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Q&A: Tony Johnson

Re: Union host and SuperSport.com columnist Tony Johnson joined us online on Thursday to answer your questions.

Tony, who has entertained us on the site for the last two years with his thoughts on rugby in the southern hemisphere, had quite a few intersting observations.

Below is what he had to say:

The question and answer session has closed.

Questions and answers
Nyameko asked:
Good day Tony.

Big fan of your column and ReUnion. I have been watching Super rugby with interest. I have paid particular interest in Dr R. McCaw posts.. Does he still want it/desire rugby as he had in the last decade?? Is he coming back?? Will he be ready for mid-year tours??

Just a check.

Great job you do..
TJ answered:
Morning all. Firstly thanks for the questions. I'm startying early on them to try and answer as many as possible.
Nyameko..thanks for your comments. Richie McCaw is on the bench for this weekends trip to Sydney. His trainer at Crusaders says he is training "like a man posessed" so I guess the hunger is still there after a long break. R Mc told me two years ago the day he doesn't feel the passion to play he'll give up, so I guess it's still there.
Ryan asked:
Hi Tony

Nice piece on the refs this week. Just wondered if it firstly aimed at your NZ audience seeing you chose the week the SA refs messed up to write about it, rather than a week when you could comment on say Pollock.

Certainly not aimed at a Kiwi viewer/readership, after all its a South African site. We (commentary/ReUnion) had a crack at Chris Pollock the week before over the sin binnings in the Stormers/Crusaders game. IMO Joubert is the best right now, Kaplan was the best for most of the last decade and I like the work of Mark Lawrence so certainly no problems with SA refs on the whole....just a couple of notable incidents to talk about last week is all.
Bruce asked:
Hi Tony. What are your thoughts on pairing Matfield and Etsebeth as locks?. With Duanne, Schalk and Brussouw as the loose-trio? Thanx
Firstly Bruce that is one scary loose trio! Vermeulen was shooting the lights out until his injury...so the hope is he won't be out for too long. A question...would they, and HM especially as a Bulls man, drop Spies?
Etsebeth is the pick of a bunch of outstanding young locks in SA right now, and I would say he is ready to step up.
As for Vic, well he is without doubt IMO the best lineout forward the game has known and one of the all time greats. The questions are 1) Could he really get match conditioned in the time available?
2) Would he be as good as before...esp when he doesn't have Bakkies alongside doing a lot of the "grunt" work?
3) Is now not a good time to start bringing in some new faces, as well as stepping the likes of Bekker into the lead role?
4) Why put the reputation of an all time great on the line. Victor has nothing left to prove. I remember Brian Lochore coming out of retirement to "help" the All Blacks in 1971 against the Lions and it just didn't work.
I'll watch that one with interest, but my gut feel is it won't happen.
Hannes asked:
In your opinion, who should the EP Kings replace? Should they also not somehow merge them with an Argentine franchise (like the Pampas playing and winning in the Vodacom Cup in SA currently) to add strenght and depth to their campaign? It will also be adventageous to the Argentineans who is now joining Super rugby as well? They can even play a few games in Argentine to show them what Super rugby is all about..... THe Kings wont last on their own and I am sure the Argentinieans will love to see some of their top players play Superrugby as well
Hannes I did a piece on the Kings dilemma a week ago and frankly mate I don't have an answer. Really it is SARUs problem to resolve. I would commend SARU for having an Argentina team in Vodacom Cup...if they are to be in Super Rugby as well it can't really be until the next deal is negotiated in a couple years time,, although there's nothing to stop teams picking Argentine players in the meantime.
Guys I'll be back live at 10 to answer some more...talk then, TJ
Leonie jantjies asked:
Hi TJ I''m how are u i just wanne know in the scrums y aren''t the props allowd to put their arm on the ground but stil he gets his arm right to bind and whats frustrating is this rule when your is on attack and the ball is lying the side of the atticing team and your player faul off his feet than your team will be penilized but there''s now way the defending will come near the ball and why aren''t the middle line penalty not used anymore when a player scores a try and u dive on him wheter is untensional or not souldn''t u be penalized.
Hi Leonie I know the bottom line is safety first, and they've done a good job cutting the number of serious spinal injuries right down (thats why a lot of these scrum lawsere introduced).....but they have to start thinking of fewer reasons to blow the whistle not more. What would be wrong with allowing a prop, esp a loosehead to briefly put their hand on the ground to steady a scrum? And the clothing makes it very hard to get a proper bind on.Maybe props should be banned from wearing tight jerseys for practical and aesthetic reasons!! And crouch, touch pause, engage needs to be kicked into touch.
Devan asked:
In your opinion, is the draw for the Super 15 favouring certain teams, while some teams get an unfavourable draw? eg. Some teams have a bye before going on tour, while other teams don''t.

