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Q&A: Tony Johnson

New Zealand commentator and supersport.com columnist Tony Johnson was available to answer you questions on Wednesday morning.

With both New Zealand and South Africa showing a fair amount of rust in their opening games last weekend, Tony had some interesting perspectives on what we can expect for the rest of the year. There was also some discussion around a Lions tour that is starting to gather some serious momentum.

You can read through his answers below.

The question and answer session has closed.

Questions and answers
Leonard asked:
Hi Tony,

Love your column. 3 questions:

1. Who is your favorite at this stage for going all the way in Super rugby?
2. What do you think is the best way forward for Sanzar regarding Super rugby and the Rugby Championship?
3. Why are Sanzar not making use of independent refs anymore?

Thanks for the time
Hi Leonard

1) Whoever tops the log and gets home advantage has to be the favourite because of the travel factor. It'll be either the Bulls or Chiefs because they have two games in hand on the Brumbies
2) We have to start later and the June tests have to be shifted to July AFTER Super Rugby. That will depend on the push by the international players association and whether they can convince the European unions to go along with it.The current set up is not helping anyone.
3A) The refs bosses tell us they are ALL neutral (try and keep a straight face)
Johan Kleynhans asked:
Hi Tony

Looking at the past weekends games, with South Africa and all the young talent in the team. Where do you think, this team will be come RWC 2015? And do you think guys such as Jean De Villiers and Bryan Habana may still be around by then?
Hi Johan. I think the age of the current crop suggests a lot will still be around in two years time. I know the ABs are trying to keep a lot of their experienced players in the frame because it has been a vital ingredient in the last three World Cup winning teams, and I imagine it will be the same for the Boks. Habana looks as sharp as ever on the evidence of Saturday, it just depends on whether he can maintain his form playing in France. I wouldn't be too quick to write off de Villiers either. He certainly looked great when I called the Stormers Blues game and leadership throughout the team will be crucial. I suspect the Boks will be in pretty good shape come 2015.
Julian asked:
Good morning to you sir,thank you for giving us some of your time.Just a quick question,do you think if the Boks and All Blacks are no longer such a force in world rugby,that rugby will loose its appeal to the rest of the world?
I certainly think World rugby needs them to be strong Julian because they have been standard setters for a hundred years. And I really can't see them not being a force in the foreseeable future. There is too much talent, and too much in the way of resources managing that talent to let things slip..
Graeme asked:
Do you think it is right and / or a good idea for the top players to have such a long lay off from rugby and expect them to be able to play at the same level as before?
Well Graeme, Richie McCaw is about to come back and he is raring to go. The players who have had these breaks tell me the benefit is is as much mental as physical, especially living in countries like SA and NZ where there is so much scrutiny and expectation. It might take a few weeks to get right up to speed, but I can't imagine he'll be any less of a player, and the same goes for anyone of top class..
JP Rheeder asked:
Hi TJ,

What did you have for supper last night?
Leftover lamb shanks as an early dinner and a cheese toasted sandwich when I got home from calling the Blues France game. Interesting question, sorry I don't have a more exciting answer. Normally I eat well!!~!
Jeane-Pierre Tollemache asked:
Hi Tony,

First of all, thank you for sharing your insight into the game of rugby with us week after week. We realy enjoy reading your columns and also watching your show every week.

My question: I am extremely concerned over the rate of players leaving SA and NZ shores to play in Eur, what is the best way to counter this issue?

We are loosing our best players to clubs in europe, but our couches in SA still select them in our national squads when we have loyal committed players who will now not get their fair chance (Know this is different in NZ).

On the other hand do I feel we will always have an imbalance in the North vs South battle because our best playerS from the south are keeping good young players out of starting line-ups at the clubs in the north, surely this will hamper the development of the game there and surely they must know this?

I have read many different views on this issue, is there anything happening behind the scenes to counter the issue which we are not aware of?
Jeane-Pierre it is a steadfast policy of the NZ Rugby Union not to pick overseas based players and I think it has probably stopped even more players leaving. Bottom line is we keep (that is both our countries) producing talented players to take their place. Everyone thought when Carl Hayman left NZ we would struggle at scrum, but Owen Franks took over and there was no drop in standard. I think the French, for example are going to realise that their traditional depth in props has been obliterated by the number of foreign front rowers in the T14....the two guys who came on at Eden Park as subs Saturday night got wasted...that never would have happened in the past. The player drain is certainly eroding our second tier depth in NZ but I think long term it is hurting the NH nations just as much. I also think SARU needs to think about not allowing foreign based players to be picked for the Boks to protect the integrity of Currie Cup and Super Rugby, but that's not my call to make.\
Juan asked:
Hi Tony, I hope you had a nice break in Fiji. I was just wondering who would you like to see as the Boks back trio combination ..?
I liked what I saw Saturday.
Joshua asked:
Why is a human body good conductor of electricity?
Sound like a good note to end on. Thanks heaps for the questions guys.
Nick C asked:
Hi Tony

Always love to hear what you have to say.

