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Bill van Zyl's Championship Preview week 2

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Test Match Preview Time 2016

 

The Rugby Championship

Round Two

 

One week into the Rugby Championships, and the hospital wards and rehabilitation clinics are already doing great business with the first batch of casualties of the annual rugby war.  The Big Four of Southern Hemisphere Rugby played just two test matches, and this is the casualty list:

Australia midfield genius Matt Giteau is out for four months after breaking his ankle. This probably signals the end of his international career.

Rob Horne and Matt Toomua also picked up injuries in their team’s massive loss to New Zealand last Saturday. They are also out of contention for the coming week, if not longer. Matt Toomua, suffered a head knock and has to complete the prescribed concussion protocols before he may return to the game, while Rob Horne is facing likely shoulder reconstruction surgery and may also be out for some months.

The All Blacks might have won the game, but they also have an injury list from hell. Midfielder George Moala and hooker Nathan Harris were injured in training before the Test in Sydney, now hooker Codie Taylor (concussion), centre Ryan Crotty (concussion) and wing Waisake Naholo (hamstring) have joined them in the sick-bay.

The Springboks got off quite lightly; just prop Julian Redelighuys will miss this week’s game in Salta.

The Argentineans seem to have survived the first battle unscathed.

As I read through the list I started to think about our high impact game of rugby that results in a weekly injury list as long as your arm. Throughout the Super Rugby season my weekly missives included a section titled “The Injury Monster” and not a single week went by without a host of new additions to the list. During 2015 there was a time when the Stormers were fielding their 5th and 6th choice locks and had all of 21 players out with injury from the squad that was named at the start of the season. 2016 was no different with many of the franchises having to pull players up out of development squads or club rugby just to be able to field a full team. Every franchise had between 6 and 12 players out with injury at any one time.

The numbers of players missing for large parts of a season, sometimes a year or more, due to serious injury is on an upward trend. Hendre Pollard, Pat Lambie, Robert du Preez, Marcell Coetzee, Cobus Reinach, and Jacques Potgieter are just some names that come to mind immediately. Pollard. Reinach, and Potgieter have missed the entire year so far, and nobody knows when Pat Lambie will be back. Remember too, that all those names, save for Robert du Preez, are current Springboks!

I have frequently raised my concerns about the long-term damage caused by the accumulation of too many high impact hits to the head. The increasing evidence of ex-rugby players suffering from Motor-Neuron Disease, Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and other neurological conditions cannot be dismissed.

Rugby is seeing more and more serious injuries to current players, and more and more evidence of long-term damage possibly caused by too many knocks, bruises, and head impacts.

Why?

There is no doubt that the game we love has changed dramatically during the last 20 years. It is a much faster game today than it was in the pre-professional era. The tackle hits are much more physical and forceful, the technical aspects of the tackle have been scientifically evaluated and refined to ensure domination of the subsequent ruck or maul.

Scrums, lineouts, rucks and mauls have all been scientifically analyzed and technically refined to ensure maximum pressure is exerted at the right place and at the right time. Biokinetics and the mechanics of human movement have been focused on improving the player and his techniques in every aspect of the game, from the way he runs to the way he pushes or tackles.

The game has also become vastly more physical with more pick & drive plays that ever before. Pods of forwards smash the ball up around the fringes and through “the phases” with far more intent and physicality than ever before. Backs are expected to run crashball style tactics with the ball and to get involved in the rucks and mauls.

Quite simply, the game has become much more physical, more technical, and much quicker than it used to be.

And then there are the changes to the physical and physiological make-up of rugby players.

The game of rugby used to be “for everyone” to quote Ivan Vodanovich, All Black coach in the late 1960’s and early ‘70s. Anyone could play rugby. The chubby fat kid with very little ball sense could easily play in the front row where his weight and physical strength could counter his complete lack of ball skills. The pencil-neck could run out on the wing where fear gave his skinny legs the motivation to move as quickly as possible to stay away from the mauling he would get if that fat kid got his hands on him. Anyone could, and did, play rugby.

This is no longer true of our game.

I was recently doing some research into the physical demands of the modern game and how the current generation of rugby players differs from those of previous eras.