Can you perhaps provide your top 6 teams at the end of the round robin?
Devan it sure does favour some more than others when not everyone plays everyone else....some teams avoid some really tough games but its just as bad when you miss out on a game agasinst an easier side. They say it should even out over a period of 2-3 years, but fortunes change and teams will be stronger some years and not so others. As for the top 6...OK conference winners Stormers, Brumbies, Chiefs...wildcards Crusaders, Bulls, and one of Highlanders, Sharks, Waratahs...
Ryno Jacobs asked:
Hi Tony,

Loftus is often reffered to as one of the most intimidating grounds to play a away game. As a Bulls supporter I can''t recall a single happy memory when playing in Christchurch. So which away fixture do you rate as the toughest in all of Super Rugby?
I think Loftus, Newlands and Christchurch are on a par, although I must say I've never struck anything like Loftus for the Bulls Chiefs final.
Rifaad asked:
Hi Tony
Thanks for your continuous and valuable contribution to the various rugby shows. My question to you : " The new Superugby system seemed to work last year as it ended up with the best teams playing one another in the play-offs.If you look at the current standings, do you think this new system is fair on overall performance.Thanks
Rifaad You are right, the best teams did make it to the last 6, then four last year. It's reasonably fair given the time frame and the desire for conferences, but I do think it does look a bit wrong when a conference leader gets home advantage for the playoffs when they might have fewer points than a team in 6th place.
doug smith asked:
Why are new zealand and australian commentators so biased?
Gee Doug, great question. You've got me there I can't think of an appropriate answer. But you have a nice day.
Francois Viljoen asked:
Hi Tony
My question is, do you think there should be alarm bells ringing in AUS due to the state of their super rugby sides. The top side currently is the brumbies and the only reason they are still in play-off contention is because of the ridiculous conference system (Im a bulls fan). How do you think the poor form of their teams will effect the national side?
Francois there's no real evidence that Super Rugby form influences international fortunes....although the Bulls gave SA a great kick start in RWC Year 2007. The Aussies have always managed to get together a good team for the international series...they have enough class players for a good Wallaby side each year, but maybe not so much depth as NZ and SA.
Riaan asked:
Hi Tony

It is always a pleasure listening to your refreshing thoughts on the game. Do you think that with no break between the internationals in June and the rest of the Super 15 that the teams with a lot of international players will be at a disadvantage in the latter stages of the competition?
Spot on Riaan....it is going to play out unfairly on the teams with the most internationals. The top players will play through while the others get a rest. Maybe they should at least try and put a split SR round in during the June break.
Christo Spies asked:
Good day Tony

Why do you think All Black rugby has been as successful as it has been in its history?

Thank you.


Hi Christo. Rugby was the first sport that got New Zealand noticed back in the early 1900s. Were a small country and sport has always been a way to stand up and be counted. There is a tremendous legacy in rugby that dates back and is a huge part of the force that drives the team. And of course we love the outdoors and our kids are encouraged to be active.Sir Brian Lochore said it simply, but best...Rugby suits us. Our two countries are very similar in that regard, and that is why our rivalry has no parallel. Also in the modern era we have had a very well organised coaching structure and a lot of thought has gone into innovation. Hoope that answers your question.
happy nkosi asked:
What do u think is the ultimate domestic rugby competition; the ITM Cup or the Currie Cup
Ah ha...good question mate. I think they are both great and both big reasons why we are successful and produce so many good players.....I think its fair to say we are the only nations with true provincial competitions and it shows. People love the ITM Cup, but I think the CC gets bigger crowds and probably has more test players active in it.
Johann asked:
Hi Tony

Thank you for the Q&A as well as you insightful columns on this site.

