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.

De Villiers Update: Boks Coach Avoid “Blabbergate” Punishment

This in from iAfrica today – South African Springboks coach Peter De Villiers, who was brought before a SANZAR review board for recently working the refs… er, recent comments he made regarding the level of IRB officiating in the Tri Nations, found out that SANZAR dropped any charges of alleging that there was referee chicanery going on.  This is good for De Villiers and the Springboks, as they can’t handle many more Springboks going on the suspended list for the tournament.

However, South African RFU president Oregan Hoskins found out he might be under investigation himself for he recent statement that any questioning of what De Villiers said was tantamount to a “declaration of war” against the South African Rugby Union, and the Springboks themselves by the rest of the Rugby Universe.

Hey, whatever it takes for you to get the Springboks ready to reverse that 0-for-the-Tri Nations record you’ve racked up so far this summer.

As for De Villiers, might I recommend, from my position as a public relations professional, that SARFU figure out a way to keep him away from reporters. Hire a spokesman (hey, for all of the grief I’ve given the Springboks I’m still available to speak to the media), appoint someone to keep him busy when the media show up, whatever it takes to keep him from making statements like this on the record.

 

Do the All Blacks Have an Unfair Advantage in the Tri Nations?

According to a recent report on Scrum, South African Springbok head coach, and overworked mouthpiece, Peter De Villiers, hinted that the New Zealand All Blacks have an advantage over Australia and the Springboks.  Not that they are a better team, but the referees, the Rugby Unions and probably the International Rugby Board are all part of a conspiracy to maneuver the All Blacks into a stronger position to help bolster the attendance at next year’s Rugby World Cup. (Yeah, like people need an excuse to go to New Zealand, home of the Lord of the Rings.  And as if rugby fans need any additional reason to go to the hotbed of Rugby)

De Villiers is quoted in the article:

“I’ve got my own observations about the last two tests [against New Zealand], and I can’t say it in public,” he said on July 21. “But we do have a World Cup in New Zealand next year, and maybe it was the right thing for them to win the games so they can attract more people to the games next year.”

In the U.S., this is what we call “working the refs.” Where an official or two from another team start to complain in the media that they are not getting enough calls their way in big games, or that their opponents are getting an unfair advantage.  Los Angeles Laker basketball coach Phil Jackson is a master of this kind of complaining (In fact it’s one reason Jackson was given his moniker, “The Zen Master.” Not just because of his “holistic” coaching style or spiritual beliefs, but because he’s the only NBA coach who can be up 3-1 in a playoff series and get away with complaining about the refs targeting his team.)

The idea behing this is, if you can force the idea of favoritism in the referees mind, then the next time you play that opponent the ref might take care to make a couple of extra calls in your favor to “balance the ledger” from their alleged favoritism in previous games.  You also get the added bonus of the ref thinking twice about making legitimate calls against you – so you get more of an advantage.  It’s probably as old as sports, in fact athletes in the ancient Olympics were probably doing the same thing. 

So what’s the problem, you ask?  If everyone’s doing it then it should be expected.  

It’s planting an idea in the ref’s subconscious, trying to get through to him in a less than honorable way that your team is the victim of a conspiracy that bothers me. I accept that at the end of the day there has to be a winner and a loser on the pitch, and recently the karma has bounced New Zealand’s way.  Just like last year South Africa was near unstoppable. It’s not the ref’s fault that Bakkies Botha decided to go all “Hulk Hogan” in the first few minutes of game one in New Zealand. It’s not the ref’s fault that South Africa couldn’t figure out an answer to shut down an even more determined All Black team the following week, or that took it hard to Australia when they faced off.  These problems are on the Springboks and Wallabies respectively.

I’m sure readers of the Gonzo Report/Rugby Cafe/whatever I end up calling this 😉 might think I have a slight dislike of South Africa, and nothing could be further from the truth. They are, and have been, one of the best teams in the world. I just wish they would stop playing the role of victim/thug-a-licious rugger long enough to get back to basics and focus on the game they get paid handsomely to play. They remind me of the boxer who has the skill and conviction to be a champion, but still feel like they have to fight dirty to win. And South African RFU president Oregan Hoskins had better take note of that and see what he can do to help turn this around.

If the All Blacks do have an advantage in the Tri Nations, it’s due to passion – not chicanery. And the Springboks better dig down and find their own passion before this tournament is over.

Botha Called Out By Springbok Captain

According to a report at Scrum.com, Springbok captain John Smit has called out “Cheap Shot Bakkies” for receiving a nine-week ban for headbutting New Zealand’s Jimmy Cowan at last Saturday’s Tri Nations opening match in Auckland, New Zealand. Money quote:

“The fact of the matter is that in a team sport, you can’t afford to have too many big egos. If you have one that is outside the team ethos, it hurts a team,” Smit said. “It was probably the least penalties we’ve conceded in a long period of time but all you remember is one act of silliness. It’s been dealt with, thankfully. I think it’s just reward for silly behaviour.”