Let’s just look at some interesting facts:

The rugby player of the professional era is much bigger than his ancestor from previous eras. The following figures come from the statistical data base collected at each of the World Cups since 1987.

The average weight of an international prop forward in 1987 was 108kg. By the mid 1990’s, when the game went professional, the average had gone up to 118kg. By the 2015 RWC props averaged 124kg.

In the midfield, players grew from around 87kg back in 1987, to 103kg in 2015.

Your average international wing has grown from a mere 83kg in 1987 to 96kg in 2015.

Interesting too that international flankers in 1987 weighed what wings weigh today, 96kg. By RWC 2015 the average flanker weighed in at 113kg. That is 5kg more than a prop back in 1987.

Players are also much taller than they used to be. Lock forwards under 2m (6’6”) tall are midgets in today’s game, yet the great Frik du Preez was only 1,93m (6’4”) in his socks back in his prime. Today most flankers are around the 2m mark. Backline players are also much taller than in the past, many well over the 1,83m (6’) mark.

Back in 1987 a prop was almost never required to sprint, today the benchmark for a prop to do a 40m sprint is 5,65 seconds! A wing is expected to cover the same distance, 40m, in 5,20 seconds. We begin to understand how a lock forward like Eben Etzebeth can run down a wing over 40 meters!

Looking at the mechanics of the tackle. Back in 1987 the average force exerted in the tackle was 1,700N today we see it at 3,000N – almost double the force of the pre-professional era. Every tackle generates the same impact force as having a household refrigerator dropped on you from 2m up in the air!

The forces generated in the scrum have also increased enormously, despite the various attempts by rugby legislators to neuter the scrum in the interests of safety. In 1987 the average force of an international scrum was around 13,500N – today we see it up around 16,000N.

Back in 1987 the average rugby player could sprint at around 21kph. Today they are expected to generate a sprint speed of close to 35kph. That is very quick! Think of the impact that kind of speed has on the flow of the game, and how time on the ball is reduced as the opponent rushes up on defence. Everything has to be that much quicker.

Another interesting average is that in 1987 a rugby player ran/walked some 7km during a test match. Today they cover close to 9km, mostly running, and more than 30% of the distance at a sprint.

Rugby has changed. In the bad old days it was a sport for everyone. Today a top class rugby player is a finely tuned and superbly honed athlete. Even today’s school rugby players are bigger and stronger than club rugby players of the past as school have employed professional coaches, nutritionists, biokinetisists and strength coaches.

The physical impact of the game has grown measurably over the last 30 years, and with that increasing impact and physicality the injury lists have grown proportionally.

I am not sure what the future holds for rugby, nor do I have any solution for the problems the modern game seems to generate, but I am very sure that more and more players will be getting hurt, some of them very badly.

 

 

 

 

Previews:

  

New Zealand vs Australia

 

Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Kick-off: 09h35 SA Time. 19h35 local (07h35 GMT)

Referee: Romain Poite (France)

Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)

TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

Over in OZ there has been much tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth after last week’s loss to the All Blacks.

“OFFICIAL: THE WORST WALLABIES TEAM IN A DECADE!” yelled the headline at News.com.au.

Bill Pulver, the Aussie rugby boss, had to step up to the microphone at a news conference and categorically state that Michael Cheika’s job was NOT on the line and that the union was satisfied with the progress he is making. Cheika himself had to eat humble pie and acknowledge that he had got the preparation of his team wrong for the game in Sydney.

Australians do not easily eat of that humble pie, nor do they easily digest a portion of humiliation and move on. They do not turn on their own team wit knives drawn as South Africans do, but the will and do express their displeasure. And then they stand shoulder to shoulder with their team and fight back. They are known to be fighters, and they will fight back.

So how are they going to come back from last week’s humiliation?

Let’s start with the team itself.  Michael Cheika has been forced to make changes to his back division after injuries to Matt Giteau, Matt Toomua, and Rob Horne. He pulled a rabbit out of his hat, naming Quade Cooper at fly-half and shifting Bernard Foley to inside centre. Most pundits had thought that he might start Cooper at 12 and keep Foley at 10, but Michael Cheika has chosen to switch them around. Foley has never played at 12 in test rugby, so we will have to see whether this was a good move.

