South Africa Works the Refs in Phase 2 – Springboks Threaten to Quit SANZAR?

In a move that smacks of “taking our ball and going home since we can’t get our own way,” multiple media outlets are reporting that the South African RFU is looking to end the SANZAR relationship with themselves, New Zealand and Australian rugby unions. 

Money graphs from the Sydney Morning Herald:

This year the Springboks management have complained throughout the Tri Nations about the way referees were officiating them and the All Blacks.

There was also unrest when SANZAR pushed ahead with a misconduct hearing against Springboks coach Peter de Villiers, who said referees wanted the All Blacks to get winning results to help make next year’s World Cup a success.

When Sanzar ordered a the hearing it sent SARU president Oregan Hoskins into such a rage that he called it a “declaration of war”.
Let me say it now, if nothing else this is a really bad PR move. It does look like the South Africans are upset that the All Blacks and Australians are beating them in this year’s Tri Nations and that de Villiers was called before a SANZAR official for claiming that the officials are giving the New Zealand All Blacks an unfair advantage in order to build up more attendance at next year’s Rugby World Cup. Of course let’s also not forget that South Africa tried this last year as well, before being coaxed to back down from the ledge.  And this is really funny when you consider that SANZAR asked Argentina to join them starting in 2011. So are we going to have to call them ArgNZAR from here on out?

And far be it for me, a “New Mexico Yank in King Arthur’s Scrum” to point it out (but I will anyway) that SANZAR was partially formed in response to the push for rugby professionalism in the mid-90s.  SANZAR won the fight to take charge of professional rugby in the three most important rugby nations in the Southern Hemisphere, and now South Africa is threatening to leave their competition with two of the best teams in rugby in order to… what?

Rumor has it that the Springboks might want to switch over and turn the Six Nations into Seven Nations, since they are in more or less the same time zone as Europe.  This does make sense from a timing standpoint, and has always been a problem for New Zealand and Australia – since there are really no Northern Hemisphere teams in their time zones that can provide a challenge for them.  That said, if this were the reason for wanting to switch, South Africa picked a really bad time to announce it – cause it looks like they are doing this out of spite for not getting their way with SANZAR in this year’s Tri Nations.

How Do the All Blacks Do It?

One of the questions asked throughout the Rugby Universe is how are they able to do it?  How have a nation of roughly 4 million people, and twice as many sheep, become the powerhouse of the Rugby Universe?  The New Zealand All Blacks are one of the most, if not the most, feared rugby teams around the world, and they’ve done it while beating teams from countries all over the world with a much higher population rates, such as England (51 million), France (65 million) and Australia (22 million), and where rugby is still an important sport.

It comes down to a level of passion that few people New Zealanders are passionate about rugby. It’s their national sport, outside of taunting Japanese whaling ships.  They are a small nation, population-wise, but all four million Kiwis bleed All Black, with little rugby balls bouncing around in their veins.

New Zealanders love their rugby. It’s their passion, they live for this game.  At the start of their lives, baby New Zealanders come out of the chute, hit the ground and immediately start looking for little Springboks to smack. (You can never start too early) Let me just add…

THEY.
LOVE.
RUGBY.

It’s passion. One of the few intangibles you can’t train in a player, or teach them on the field.  You’ll get that passion when you’re laying on the field at the end of a game – with your energy spent and the steam rising from your body like your spirit trying to escape, but it can’t be drilled into you.

It’s the idea that this is their sport, and no one from any other nation is going to take it from them.  This is part of the reason they are able to repeatedly beat teams from the Northern Hemisphere.  Another question people from the north ask is how the Southern Hemisphere teams (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and to a lesser extent, Argentina) repeatedly beat teams from more “established” nations (after all, rugby was founded in England in 1823).

That, and the fact that they tend to play a more expansive style of rugby.  I’m looking forward to seeing if the All Blacks can turn that home field advantage into a second William Webb Ellis trophy at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

All Blacks Reverse 2009, Clobber Springboks in Tri Nations Opener

Someone needed to remind the South African Springboks that while the FIFA World Cup was finishing up in South Africa – on Saturday night at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand, they were expected to play rugby. And as any rugger can explain, you usually can’t win a match by kicking goals against scoring tries. But the Springboks did exactly that as they were steamrolled by the New Zealand All Blacks, 32-12 in the opening game of the Investec Tri Nations Tournament.

After losing all three games to the Springboks in last year’s Tri Nations tournament, the All Blacks were keen to defend Eden Park, where the All Blacks last lost in 1994 to France, from the interlopers in green. And the All Blacks did not disappoint the 25,000 fans pack into the stadium. Whether it was Ma’a Nonu or Richie McCaw or Joe Rokocoko, whose appointment to the All Black side was questioned as recently as last week, the All Blacks repeatedly used the power and flair that New Zealand rugby has become known for to power over and around the Springboks as the men in black racked up four tries.

Early in the match, there were glimpses of the 2009 Tri Nations as South Africa lit up the scoreboard first. Off of a scrum deep in All Black territory, New Zealand flanker and captain Richie McCaw broke away from the scrum and was caught offsides by a nice piece of Springbok trickery. Located 22-meters away from the goal line, and in front of the uprights, South Africa opted for the sure points as fly-half Morne Steyn split the uprights to take a 3-0 lead.

Unfortunately for South Africa fans everywhere, this was the only time the Springboks would lead in the match.