Smit has spoken out at odd with Springbok coach Peter De Villiers, who sticks to his story that Cowan grabbed Botha’s jersey and kept him from getting the ball at one point in the game.  For a team captain to speak out against the coach’s talking points is a bold move, and might be indicative of frustration on the Springbok team with Botha’s antics on the field.

Botha Update–Springbok Thug Gets Light 9-Week Ban

Springbok thug… er, lock, Bakkies Botha received word today that he’d be receiving a nine-week ban for his flagrant headbutt on New Zealand’s Jimmy Cowan at Saturday’s Tri Nations opening match in Auckland. Botha appeared before a SANZAR judicial officer in New Zealand on Sunday to receive his sentence.

According to the South African RFU, Botha admitted the charge and expressed remorse. Botha left the meeting without speaking to anyone in the media and later apologized to Cowan via a media statement. Look, I work in public relations and if you want to get out of Dodge and make a faux-apology that gives you the appearance of caring about your actions then the South Africa RFU hit it right on the head.  And if Botha is smart he’ll keep his mouth shut for the nine-weeks except for being seen at some photo-op “anger management” course, or teaching rugby to some schoolkids.

I’d understand letting Botha off with a nine-week ban for his actions if this were his first infraction.  Hell if this was his first sentence then I might even say it was too strong.  But let’s take a look at Botha’s list of previous bans for violent infractions, shall we?

  • From Wikipedia: “Botha is known as one of the “hardest” locks in world rugby. He is particularly fond of the dark side of sport and has received bans for biting, testicle grabbing, head butting, and eye gouging.”
    (OK, let me say now – I’ve thrown a retaliatory punch or two in the ruck, but if you ever grab my boys, on the field or off, I’m going to club you like a Canadian with a baby seal)
  • In 2002, Botha received a yellow card for stamping against France, in his first international match
  • Aug. 2003 – Accused of biting and eye-gouging against Australia (8-week suspension)
  • April 2009 – 3-match ban for hitting a player in a Super 14 match
  • June 2009 – 2-week ban for a dangerous charge in a match with the British/Irish Lions (the ban was later dismissed on appeal)

I understand that South Africans love their rugby a little rougher than anyone else, some of us might call it “Cheap Shot Rugby”, allegedly.  But there is a certain point where a player becomes too much of a disgrace to have him on the field. Given his previous run ins with the rugby authorities for his dirty play, Botha might be approaching that line.  If he hasn’t stomped all over it already.

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.

South Africa: FIFA vs. Rugby World Cup

Graham Jenkins over at ESPN’s Scrum has a great post up looking at the difference in passion levels between the current 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 1995 Rugby World Cup which was also held in South Africa.

One of the money quotes:

Unlike the Springboks, Bafana Bafana have never been a major force in their sport – a fact that was underlined by their failure to progress from the group stages making them the first host nation to exit at the first hurdle. Despite the home side’s shortcomings, the tournament has already been heralded as a success and will no doubt still go on to leave a significant mark in history but with the vuvuzelas silenced to a certain degree and African interest hanging by a thread there is little chance that it will resonate like its rugby equivalent.

The ‘95 Rugby World Cup is a special one to me, it was the first time I had watched rugby on TV, after being involved in it for a few years at that point.  Somehow I stumbled across the listing a day or two before the matches began and spent many late nights and early mornings in front of the TV watching matches from Australia and South Africa through the quarterfinals, many of which might still be on tape at my mom’s house. (I don’t remember the semis or finals being broadcast, I think the station’s coverage ended at the quarters).

The energy behind the 95 RWC was definitely visible, even from thousands of miles away.  Part of it came from the returned standing of the South African Springboks, which had suffered during apartheid when many nation’s sports organizations boycotted them, and part of it came from the success of the Springboks, who eventually won the World Cup – as opposed to this year, when the South African soccer team was eliminated in the first round (a first for a host country I believe).

There are some parallels between South Africa hosting the Soccer World Cup and the ever present “proposed” United States hosting of the Rugby World Cup. Both nations are minor-league players in these proposed sports, and a lesson to come away from the World Cup this year would be that if the host country loses in the first round, support for the event in the host country will drop, possibly not dramatically.  But with rugby in the U.S., there isn’t much of a margin for error in support.  I’ll address this in a future post.

For now, let’s enjoy the ending of the round-ball’s Cup and start the buildup for 2011 in New Zealand!