where rugby runs in their blood?