Question: Do you think there is too much rugby being played professionally in the Southern Hemisphere at the moment?
Put it this way Nick, we don't need any more than we have right now, and I think ;led by the players there will be some sort of rationalisation in the next SANZAR agreement. But our players still don't play as many games as their counterparts up north. We just need to start a bit later, and sort out the mess around the June internationals/Super Rugby break, which is unsatisfactory for all concerned.
Matt asked:
Hi Tony
The All blacks France game was agreat one to watch! A bit closer than some thought! It seems like there are a lot of new young players making their mark in the test arena with some impressive performances! Do you think that Nz can recycle old players by letting them rest to keep them for RWC 2015? And will this keep younger better players down? And of Course what are your thoughts on Aus Lions!? I think that the Lions will do it! Aus just have too many good players out! Regards Matt
Firstly there is a risk trying to hang on to too many ageing players...the ABs got burnt in this regard in the lead up to the 99 tournament when Fitzpatrick, Brooke, Bunce and Olo Brown all got forced into retirement in quick succession. The thing is by introducing new talent to test rugby now, on the back of 8 or 9 newcomers last year they are giving themselves options and building depth if the likes of McCaw, Smith, Woodcock etc don't last. I think the Boks are in a similar process.
As for the Lions, well it will be a great series...to me Australia can win it, but only if Genia and Horwill stay fit...they are key. The Lions have some good strike power and should have an edge up front, so they must be a chance..
Saul Cohn asked:
Hi,I hope that you are well? What''s you opinion on Pierre Spies? And as a New Zealander who would you rather play against, Spies or Duane Vermeulen? When Vermeulen comes back to full fitness I thin he should walk straight back into the team, as I believe he is far superior to Spies and Spies dissapears against half decent teams, even Italy last week.

Thanks,I always enjoy your work
Well Spies is an incredible athlete and when his team is on the front foot and he is running onto the ball, then the opposition is in for a hard time. There is certainly a tendency to drift out of a game if his team is not winning up front, but he is not alone there. But personally I think Vermeulen is now the number one guy, I am a great admirer. Still, two very good options to have.
Albert asked:
Hi Tony, thanks for taking the time to give your input. I saw Kieran Read throwing some wild passes and make some strange decisions on attack this past weekend. Is Read the best option at no.8 for the AB''s?
Thanks, Albert
Yes. I might be biased (LOL) but I think he is the best 8th man in the world, and rates right alongside McCaw and Carter as the most important players in the AB team.
louis asked:
Hi Tony
When watching the current series that is taking place .do you think the Springboks will be a threat to the All blacks ?
Always do, mate. Always do
Kyle Westman asked:
Hi Tony

Who do you think has the advantage regarding the outside backs. All black with theirs Size or the Boks with their pace?
I think it will come down to how they are used, who gives them the best chance. Savea is becoming a great player with or without the ball, and Ben Smith is like Corey Jane, a great attacker but a virtual second fullback. However there is no substitute for top end speed and the Boks have got that. I like Mvovo too...he's fast AND powerful.
mickey o''shea asked:
Hi Mr Johnson do you know why a "deliberate knock down" is not a penalty when the defender is facing his goal line. Regards Mickey
Hi Mickey. Simply because knocking the ball back is not an offence and is not an error, be it deliberate or accidental. I think its fair enough.
James asked:
Hi Tony,
The All Blacks and Springboks seem to have a different approach to how the game is played. Springboks very structured and appear to be one dimensional. All Blacks, awsome in their adventurous fast paced approach. What do think is the overiding factor that accounts for the difference,a conservative approach (at all levels), quality of players, coaching styles?