I agree fully that Sanzar should not change the 5 year deal that they have signed with the bradcasters. Saru will just have to except that and work around it.

My question is after 2015 when the current format of Super Rugby can be relooked, will you prefer that SANZAR stick with the conference system??? Or is there a better format???

The log currently looks lobsided with the brumbies in 3rd place!!!

Johann...hope all is good in Bloem. Love that Cubana. I think there will be further expansion, maybe bringing in some new countries, but it will remain conference based otherwise our players will spend half their lives on planes.
Richard asked:
Hi Tony,

I always enjoy your commentry, usually fair and impartial for a kiwi...lol.

I have one question please. What is your opinion of Bryce Lawrence being awarded NZ ref of 2001? After a self confessed poor RWC.

Firstly Richard thanks for the compliment, appreciated.

I have been waiting for Bryce to come up!!! I was not part of that decision and did not agree with it. Their rationale (and the panel included Graham Mourie and Brian Lochore, two respected figures) was that he had been good all year apart from that one game, but I don't know about that.I think it gave out a very bad signal.
Br De la Rey asked:
What is the AFL ? and why is it taking away players from Australia rugby leage ? shurley you supposed to support and internatiol sport more than a "national" sport?

AFL is Australian Rules Football, a game I know little about sir. It is huge in places like Melbourne and Adelaide, but I don't think it so much takes playersway from rugby, as provides an obstacle to rugby becoming more popular in those cities..
chris asked:
Hi Tony.
What do you think is wrong with the Sharks
team this year? They have the players but they just can''t get the results. Waking up at 3:30 in the morning only to see them get completely outplayed is getting kinda depressing. What would you do if you could change whatever you want in Durban?
Gee Chris, I've been too busy trying to figure out whats wrong with the Blues!!~! To be fair they have had some bad injuries to good players which doesn't help. They could still make it but they'll have to get cracking! I think their discipline has cost them a couple of games, but it improved after their loss to the Hurricanes...they were not good that night.
Carl asked:
Hi Tony,
Just wanted to ask what you think the Stormers chances of winning the tournament is and what your opinion on South Africa''s new flyhalfs shining through in the Super RUgby tournament. Who do you think Heyneke Meyer should chose at 10 and who should their back-ups be?
tj answered:
Carl I think l whoever gets home advantage will be hard to beat, and your boys (I presume you are a Stormers fan) have a good chance on that basis. Their defence is awesome...they are harder to beat than they are to lose to if you get my drift. As for the fly halves, there are so many good ones, which is great to see. Dan Carter will be the AB number 10 even if he's not playing there now with Aaron Cruden his understudy, but SA...man you are spoilt for choice. I am a Pat Lambie fan ...he gets them round the field with a good kicking game, isn;'t afraid to run at the defensive line, goalkicks well and is a good tackler. Goosen looks a sensational prospect but I wouldn't be in a rush with him, he has plenty of time
Julian asked:
Why do you believe that Australian teams have performed so poorly this year in comparison with SA and NZ teams? Is there just not enough player depth in Australia to accommodate five teams?
Julian I never thought Australia would have the depth, and think they should have stuck with their attempts to develop a national provincial championship to try and improve the situation. But as I say they will always get a good Wallaby side together.
Hennie asked:
Do you believe a player can be considerd to young to play international rugby. Even if he has the best set of skills and is physical enough?
Hi Hennie. I think there are cases of players being thrown in too soon and they have beern damaged because of it...Pat Howard (Aus) and Aaron Cruden (NZ) are examples. But then you get a guy like Pocock who was probably ready at 18. I guess each player is different and its up to their coaches to be sensible about it.
michael asked:
Hi Tony,

Big fan, love your columns.
I''ve always been a stormers fan and always will be, but after years of Super rugby we''ve seen them work hard and get to the knock out stages, then falling at the final hurdle. Do you think they have a real chance this year of going all the way?
Absolutely Michael, especially if they are at home, although they seem to have run into a few injuries which will test their depth.
FlyingWing asked:
Hi Tony,

First of all, thank you for continuing your column on this site. We in the US (I''m a SA''n living abroad) have really missed being able to watch your show ever since RugbyZone.com was discontinued.

