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SOUTH AFRICA WIN HEARTS

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SOUTH AFRICA WIN HEARTS

SOUTH AFRICA WIN HEARTS

RWC_2019_SouthAfrica_Champions_primary

SOUTH Africa’s win was richly deserved.

A performance built on a basic but brutally effective strategy, with just enough subtlety, they pummelled an England team that had played so superbly the week before.

The Boks stuck to what they know best for the most part…big men crashing it up with fire in their bellies, be they forwards or Damien de Allende, plenty of box kicking, ferocious chasing, strong set piece, relentless occupation of enemy territory, and unyielding, strongarm defence.

Until late in the game they only attempted to move the ball wide when under penalty advantage, but that was enough to make England second guess, and when they wavered, South Africa struck. 

Their first try came after yet another aimless England kick. Anthony Watson, who had a poor game, robotically getting to his feet to occupy space next to a ruck, leaving prop Joe Marler to guard a blindside into which South Africa had deftly managed to create an overlap.

Quick hands (and no, not a forward pass), a probing chip ahead, a useful bounce, and the Boks were in, leaving England to do something they were simply not equipped to do, and chase the game.

A brilliant solo effort by Cheslin Kolbe, who’d been content to spend the other 79 minutes tackling players twice his size, and it was Billy Ellis time.

South Africa’s win was deeply symbolic.

Nothing can ever top that amazing day in 1995, but this one comes so close.

Where 1995, for a glorious if short lived time, brought unity and jubilation, this one offers hope at a time when South Africa desperately needs it.

It’s not going to take the homeless off the streets, it’s not going to end the corruption that stains their politics and it’s not going to stop the awful levels of violent crime.

But, as Siya Kolisi put it so humbly, so simply, and yet so profoundly, it shows what can be done when people cast aside their different backgrounds and work together.

Hope springs, and we can only hope with them, and for them. 

Did England Choke?

In Sky’s Weight of the Nation documentary about the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Richie McCaw admitted that after their brilliant semi-final win over Australia, the thought crossed his mind, “that should be it, shouldn’t it?”

Even for that great All Black side, reproducing such form a week later was beyond them and they found themselves in an ugly scrap against a French team that had little right to be there and been given no chance.

For England, it must have been like climbing K2 only to find that Everest still awaited.

They were nothing like the team that had so comprehensively beaten the All Blacks and Australia before that.

Losing Kyle Sinkler early hurt them, exposing Dan Coles to both the wiles of Beast Mtawarira, and the vagaries of referee Jerome Garces.

But it also exposed a flaw in their workload management, with Mako Vunipola blunted after playing deep into the previous matches. 

The England forwards slogged away one dimensionally, without ever being able to dominate, and the backs were well below par.
It’s easy to label that a choke, but I’ll opt for another cliché, and suggest they’d played their final the week before.

And they’re not the first to have done that.

They made no effort to hide their disappointment, and you can’t be too harsh on them, but the actions of Sinckler and Itoje at the medal presentation, the inability of Farrell to acknowledge, let alone praise South Africa’s achievement, and even Eddie Jones refusal to offer up any sort of explanation afterwards, meant it ended for them on a bit too much of a sour note. 

What Sort of Weekend was it for the All Blacks then?

Unlike England, they’ll leave with their reputation for sportsmanship enhanced, dignity intact, and on field reputation at least partially repaired after their comfortable win over a depleted, beaten- before-it-even-kicked off Wales.

They managed to provide a worthy send off for a great coach and some notable players, and even picked up a consolation going for try of the year at the awards dinner, where TJ Perenara did the country proud with his comments.

And back home, New Zealanders have been cool about it, with none of the nasty stuff of 1999, 2003 and 2007…. well, there might have been some of that on social media, but I’d be the last to know. 

Oh, and guess what, the ABs are back up to number two in the World Rugby rankings. Wow!!!

What Does it Mean for the World Order?

Well for starters it means that the Webb Ellis Trophy resides south of the equator for the eighth time out of nine tournaments.

That is a timely reminder that the game doesn’t yet revolve totally around the Six Nations and the English and French club competitions.

Hopefully it will encourage SANZAAR to do what World Rugby was unable/unwilling to do and come up with a way of providing greater opportunities for the smaller nations.

Let’s start by bringing Japan and Fiji into the Rugby Championship (make it a round robin, but still find a way for the ABs to play a full Bledisloe series and maybe a home and away v the Boks).

Then create a second tier for the likes of the other Pacific Nations, USA, Canada, Uruguay and hell, even Georgia if Scotland and Italy are so scared of them, with promotion/relegation as a carrot. 

The key to that is Gus Pichot going to WR and getting them to stump up the cash for the second tier, but I’m sure he can manage that.

And finally,….is this the end of an era for the All Blacks?

It is in that after 16 years Steve Hansen is stepping away, and so too are some notable, and in a couple of cases, great players.

Given the strength of the world game, to have been at the top for most of that time, to have played such exhilarating rugby, and to have reinforced the All Blacks as the biggest drawcard, and the most recognised rugby team in the world, well that is quite something.

Hansen has done an incredible job, one of the best coaches in the history of the game, and we can only thank him and wish him every success in the future.

We still produce phenomenal talent in New Zealand, both players and coaches, at a time when rugby has never been more competitive.
There are huge challenges ahead, but still much to look forward to.

In the meantime, thanks for reading my weekly columns, and may you all have a happy, healthy and safe summer, and roll on 2020.