Good on you mate

Its just tradition, DNA, call it what you will....playing to what suits our respective nature. You guys have such big players you'd be mad not to play to that strength. In New Zealand you watch kids of a young age and they're trying to run around each other, sidestep, etc, it's just what you grow up with and I think its a fantastic point of difference. I wouldn't necessarily label the Bok approach conservative, its what works best for them and they have a lot of success to back it up.
Corra Dirksen asked:
Hi Tony
When if ever is Richie McCaw released to start playing and do you think he will be good enough to make the All Blacks side
He'll be playing for his club in the next week or so, and he will come back refreshed, fit and healthy in time for the Rugby Championship...or so AB fans hope! I don't think he'll be blunted by the time off, he's too good a player..
Gerhard asked:
Hi Tony, why do you think our SA media are always negative about the cheetahs chances??According to their predictions the cheetahs are always on the losing side???..Do you also think it is a joke that H.Brussouw is not in the bok Squad?? All the other nations would give anything to have a guy like him in their team...
I can't speak for the SA media and what they say. I know the guys on ReUnion love the Cheetahs because of the flat out way they play. You know Gerhard, last year I couldn't believe HM didn't pick Heinrich B, but this year I kind of understand. For a start its no longer right to rely on just one guy to win your turnovers...McCaws role has changed in that regard, he's more of a carrier and the breakdown is a joint responsibility. I think the game has moved on a bit, and guys like Coetzee, Kolisi and Labuschagne are the future. But Brussow has been fantastic and I'll always maintain had he not gone off injured in Wellington the Boks would have beaten Australia in the RWC, Bryce Lawrence and all!!!
DEON asked:
If they finish top of the log they will not be beaten, but they've got to finish top of the log first.
Johann asked:
Your comments on the Kiwi Plumtree shouldering the blame for the Sharks poor season?
Not close enough to comment, but I guess someone has to take the rap for a disappointing season. To be fair he has had a few injuries to deal with.
Rayno asked:
Hi Tony. Why can''t wyatt crockett get into the starting line up? is it because he gives to much penalties away? My feeling is that he demolishes most tight heads and most scrums. Who would your backs be for the springboks? only on current form!!
He started Saturday night and did well...he's been targeted a bit by refs in the past which is a problem, but I think he is sometimes penalised unfairly, as in the Crusaders Force game when his only "crime" was being part of a dominant scrum I hate it when that happens.
Chris Hattingh asked:
Hi Tony,
As an All Blacks and Crusaders supporter since 2007 I''ve seen the best of Israel Dagg, but his performances so far this season leave a lot to be desired. We saw the immediate impact that pulling on the Black jersey had on Ma''a Nonu and Aaron Smith - I don''t think the same could be said of Dagg. Ben Smith has definitely been the best back-line player for the Highlanders this season, and he added some much needed incision and made a few critical line-breaks last weekend, so surely he should get the start ahead of Dagg. That will in turn allow Rene Ranger to start on the wing - we all know what he''s capable of, even in limited space. Hopefully Dagg will find his form again but, with an eye to the future, wouldn''t it be best to start Smith at fullback and give Ranger a proper run at wing. The French showed how dangerous they can be last week and I''m sure that they''ll be up for it again this week - it''s an ideal test for Ranger.
Also, would it be too far fetched to feel that the All Blacks will really step it up this coming weekend? They made a lot of errors last time out, and we expect the best of them every week, but surely the more time they spend together the better?
Thanks for the brilliant articles every week.
Can't disagree Chris, I think Izzy might benefit from a break. He will be back, but he is a bit out of sorts at the moment and probably trying too hard. Ranger is electrifying but I think they'll continue to use him as an impact player...and what an impact..ask the French fullback!
Rais Frost asked:
Hi Tony, your views on the performances of the Bok debutants, specifically Willie le Roux and Arno Botha. And then also, Bryan Habana.

Le Roux is exciting, a real talent, and Habana showed what he can do when he's fit, confident and given a chance. I think he was telling HM he wants to still be a Springbok when he goes to France. I was really taken by Botha when he had that massive game against the Blues. Where do you get these guys?
Pierre asked:
Good day Tony.
Thank you for making time to answer some questions, always enjoy your column. What is your prediction for the Rugby Championship this year? I think the Boks will be much better prepared than last year and will play much better and there is a lot of youngsters putting their hands up. Don''t you think that Ben Smith should be the starting fullback for the All Blacks? On the B & I Lions, do you think the Wallabies have the forwards to match the Lions? I think that''s where the Lions will win the series, and they also have some big hard running backs!
Hi Pierre. here's a thing. The last three Lions series have been won by the host nation ( (SA 2009, NZ 2005, Aus 2001) and on each occasion that team has gone on to win Tri Nations...check if you don't believe me! So I guess on that basis alone, a lot will depend on how the Aussies go against the Lions, because if they win, they'll be hardened and confident. If they lose I suspect there'll be a civil war and a plot to get shot of the coach, and the Wallabies will be toast in TRC..
Peter Brian Okwiri asked:
first of all im a huge fan of both your show and column,my question is to do the boks as im a fan,given your an all black which centre paring do you reckon would be best for south africa,sernfontein and jj englebret or do u reckon de jong and de villers ?
IMO YOU HAVE TO HAVE DE Villiers because he's a leader, experienced, good all round and a genuine creator of chances, and I like his combo with de Jong. Serfontein looks one for the future, in the mould of Japie Mulder almost but has time on his side.
Mitchell asked:
Tony, i belive Deans doesn''t trust Quade Cooper in the big games as a result of the "Cooper blooper" at Eden Park. I''m at an age where i need to look at career options and, I''d like a career as a rugby commentator, and any advice you could offer would be appreciated.
Hi Mitchell. I think Deans has probably done what he thinks is best for the team, but he also has a bit of a history of falling out with players and not being able to , or willing to resolve the problem...happened with Andrew Mehrtens. If you'd like to be a commentator, radio is a great place to start...and if you make it be prepared to receive lots of advice!!!! Good luck
Ulrich Dorfling asked:
Hi Tony, Its a great honor for me to be able to ask you a question. I hope you are doing well in New Zealand, and always appreciate your assessment on rugby.

