Here come the No 10 buses...
Week four of this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby tournament was one of the most disappointing ever for a number of South African institutions.
Top of the list must be the cellular networks. A buzzing phone is just as much part of the South African weekend landscape as braai smoke. And this weekend there was none of it. Spare them a thought: how are they supposed to make money if none of our teams put out a performance worthy of a less-than-flattering text message to your mate?
And we weren’t spared either. Our facebook page (facebook.com/supersportrugby, for those of you who haven’t clicked on like yet) is normally a hive of activity on weekends as fans from all over take turns to have a go at their teams, each other and mostly referees. This past weekend, however, we had only a church mouse for company.
When last did it happen that we had an entire weekend of group-stage Super action without a single South African loss?
The answer, for those too lazy to hit the record books, is the first weekend of March way back in 2007. And it happened only that one time.
It is a milestone so big we simply had to find the definitive account of what happened that weekend, so we dug up an old SuperWrap dated 6 March, 2007 under the headline “Number 10 = perfection”.
“A key aspect of South Africa’s greatest day in Super Rugby, four victories over four overseas opponents, was that it coincided with excellent performances by all the flyhalves involved.
A weekend in which no South African side lost with the Stormers, the Bulls and the Lions scoring away victories and the Sharks ‘stealing’ an amazing win over the Crusaders emphasised the vital role played by flyhalves.
A feature of the season - until Saturday - had been the absence of outstanding showings by local flyhalves which made the compilation of the weekly ‘Springbok Barometer’ problematic.
For the first four weeks the No 10 spot tended to go to a player who had made the least number of mistakes rather than someone who had really caught the eye...
Whereas finding a flyhalf had been difficult previously the latest round produced outstanding play from Peter Grant, Derick Hougaard, André Pretorius and Butch James -- all of whom were fundamental to the success of their teams and with strong claims to having been the best in their position on the day,” was our explanation of the miracle back then.
“Luck of the draw” is how we’ll sum up this last one.
Not a lot in common between our two undefeated weekends then. Back then we had three massive wins overseas; this time round we had two teams on a bye and two more playing at home. And in terms of individual performances it was scrumhalves Charl McLeod and Piet van Zyl that stole the limelight.
But this trip down memory lane was not in vain. It served as a reminder that we have made quite a bit of progress as a rugby nation in an area that has held us back so often in the past. We’ve learned how to take flyhalf talent at schoolboy level and help it onto the big stage.
Back then we found ourselves well into a World Cup year with no obvious first-choice flyhalf, now we are in a position where we have a settled incumbent and some genuine challengers to his crown.
Any one of Pat Lambie, Elton Jantjies or Johan Goosen would have walked into most of our Bok Barometers back then, now we’re in a position where we ask them to queue tidily so we can distribute their wrap caps evenly.
The most encouraging aspect of the rise of these three youngsters, however, is that all three of them have broken the mould. For decades South Africans insisted on pigeon-holing all up-and-coming flyhalves as being either of the kicking or the running variety, with no space allowed in between.
And then, almost overnight, we found ourselves with three young stars that are all as comfortable kicking out of hand as they are attacking the line or passing out wide. We haven’t found ourselves the new Naas, Honiball or Le Roux, we found ourselves three players that are all combinations of the SA archetypes.
We don’t know which one of the three will go on to win the most fame in the hallowed gold-on-green 10, but we know that green-and-gold fortunes have ticked up considerably because we now have real options.
A lot of things have changed in the years between South Africa’s two no-loss Super weekends. But some things haven’t.
“Yet again it was shown that no matter what you call him, flyhalf, first five-eighth or standoff half, the man in the No 10 jersey has, is and always will be the one whose judgements, in the words of former All Black five-eighth Doug Bruce, ‘determine the outcome of a game -- more so his misjudgements,’” we wrote back then. And we still stand by it. It’s just that now we’re smiling hopefully when we do so.
Let’s see who our lucky No 10 is this week.
Note: all our teams are selected on the past weekend's action only, so overall-season form is not a factor. Players with a bye are then obviously not considered.
Super XV for week 4:
15. Riaan Viljoen (Sharks) 14. Cory Jane (Hurricanes) 13. Tamati Ellison (Highlanders) 12. Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs) 11. Willie le Roux (Cheetahs) 10. James O’Connor (Rebels) 9. TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) 8. Matt Hodgson (Force) 7. David Pocock (Force) 6. Adam Thomson (Highlanders) 5. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs) 4. Eben Etsebeth (Stormers) 3. Ben Tameifuna (Chiefs) 2. Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks) 1 Arizona Taumalolo.
Bok Barometer for week 4:
15. Riaan Viljoen (Sharks) 14. Bryan Habana (Stormers)* 13. Robert Ebersohn (Cheetahs), 12. Jean de Villiers (Stormers) 11. Willie le Roux (Cheetahs) 10. Johan Goosen (Cheetahs) 9. Charl McLeod (Sharks) 8. Keegan Daniel (Sharks) 7. Duane Vermeulen (Stormers) 6. Heinrich Brussow (Cheetahs) 5. Andries Bekker (Stormers) 4. Eben Etsebeth (Stormers) 3. Jannie du Plessis (Sharks) 2. Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks) 1. Steven Kitshoff (Stormers)
*Chosen out of position
Try of the week:
This week it could only be one. There may have been more spectacular five-pointers somewhere over the weekend, but none brought more joy to team or spectators than Piet van Zyl’s after-the-hooter match-winner for the Cheetahs against the Rebels.