The topic of the breakdowns and scrums having become such lotteries has been thoroughly discussed in the past few years. However, one of the game''s most frustrating elements to me in the last decade or so has been professional fouls/penalties in the red zones of a defending team. It seems that every referee has a different way of deciding when a team starts to become "serial offenders" in this department. One ref might give only one penalty before a "warning" is given, another might wait for UP TO 4! Do you think it might be time for the IRB or SANZAR to step in and get a universal policy for the referees in place for this? When a player gives away an obvious professional foul, don''t you think that an automatic yellow card, even for a first offence, will help to eventually eradicate these momentum-breaking penalties? Why wait 2 or even 4 times before a "warning" is issued? If this is already the policy for a deliberate knock-down of a pass, why not also for deliberately killing/slowing down of the attacking team''s ball on your own goal line?

If the IRB and SANZAR are genuinely serious about their goal to have more tries scored per game then they will have to take a look at this in the near future.
Hi Flying Wing...man you need a dose of rugby to get your mind off those Bobcats !!! You are right of course but players also need to be smarter and adjust to the way the ref is policing each game. As for the cards...what about a basketball style system where any player who is penalised 3 times gets an automatic 5 minutes in the bin (sorry to mention basketball in the home of the Bobcats) might work?
Nick asked:
Hi Tony

I thoroughly enjoy your column and your professional insight as well as Re: Union''s in depth analysis of players on a weekly basis. Best rugby show around.

Just a quick question:
What do you make of the 2012 Tri-Nations, and will NZ be able to retain their momentum form the world-cup?
Hi Nick A lot of the RWC All Blacks haven;t been playing that well. I see it wide open at this stage.
Desmond asked:
Hi Tony

love watching reunion realy good show. My question is dont you think the props are beeing peenalised to harshly i played loose head for about 20 years and every now and then you put your hand on the ground just to stabelise your front row and now adays the guys where tight shirts and they cant get there bind it is easy to minupulate the ref towards the end of a game to get a penalty and to win a tight match thank you
Agreed Desmond...as per an earlier posting. You props though...never guilty are you !!!!!! You look at the refs with those innocent faces!!!
Josh van der linde asked:
Hey Tony
Really appreciate you doing the QnA im a big fan !
My question is about the sharks Realistically what do you think is the main cause of their inconsistency ? cause when they want to the play better rugby than any other team in the comp !
and do you think a different coach could help them win a super rugby title ?
thanks again for the answers
Hi Josh...tough one because I'm not there close to the action. Always easy to blame the coach, but as I said before injuries and indiscipline have been problems.
Chris asked:
Hi Tony

First off thanks for bringing an informed and balanced viewpoint to Rugby, especially SupeRugby.

With New Zealand''s dominance of Rugby, not only in the SupeRugby competition, but also in internationals, my question is how do you guys manage it? What is the special ingredient that has given rise to it in the past decade or so? How does a team win the SupeRugby title seven times?

Lastly, who is going to win the title this year?

Many thanks.
Hiya Chris. Mate in Super Rugby it's really been ther Crusaders. The key was they created an environment in which players could excel. They studied what other pro sports teams were doing, such as the San Fransisco 49s, Brisbane Broncos (league) and applied it not so much to the game plan as such, but ther way they ran the organisation. Their recruitment has also been excellent. Robbie Deans is the man who they owe a lot to...however I think some other franchises are catching up. As for the ABs, see an earlier posting. As for Super Rugby this year...Stormers Crusaders final for me
Shanks asked:
Hi TJ, I am your biggest fan. You tell it how it is. Is Dan Carter out of form or not motivated due to missing the World Cup.? & Has the statue of Bryce Lawrance being erected yet in the Capital.
Thanks Shanks...DC was coming off a bad injury, and like the pro he is, he took his recovery step by step.He;'s coming good now. As for a statue of Bryce...well I imagine if they did there would be an influx of South African pigeons heading this way!!!
Glenn asked:
Hi TJ,

You are definitely one of the better rugby commentators/columnists around the world.