Another change amongst the backs sees Tevita Kuridrani dropped to the bench to make way for Samu Kerevi at outside centre. This is another somewhat surprising move as Kuridrani has been one of Cheika’s favorites, an automatic choice, for a long time.

Having sorted out his choices amongst the backs, Mr Cheika turned his attention on to his forwards. Whipping out the knife he quickly excised Ben McCalman from the team and the travelling squad to New Zealand altogether. Lineout kingpin Rob Simmons has also been cut from the side entirely.

Simmons has been replaced in the second row by Adam Coleman, while  

Scott Fardy has regained his starting spot, playing alongside Michael Hooper and David Pocock in the Wallaby back row.

Will Skelton has taken Fardy's place on the bench in an obvious attempt to bring more bulk into the team if required, while Reece Hodge is also elevated to the bench.

Over in the All Black camp they have also made four changes to their match-day 23.

Anton Lienert-Brown will win his first Test cap after he was named in New Zealand’s starting XV, replacing the injured Ryan Crotty.

Prop Joe Moody returns from injury to start at loosehead prop, with Wyatt Crockett dropping back to the bench.

The injured Waisake Naholo is replaced by Julian Savea on the wing.

Those are the only changes to the starting squad, although there have been a positional juggle as well. Ben Smith reverts to his favored fullback position, while Israel Dagg moves from 15 to 14.  

In the other changes, James Parsons’ experience sees him named at replacement hooker, while Seta Tamanivalu is in the 23 jersey as backline cover.

Teams:

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody

Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Liam Squire, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Seta Tamanival

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Bernard Foley, 11 Dane Haylett-Petty, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio 

Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Allan Ala’alatoa, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Will Skelton, 21 Tevita Kuridrani, 22 Reece Hodge, 23 Nick Phipps

Prediction:

Can Australia bounce back from last week’s humiliation? Will Quade Cooper bring the X-Factor that has been missing from the Wallaby team in 2016? Will they change tactics and play with a different plan?

There are two major areas of concern for Aussie supporters. Firstly their lineout machine went completely awry last week. They are so used to Rob Simmons dominating the set piece that the surprise on their faces was visible when the All Blacks started to steal and spoil their ball from the outset last week. Stephen Moore missed his jumpers 4 times in the 7 lineouts he threw before being subbed. When Tatafu Polata-Nau came on matters improved a bit, but the ABs continued to disrupt the lineouts and subsequent mauls at will. One steal by Brodie Retallick stands out, when Polata-Nau fed a shortened 4 man lineout and gave almost uncontested ball to Retallick!

The Wallabies have built a reputation for scoring tries off the back of lineout mauls, and the All Blacks effectively neutralized this important weapon in their armory.

The next aspect that the Wallaby squad will need to fix is their kicking out of hand. In short, last week it was terrible.

Much like Elton Jantjies for the Boks, Bernard Foley’s tactical kicking left much to be desired. He missed touch too many times for an international 10, and he launched too many speculative kicks up into the air with no real idea of where they would be coming down. Matt Giteau’s kicking from the 12 position was equally poor. Some of his up-and-unders had sheer desperation written all over them. Do that against the All Blacks and they will run it back at you! And they did!

A third area of concern must be the fitness of the Aussie squad. By the end of the game they looked to be out on their feet, as if they were playing the last game of a long and arduous tour to foreign shores. Yet this was just the first game of the RC series, and they had a couple of weeks off to prepare for the series.

Whether the introduction of Quade Cooper at 10 will signal a change in their fortunes remains to be seen. They do now have the option of a split attack when playing off set pieces or rucks or mauls in the midfield, with Cooper and Foley able to take position as joint links.

We know Quade Cooper is full of tricks, He loves the ala Campese goosestep; he favors the no-look inside pass; and he will offload the ball at the strangest moments, creating some uncertainty among his opponents. Yet, everyone knows those tricks and have learned to read them. I am not sure that he will bamboozle the All Blacks with his trickery.

We also know that Quade Cooper does not like tackling, and he has one of the finest running flyhalves in the world coming at him on Saturday. Can he stop Beauden Barrett? And when Barrett gets a rest and is substituted by Aaron Cruden, a tricky runner of a whole different type appears, can Cooper adapt?