After countless phases, the break came from Ashley Johnson, who offloaded to Sias Ebersohn. The replacement centre drew the last defender and got the ball away to Van Zyl, allowing the scrumhalf a free run-in to the corner many minutes after the siren.
Match of the week:
For this award we stay in Melbourne. The Rebels were made pre-match favourites for the first time in their history, but the Cheetahs showed from the very first minute that they had other plans.
The South Africans showed that the best way to get over a disappointing loss is to play a positive brand of rugby and let the result take care of itself.
The Rebels weren’t taking this lying down, and for 80 minutes they countered every punch thrown at them. The scores were tied at 26-all when the siren went. The Cheetahs had possession, but were stuck deep inside their own half. Lesser teams would either settle for the draw or work themselves into range for a drop, but not our Free Staters.
They went the all-or-nothing route, spreading the ball from one touchline to the other, knowing that any mistake will prompt the final whistle. And it paid off with the try described above.
It may have been for nothing more than to avoid the wooden spoon, but what a match!
Here are the match 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.
This video is not available in your region
Jorrie of the week:
Back by popular demand. This award is named after the former Cats and Springbok winger who was famous for his boot-blunders, and goes to the worst kick of the weekend.
Again we find our winner from Sunday’s match.
Winger Willie le Roux had a blinder against the Rebels, scoring two early tries to put his team well in front. But then he undid it with this shocker. Failing to keep a ball in play down the left-hand touchline, Le Roux prevented a quick lineout throw when he angrily kicked the ball away. The resulting penalty put the Rebels back in the match, but the wing was already carded earlier in the match, so it could have been worse.
Here it is in all its glory:
This video is not available in your region
If you weren’t following your favourite Super Rugby players on twitter this week, here is what you missed.
It seems Alistair Hargreaves’ column on SuperSport.com is already getting some interesting reaction at the Sharks.
Fellow lock Anton Bresler was so taken aback by being ribbed about his mullet that he headed to the barber to get it chopped.
Bresler even tweeted a picture to show it was so…although we feel he could have chopped a bit more off…
Want to know the secret behind the Cheetahs' tour form?
A little bit of home it seems. The touring Bloemfontein side have decided that they will try and make it a home from home, and even enjoy some of the home pleasures they are used to.
A team braai found its way onto the social network this week, and from the looks on their faces, it was clear it had a good impact on team morale.
We were a bit concerned when Reds midfielder Ben Tapuai posted this pic as part of their “team activities”.
Clearly set on being mistaken for bank robbers, the Reds players were looking the part during time off this week.
Don’t worry though, it was all for a bit of go-kart action, although Tapuai doesn’t say who drove the getaway car.
Rugby players are hungry boys, as this photograph attests when the Blues went out for dinner in Cape Town.
Clearly building up an appetite, Piri Weepu was a happy man when he saw the size of the portions.
Now this isn’t normally a pose we see for a rugby player? Former Sharks, Lions and now Cheetahs winger Dusty Noble went in on Monday for his knee op after a horrific injury in round one of the competition.
But before he did, he wasn’t shy at showing off his legs for all who wanted to see.
Finally the chirp of the week goes to Bryan Habana, who posted this pic online, and immediately had a go at a former teammate.
“This is the Pierre Spies smurf”, Habana tweeted, much to the amusement of his fellow players and Spies himself.
Quote of the week:
“You’ve spent a lot of time looking in big men’s eyes, haven’t you?” - New Zealand commentator Scott Stevenson to former All Black prop Craig Dowd. Yeah, but not in a good way.
He’s on a highway to...
There is a lot of hype surrounding Chiefs flyhalf Aaron Cruden at the moment, and rightly so. Seen as the heir apparent to the great Dan "DC" Carter, Cruden has started the year off very well, being a kingpin in the Chiefs backline and laying a marker for the selectors to see.
But like the good people of the Hamilton tend to do, they get their cowbells out a bit early.
A load of t-shirts were seen worn by local folk at the game this past weekend which read “AC is the new DC”.
Still, he needs a few more electric performances before he gets to Carter’s level.
James O’Connor may be a massive talent down in Melbourne, but at the Rebels we’ve noticed there is no limit to the Justin Bieber-lookalike’s self-confidence.
O’Connor, along with Tweetmates Quade Cooper, Digby Ioane and Kurtley Beale, spend every second of their free time on the social network, and often let us in on their true thoughts on matters.
Young James of course, is rather taken with himself, and popped up on twitter bemoaning his role in rugby adverts in Australia.
“If I have to see one more advert with me in it during the rugby, I’m going to bed,” young James moaned, before carrying on about his life in further tweets.
He then offered a reader a chance for lunch with his royal bieber-ness, but there was a catch.
“Just retweet five of my tweets to show your interest” he pronounced.
Talk about self promotion…
Tweetle-dee tweetle dum
The rest of rugby’s Twitterati were just as active this week, with Quade Cooper displaying a fine display of formula one knowledge when asked his favourite driver.
“The Stig that man can drive faaaast” was Cooper’s answer.
Beale on the other hand, reminded us of the concept of over-sharing as he answered a question on whether or not he was circumcised. For the sake of our readers, we won’t give you the answer here.
Speak no evil
Sharks coach John Plumtree confused us all when asked if he was concerned about the rising penalty count against his team in the first few rounds of the competition. The question went further, asking Plum whether it was a talking point in the team ranks.
“Yeah, we kept talking about it, but it keeps getting worse and now we’ve stopped talking about it,” Plum fired back.
“That’s our new motto. We stop talking about things and they’ll fix themselves. Like having a good marriage.”
Now we know.