What I would like to know is how does NZ see SA currently? Do you feel the Boks are on the right path at the moment to becoming a power house again? HM being coach and his selections he has made this season?
You comment will be highly appreciated.

Ulrich, thanks mate. We always see South Africa as our great traditional rival. There is great respect from genuine rugby fans I promise you, even if it sometimes doesn't seem that way based on the rubbish that gets spouted on some fan forums! Personally for me it will always be the Boks and for me to be able to come to your country to see rugby tests is something I could only dream about as a kid, as I listened on the radio to you guys towelling us in 1970 and 1976. The Boks and ABs will always be strong because rugby is in our DNA.
Jacques van Heerden asked:
Hi Tony. Love your work. Q: Do New Zealanders still respect SA Rugby enough. There was a time where beating SA was a big thing for the All Blacks. In recent years it has happened too often though. Are we still your toughest opponent and one you relish to play and beat? I know at home we are still tough. But in general.
Hasn't changed. OK so we love beating the Aussies, because they give us such a hard time when we lose to them at anything, but its a different mentality as noted in an earlier response/
Edru asked:
I enjoy watching Reunion - generally the discussions are not too biased, and the rugby knowledge is deep, as you would expect from the leading rugby nation (at the moment :))! However, I do find it shocking that clearly some of the leading minds in rugby commentary still dont seem to understand the forward pass rule! On at least 2 occassions on your show I''ve seen the dreaded 2 lines on screen - "here''s where he passed it" and "here''s where the other player caught it", if the latter line is in front of the former then everyone in studio agrees: "forward pass"! THAT IS NOT HOW THE RULE WORKS. By that standard, any pass done in a backline move at speed would be forward - please will you just for once do the same TV analysis with the lines on the screen on any normal backline move at speed, using a pass everyone in the studio would deem clearly legal beforehand (use a long pass by a player running quickly to make the point clearly) - I think you''d be surpised to find the receiver always catches it in front of where the other player passed it!

This understanding of the forward pass rule is a misconception held by many. The rule though is that the ball must be passed backwards, not that it must move backwards after being passed. These two statements do NOT mean the same thing, because a player running with the ball is moving forward when he passes, so the ball will have that same forward momentum when it leaves his hands (even if he passes it backwards).
Hi Edru...to me you've proved the point...the INTERPRTETATION of the forward pass is whats causing half the trouble.
Lambert asked:
Hi Tony,

Who do you see as the next center pair for NZ after Nonu and Smith?
Yikes..thats a toughie. Ben Smith is the guy they're thinking of for centre and it would be a pretty good replacement. 12 is more of an issue because Nonu has been there for ages and there's no standout successor. UNLESS a certain Sonny Bill Williams comes back...and the mail is he wants to if not next year then the year after.
francisco Pedro asked:
Good day Tony,

thanks for the time. I do enjoy your show reunion especially when you are the host.

my question is relating to the format of super rugby and other alternatives.

clearly super rugby as it is forces the best players out earlier than what we were used to. Richard Kaui being a prime example. he has been injury ridden for some time and I think it is his long term survival in the game rather than any monetary rewards that forced him to sign for a Japanese club.

so what other options do we have? a global rugby season? reverting back to the old format? less derbies?

any sugestions of your own?
Kahui has always been injury prone and has refused to compromise his game to save his shoulders!! Sad thing is if he can't prove his fitness soon, he will miss out on his lucrative Japan contract.
As for Super Rugby, we might need to separate the conferences up, and then the top qualifiers go into a Heineken Cup style playoff system, and only then would SA and NZ teams travel to play each other. Going back to 12 teams might appeal as a solution to some, but it won't happen...we've come too far. Certainly can't afford to have it take up any more of the rugby calendard

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