A third issue with the introduction of the “Cooper-factor” has to be that he has not played a game of rugby since April, and his last run at test match level was almost a full year ago. Will he be up to the pace of test match rugby?

I am also a bit concerned about the change of Kerevi for Kuridrani in the outside centre position. Kerevi is not known for his distribution of the ball. He is a crashball runner of note. Can he breach the All Black line?

When I look at this All Black outfit I struggle to find weaknesses. Yes, they are a team in a rebuilding process, but they start the rebuilding process from a much stronger platform than most other teams in world rugby.

Switching Ben Smith back to fullback moves Israel Dagg onto the wing, which might not be the best idea Steve Hansen has had as coach. Dagg is a superb rugby player, but I feel he is better at 15 where he can roam across the field and join the game in the midfield when the moment presents itself. I am not sure that isolating him out on the wing will give him the opportunity to have much impact on the game.

The introduction of Anton Lienert-Brown in the midfield will also be watched closely. He is a solid rugby player who deserves a chance at the highest levels.

New Zealand’s greatest challenge will not be from the Australians, but from within themselves. On paper they are streets better than the Aussies, but they will need to guard against complacency and arrogance. If they think this will be a walk in the park, they may find that Aussie mongrel will bite them.

I saw an interesting cartoon this morning. It depicted a computer monitor with Facebook on the screen. The words were: “The last time Australia won the Bledisloe Cup Facebook had not been invented yet! So nobody has ever posted ‘The Wallabies Win Bledisloe!’ and I have a feeling that 2016 is not the year when that will change.

I simply cannot see Australia changing their fortunes at Westpac Stadium. The All Blacks will win this one, and it could be ugly!

 

  

Argentina vs South Africa

Date: Saturday 27 August 2016

Venue: Estadio Ernesto Martearena Stadium, Salta

Kick-Off: 21h40 SA Time, 16:40 local, (19:40 GMT)

Referee: Jerome Garces (France)

Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)

TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

An awfully long time ago. When I was much younger and still had hair on my head, there was a team that somehow managed to disrupt and disturb every opponent they ever played against. That team even managed to win the Currie Cup against all expectations and predictions.

This was the Griqua team of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. They played a hustling bustling harrying game of rugby that got right in the faces and up the noses of their opponents. When the ball was loose, it always seemed as if there was a Griqua in the way of the man with the ball or a Griqua trying to get his hands or feet on that ball. If he tried to pass, a Griqua jersey would be between him and his target, if he tried to kick, a Griqua was in his way. The Griquas disrupted any flow or pattern a team might have practiced. They forced the game to go scrappy, and then they were at their best, hoovering up the scraps and crumbs and pouncing on every weakness.

Watching Argentina play rugby is much like watching Griquas back in those dim and distant days. If they can get in between your supporting players, if they can slow down or divert arriving players at the rucks and mauls, if they can bump your kick chaser, if they can disrupt your equilibrium, then they are right in their element. And if you give them the ball, they will come at you with serious intent.

They did that last week. Again.

They knew that the Springbok 10, Elton Jantjies, does not like playing off the back foot. They knew that pressure causes him to make basic mistakes. They also knew that they did not have to be in his face with every ball he received, just the knowledge that they might be coming at him was enough to disrupt his game and disturb his equilibrium.

And a disrupted Jantjies is a bad thing in a backline full of rookies.

The Argies knew this, and exploited it.

They also knew that this is a decidedly undercooked Springbok outfit. Lots of greenhorns and very few old heads to calm the jitters and change the pace of the game if and when things went wrong. They knew that building pressure through quickness of thought and movement and constant running at the Boks would cause all manner of chaos, so they did exactly that. For 40 minutes the Boks looked a bit like startled rabbits in the headlight glare on an onrushing 18-wheeler truck.

But the Boks did have the mojo to fight back! They found that extra bit of effort and determination, they fought back, and they won. It was not pretty, in fact for long stretches it was downright ugly, but the records will always reflect a win.

Now, a week later, these two teams square up on South American soil. What can we expect this time?

I am sure we will see more of the same from the Argentineans. This is the way they play their rugby and, like that Griqua team of old, they will see no reason to change the formula. They will stick to their plan, and they will come at the Boks at every opportunity. They will look for every opportunity to get inside Elton Jantjies head. They will play their usual hustling bustling disruptive game. They will run interference and semi-obstructive lines, pushing the outside of the envelope until they find where the referee draws the line. Then they will play right to that line.