Given the current form of the players within super rugby - which country do you think is fairing best heading into the rugby championship. I believe it would be hard to split springboks and the all blacks at the moment with the wallabies trailing by some margin.
Tend to agree Glenn, but Wallabies are the defending champs for a reason.They won with a young team last year, and if they can get their best players on the field they should be very competitive. Don't be fooled by SR form.
Henri Meyer asked:
Hi Tony. What do you think the cheetahs need to do or change in the future to become Super15 title contenders?
I hope they don't change a thing. I love the way they play.Just hang onto that kid Goosen...don't let the big kids steal him away.
Nick asked:
Howzit Tony. I have two questions for you..Dont you think that Superugby will be interrupted in a bad way when NZ,Aus and SA play their Northern hemisphere rivals in a couple of tests in June? Surely now the players picked will have to adapt to a whole new game plan,new set of players to play with and will then have to go back to Superrugby and adapt again? This just sounds bizzare! I wonder why we couldnt just have those tests before Tri nations like we always have in the past? The other question is dont you think too much rugby is being played this year with an extended Superrugby and Tri nations competion. Surely there is too much travelling and playing involved for the players..there has to be a limit right? Thanks mate great show on Reunion.
Nick I agree re June (see above) The key to surviving the amount of rugby is the coaches have to be better at managing their players. The season isn't going to get any shorter, the coaches have to learn to rotate their players effectively. the Highlanders hit the wall last year becasuse they tried to play their best 15 every week.
yacoob asked:
Morning Tony

What do you think of the stormers performance againts the Reds and What do you think of the current crop of stormers players
Excellent bounce back from the loss in ChCh.They are a fine side
Andre Coetzee asked:
Morning Tony,

Thanks for taking some time to chat to us!!

In your opinion, who is currently the front runners for the center positions for the All Blacks?

SBW is playing some brilliant rugby at present and so to is Richard Kahui, bur what about Conrad Smith?

Have a great day!!

I would pick SBW and Kahui on form, but Smith is such a key guy with the way he leads the defensive line. He has a big brain on him, does Conrad, soI imagine Kahui will be back on the wing. For me SBW is well ahead of Nonu right now. Cheers Andre
Mo asked:
Hi Tony

I would like to know why Peter Grant has been overlooked year after year by the springboks even though he has been the best flyhalf in the country for 2 years now. He is kicking is top notch, he can break the line and he tackle all better than steyn. All I can think of is favouritism. Your views would be appreciated.

Mo he is international quality, but you guys are spoilt for choice!!!
Eugene asked:
Hi Tony,

From friends to the people on websites and forums rate the NZ commentary teams tops and hate the homer like attitude of the Australian guys and the SA folks fit in somewhere in between. The NZ television team just seems to be be better informed, non bias and can at least pronounce the surnames correctly. Is this known to the guys how highly they are rated by most television spectators in South Africa? Keep it up mate!
Thanks Eugene. The 1000 rand note is in the mail!
Chris Nieuwoudt asked:
What in your view is the reason for so many injuries in Super Rugby teams this year?
Chris it is a relentlessly tough comp. I don't quite know how they do it week in week out. the physicality is immense.uI've spoken to guys who played in ther tough old days of ther 60s etc and they say its much harder now.i
Saki asked:
Do you think South African fans are justified to hate Bryce Lawrence with the passion that they do?
And do you think Lawrence’s apology was enough to the rugby community at large?
Saki we felt the same about Wayne Barnes post 2007 (not that NZ got much sympathy) and in the end it doesn't really do any good to keep going on about it, but at least we know how you must feel.
André asked:
Hi Tony

Don''t you think the administrators of South Africa and New Zealand should just come together around a braai, and decide to give Australia the finger and go back to the Super 12, which only includes 6 teams from SA and NZ each? Every game will be a crakcer (as oppose to the Rebels vs Force or Brumbies vs Waraths bore fests) and the Currie Cup and NPC (or whatever its called now) will be protected. Yes, fewer games will be played, but every game will be of a high quality and the players will not be overplayed. Plus, the Kings issue is resolved and NZ can also get their 6th team!

