(Written 29th July 2012)
It would come as a surprise to those who know me that I am quite satisfied with the Stormers’ 19 – 26 loss to the Sharks last Saturday, so an explanation is necessary.
In the 1970s, when I was what could only be described as a Western Province rugby fanatic, there emerged in the world two brands of rugby, the 11-man game and the 15-man game. If you look up the legacy of one Buurman van Zyl, reported by some to be the most successful coach of Northern Transvaal (now Blue Bulls) rugby, you will see that his success was built on a dour forward struggle in which the backs played a relatively small part. The key player in van Zyl’s 11-man style was a kicking fly-half and the upshot of it all was that the fans watched balefully as players like Naas Botha and Robbie Blair kicked South African rugby to death… it was dull, dull, dull winning rugby. In fact, the game as a spectacle was only revived, indeed, saved, when the kicking rules were changed.
At the same time, in Wales, Carwyn James was developing a fluid 15-man brand of the game with which the 1971 British Lions beat the All Blacks in Zealand. I well remember the exciting 15-man rugby played by the 1974 British Lions; as well as I remember the bewildered South African response as the Springboks were outplayed in every facet of the game. The touring Lions won 3 and drew 1 in the 4-match test series because the visitors had long worked out that possession of the ball and the attacking 15-man play was the better option; but sadly, the South Africans seemed to have none of the imagination required to adapt to a more complicated pattern of play and for the next decade, into isolation, South African coaches plodded on with the mantra that it did not matter how ugly ‘kick-and-charge” rugby may be, it was sufficient to get the scoreboard in one’s favour.
So it was with a sense of déjà vu that I watched the 2012 Super 15 Stormers plod to the top of the log table. “We don’t care how boring it may be”, says the coach Coetzee, we are winning and that is all that matters… Only two teams scored fewer points than the “rope-a-dope” Stormers – and those were at the very bottom of the log – and the 2 bonus points the Stormers did accumulate were from their losses being within 7 points of the winners. Even the lowly Lions were able to score 4 tries in a match, which they did did more than once in the season!
I am satisfied with the Stormers’ loss because their “rope-a-dope” style of rugby (see elsewhere in this blog) would not have been challenged if they had won, no matter what happened in the final. At least now the people in charge of WP and Stormers rugby (who do not inspire in the least) will have to listen to the public. Had the Stormers won the semi-final, it would have meant another season, in 2013, of stodgy, navel-gazing coaching in which the marvelous talents of running players such as Habana, Aplon, de Villiers, de Jongh, Kolisi and Etzebeth will have been wasted again.