The intensely physical gameplay that the South Africans are known for, some might call it schoolboy cheap shots, came back to bite the Springboks quickly after taking the lead. While rugby is an aggressive game, unfortunately for the Springboks it’s not a professional wrestling match.

Early on in the game, Springbok lock Bakkies Botha was caught on video headbutting All Black Jimmy Cowan at the end of a tackle. This video was shown on the stadium monitor multiple times shortly thereafter, which was pointed out to referee Alan Lewis by the All Blacks. Shortly after that, the All Blacks were driving to the Springbok goal line, Botha was called for putting his hands in an All Black ruck and keeping the All Blacks from getting the ball. As a result, Botha was the recipient of a 10-minute sit down in the “Time Out” corner known as the Sin Bin, but the headbutting might have been on Lewis’ mind as Botha was also shown a yellow card.

The All Blacks took advantage of this 10-minute penalty to quickly tie up the score 3-3 on a Dan Carter penalty kick off of the Botha infraction. Then five minutes later, with Botha still watching from the “Time Out Chair,” New Zealand fullback Mils Muliaina ripped through the Springbok defense and hit a rampaging McCaw with a pass as the All Blacks closed in on the South Africa goal line. McCaw then passed the ball to center Conrad Smith who just beat Springbok Victor Matfield to dive across the near goalline for the first try of the game. Carter’s conversion kick extended the All Black lead to 10-3.

As the half went on, the All Blacks play showed more confidence as they pounded at the South Africa defense time and again. The Springboks were able to withstand the assault, tightening and hardening with each meter gained by the All Blacks. Despite having promising numerical totals in territory and time of possession, the Springboks were unable to take advantage and were repelled repeatedly.

Near the end of the first half the All Blacks were once again driving. New Zealand center Ma’a Nonu closed on the goal line, striking a grubber kick that bounced off of a defending Springbok and back into his own hands. Taking down three defenders, Nonu dished the ball to Rokocoko,who was tackled just outside the goal line. The ball found its way out of the pileup of players at the line and back into Nonu’s hands. Nonu was rewarded with his first test match try against South Africa as the center powered his way over the goal line. With the conversion the extended the New Zealand lead 20-3 going into halftime.

South Africa looked to correct their play as the second half kicked off and claw their way back from this 17-point deficit. After an All Black penalty for offsides, Steyn quickly slotted up three more points for the Springboks. And with a second penalty quickly called on the All Blacks, Steyn hit another penalty kick to tighten the score to 20-11, All Blacks, after 6 minutes in the second half.

The Springboks momentarily started to find their form, driving into the All Blacks territory on multiple occasions, only to be turned away after crashing into the Great Wall of Blackness, or letting their frustrations show on the field as sloppy play that the All Blacks took advantage of.

Quickly putting the Springboks on their back foot, the All Blacks drove yet again into the heart of the Springbok turf as Kieran Read stormed through four South African defenders to score the All Blacks’ third, and probably decisive, try.

Not wanting to leave anything to chance, the All Blacks continued the assault and shut down repeated Springbok counterattacks in their infancy. At the 79th minute, after a series of collapsed scrums a few meters from the South African goal line, the All Blacks turned a penalty run into a driving maul and a Tony Woodcock try, once again carrying part of the South African defense into the end zone.

Penalties were a bane for both sides. The All Blacks saw several chance to increase their lead squandered, while the South African defense gave up their own penalties allowing the All Blacks chances to restart their attack.

Notes: Despite grumblings about his position on the All Blacks roster, Joe Rokocoko’s name came up quite often during the Springbok match as part of the All Blacks’ repeated counterattacks. It seemed as if knowing he had something to prove, Rokocoko flew to the ball in attack and defense, and while not scoring points himself, directly led to Nonu’s try in the first half. … Team frustration of the Springboks inability to counter the All Black’s power game started to show as the game wore on. With the Springboks missing an uncharacteristic 23 tackles and surrendering four tries, tempers started to flare. This writer caught repeated video of South African players engaging in some of their most enjoyable pastimes – throwing punches behind the ref’s back and shoving around players without the ball. Players did receive warnings from referee Lewis on more than one occasion.

Springboks Confirm Worst-Kept Rugby Secret

In a confirmation of what might have been the worst-kept secret in international rugby, the South African Rugby Football Union has today confirmed that the Springboks-New Zealand All Blacks Tri-Nations match on August 21, will be taking place in the newly minted “Soccer City” in Soweto.  And shortly thereafter, the stadium’s name will be changed to “Rugby Stud City”
.

Let’s just hope the Springboks are a little more serious with keeping their set plays hidden from the All Blacks before game time…

“Soccer City” to Host Real “Football Match”

This just in from Reuters Africa, on Aug. 21, Soccer City outside of Soweto, South Africa will play host to a Rugby football match between the South African Springboks and perennial Rugby World Cup championship contenders, the New Zealand All Blacks.

According to the story:

“SARU (South African Rugby Union) will make an exciting announcement next Wednesday about the Tri-nations test against the All Blacks, which seems to be the worst-kept secret in rugby at the moment,” SARU spokesman Andy Colquhoun said.

Yes, and it doesn’t help when the opposition coach lets it slip out in the middle of a media interview and then basically says “ummm… allegedly.” 😉

Although reports of players not flailing on the ground and screaming like little children if they get tapped on the ankle in this game have not yet been confirmed, but come on – these are rugby players. They know better.