They believe that they have the plan and the formula to beat the Boks.

Which tells me that it is the Springboks that will have to change the way they are going about the game. They will have learned some lessons from last week’s game. They will know they have to improve on a number of critical aspects of their play. The also know that they have it in them to win, even when the game is ugly.

First and foremost, they have to improve on the accuracy of every aspect of their play. The mindless kicks up field need to be far more accurate and thoughtful, simple hacks to get the ball out of danger need to be minimized. Touch kicks must find touch. Period.

Running and passing needs to be sharper and accurate, with support players running the correct lines, both onto and off the ball.

Most critically, opportunities to score have to be taken.

And, perhaps the most important issue of them all, Elton Jantjies must find his “A” game. If he produces another rattled and uncertain performance I am sure we will see an early substitution by his coach.

Allister Coetze has made just one change to his starting XV for this game. Vincent Kock replaces the injured Julian Redelinghuys in the  tighthead slot.

With Koch starting Lourens Adriaanse moves onto the bench.  

The only other change to the squad is also on the bench where Morné Steyn replaces Juan de Jongh.

Argentina have named an unchanged starting line-up this test.

The only change to the 23 comes on the replacements bench where Lucas González Amorosino will wear jersey 23 in place of Ramiro Moyano.

Flanker Juan Manuel Leguizamón will be playing his 70th game for the Pumas.

The Teams:

Argentina: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matías Alemanno, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro


Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Felipe Arregui, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Lucas González Amorosino

South Africa: 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel.

Prediction:

The Estadio Ernesto Martearena Stadium, in Salta, Argentina is not a very friendly place. Barbed wire surrounds the entire pitch to protect players and officials from the hostility of the crowd. They are hostile even when two Argentinean teams are playing on the field. They can be super hostile when the visitors are foreigners. The Springboks are foreigners. The Boks can be very sure that the crowd will be super hostile on Saturday!

This adds to the tension that this young Bok outfit will feel as they prepare themselves for the second match of the 2016 Rugby Championships. They have already heard and absorbed the criticism from supporters and the media back home after last week’s close run victory. Now add in the veiled hostility of all Argentineans who feel that last week’s loss was an injustice and somehow due to sheer luck. Then add in all the Argentinean team talk in the media about “revenge” for last week’s loss and the pressure on the visitors is ramped up yet another notch or two.

Will the Boks be able to deal with the pressure?

They can expect the Pumas to launch aerial bombs at the Bok back three, especially testing Goosen in the full back position. They can expect lots of tactical kicks with pressure from the chasing wings. And they can expect lots of pressure on Elton Jantjies. They can expect lots of disruption around the fringes, especially with Argentinean forwards taking up interfering position just beyond the ball at rucks. They can expect jersey tugs and the odd punch. They can expect every disruptive tactic the Argies can think of.

They can also expect the Argies to play quick, unpredictable running rugby to try and rush them into panicky decisions on defence.

How will they react?

This game is probably the biggest test of Elton Jantjies in his 25 years and 10 test matches. If he can recover from last week’s shaky performance and find his feet early in the game, he may just give us one of those sublime performances that we all know he can produce. If he is rattled….. Well, we may just see Morne Steyn out of the pitch earlier than expected.

This Bok outfit is young and inexperienced, yet they managed to snatch a win when it looked as if they were losing last week. That speaks volumes for their sheer guts and determination.

Nothing welds a team together quicker than facing common adversity. The hostility of the crowd at Salta, the pugnacious approach of the Pumas, and the severity of their home supporters’ reaction after last week’s win will all serve to strengthen the bonds amongst this squad of players. Add this to the determination and focus of their rebound last week to win the game, and I am seeing a team that has that little bit of extra that counts when the going gets really tough.

The Boks have lots to learn, and they are a long way from being a great side. But they have shown that they can win, and they will have learned from that game. I also believe that, on paper, the Boks have the better players in almost every position. This test will hinge on whether the youngsters can absorb the mental pressure and forget it. If they play to their potential, I have the Boks winning this one, by around 8 points.

Have a great Rugby weekend!

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