The Aussies, who clearly only cares about their own interests, can join the Japan league or whatever.

Your thoughts?
No mate we are stuck with each other, for better or worse !!!!!
Andre M. Meyer asked:
What are the details regarding Sonny Bill Williams Contract ..and him possibly playing for another team next year outside New Zealand?
Andre what SBW does will ultimately be decided by his manager Khoder Nasser. SBW trusts his future to him and that is that. I still think (and hope) he will stay with NZ rugby because its where he can best realise his potential.I don't like the fact that he only does one year deals but that is his way.
Fred asked:
Hi Tony,
Much debate going on whether Heyneke Meyer is doing the right thing in asking Matfield to be the interim Bok captain and whether he should accept or not. What is your take?
Thanks for your commentary throughout the years. It''s always been objective and insightful.
Fred (and Tony Wilkinson) see above re Victor...I just don't think its a great idea, esp whern you have guys like Kruger and Etsebeth knocking on the door. I
Gunter asked:
First of all I just want to say I love reunion. Then which South African flyhalf do you think is the best? And lastly do you think the cheetahs could make a run for the plyoffs?
As above I'm a fan of Lambie, but in a few years time they;'ll all be in Goosens shadow.
dustin engelbrecht asked:
Hkm plaas os refs soe swak
Got me there, Dustin.
Saul asked:
Who would you pick as the Springbok flyhalf? And how do you rate Duane Vermuelen?
Vermeulen is in sensational form. Has been a real leader.Hope for his and the Stormers sake the injury isn;t too bad
Ivan asked:
Hi Tony, thanks for your time.

I am a big fan of Heyneke Meyer and was very happy when he finally got his chance to coach the Bokke. What I''d like to know is, why would he be thinking of bringing the likes of Matfield and Du Preez back into the team if we all these young players making a statement at the moment? Wouldn''t it be better to start building a squad of players for the next worldcup now?
See above re Matfield. Wer've had a few players come back from japan this year incl, Ellison and Delany and they've looked good. The rugby isn't so back breaking so it's almost like a rest and a freshen up...maybe Fourie isn't finished. Great player.
Howard Newman asked:
Hi Tony. I look forward to your column every Monday morning. Do you think Bryan Habana''s resurgent form is enough to land him a Bok spot, or should he be making way for some of the younger guys (Basson, Mvovu etc.)....and how do you see this years 4 nations going? Cheers
Hi Howard I am a "Flyin' Bryan" fan. He giot a hard time from the fans last year but he has class and he has come back. I wouldn't drop him.

Guys I think thats time up...thanks for your messages...haven't answered all of them....there's about 50 on the subject of Bryce that will have to go unanswered!!!

Really enjoyed the interaction...cheers, and take care, I'm off to bed.

Yours, in rugby
Kevin Sacks asked:
Hi Tony,thanks for great show. What is the possibility to do a interactive show between the three countries prime time rugby shows.( I know you do some interviews with the Aussies) I know time constraints would be a problem ? Technology?
Hi Kevin Nice idea...Time and Money are the enemies there.
Louis asked:
Tony, just want to commend you on an excellent show... I look forward to re:union every week. Also for your articles. Completely un-biased and always trying to see things from a South African perspective. Its clear to see that you respect South African rugby as we do NZ. My only question is Are you coming for a braai next time you''re in Cape Town?
Louis...mate I love a good braai...and a couple of cold Winhoeks!!! About time we were back in Cape Town
Anton asked:
Hi Tony, what can you tell us about Sam Cane. He looks to be quite a prospect - athletic & intelligent. What''s his best position and what are they saying about him back home?
Anton the Bay of Plenty Union (part of the Chiefs) spotted him playing school rugby in a wee town called Reporoa and signed him as a 16 year old. He is build like a brick outhouse, but you're right he's a smart kid. he;ll go far

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