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The Cape Crusaders ; Why they are needed July 7, 2011

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As we bring the Stormers’ 2011 Super 15 season to a positive, albeit premature close, we can reflect on a season where the team played very well throughout the inaugural season of Super 15 rugby. This year, although the tour was not as big a factor, it is clear that 16 games in the world’s toughest regional rugby competition (including 8 local derbies for every team) tests everyone’s resolve to the utmost.

Off the field though, one of the bigger factors influencing the season was a phenomenon widely regarded as the Cape Crusaders. These are a set of fans who are dominated by a particular racial grouping in Cape Town who, largely because of the baggage of the past, steadfastly refuse to support any top level rugby team with ties to South Africa. Usually, they arrive in droves to support usually a New Zealand based team in the Super Rugby competition, or they get behind the All Blacks (no pun intended, for those who do not understand rugby whatsoever). And because the Crusaders are the perennial favourites in Super Rugby, they normally support this team.

Now Jake White, 2007 Rugby World Cup winning coach of the Springboks gave his thoughts on his blog here, although in truth, he gives his view as a coach.

As a die hard fan of all things Capetonian, on the face of it, one must ask; are these fans needed in the Cape? If they love New Zealand rugby borne out of an inability to reconcile with the past, why don’t they leave and join the many who for other reasons have emigrated to the land of the long white cloud?

The answer came to me on Saturday morning, while rushing to do the grocery shopping. A total stranger struck up a conversation with me, groaning about the long lines everywhere in the store. One thing led to another, and before I knew it we were talking about the day’s big game (read major disappointment!), and how we could beat the Crusaders. But he also went on about the people who supported them who lived in the Cape, and how that was akin to high treason! How people should support a team because they liked them, not just because of past indiscretions.

That 10 minute conversation led me to one undeniable conclusion. Every hero doesn’t always need loyal followers; he needs a villain. The villain exists largely to galvanise support in the fight against the danger the villain purports. And largely, the Cape Crusaders portray what might just happen if we all still hold on to the past and the threats that the past portrays. The very fabric of the life that most of us so love in Cape Town will be forever altered, and unless we continue to fight the demons of the past, we might never be able to again recover from such an injustice.

So yes, although I too despise the Cape Crusaders, I will accommodate them, for they, too, are needed. If they choose to support the Bulls in the Currie Cup, however, they will richly deserve the comeuppance they will surely receive!   

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The Reckoning July 2, 2011

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So now we know that the Stormers, should they win tonight, will book a flight to Brisbane to play the Reds in Super Rugby’s showpiece game next week.

This is turning out to be another successful season for the team from the Cape, and although there were times when we were our own worst enemy, we have shown signs of excellence throughout this inaugural season of the Super 15.

However, as outlined here in the Weekend Argus today, The Stormers have played most of the season with room for improvement. And what better a moment to produce the perfect game of rugby than against the tournament’s perennial favourites, the Canterbury Crusaders.

The Crusaders’ season has been nothing short of legendary. After the devastating earthquake, followed by an enforced draw against the Hurricanes, they have had to play every game outside of their home base. They have clocked up 100,000 kms in travelling, including a trip to London to play the Sharks to raise funds for the relief effort. They have been without their talismanic captain and rule bender of note, Richie McCaw for a significant part of the season.

But, like all mortals, they are beatable, and if the Stormers are serious about taking over the mantle of South Africa’s champion rugby team, then now is the time to end the fairytale season of the Crusaders. It is very well possible, and they will have the majority of 48,000 FAITHFUL at Newlands to cheer them all the way.

So, on this most auspicious occasion, with our chests swollen with infectious pride, we have but 2 words of inspiration for the 22 that will carry the hopes and dreams of the FAITHFUL on to the field of battle against a familiar yet unfeared foe…

MOER HULLE!!

Plonker of the Week : Gavin Rich June 26, 2011

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Stormers

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Come this Saturday, history will be made at Newlands. For the first time in Super Rugby history, the Stormers will play the Crusaders at Newlands twice in one season.

This, of course, will add a considerable amount of fan to the flame surrounding the conduct of supporters of both teams in Cape Town. If you would recall, the Stormers lost a nail biter by 6 in week 12, and the ensuing banter between the two sets of fans degenerated into unneccesary racist overtones across various platforms.

Now that there will be a lot more on the line, you can expect Saturday’s game to be a whole lot more tighter than the previous 2 encounters at Newlands (in 2010, the Stormers routed them by 24), with a lot more nervous fans on either side. Let’s hope all calm prevails.

 

Which is more than what I can sya for Gavin Rich. He had 3 pieces published in yesterday’s Weekend Argus. On the Sport backpage, he ranted on about how the Stormers had overcome a nightmare draw, and how hamstrung they were. Oi! Wake up, Gav. The season was split into 2 even halves, and had it not been for the brain freeze that happened against the Chiefs, and the lack of discipline against the Reds, we would have been top of the log, and been seriously considering a home final for the first time ever! Ranting on about the draw is like like berating a team for going for a try when they should’ve taken a shot at goal, but they get the 7-pointer anyway.

In his second column, and it was his normal column, he questions the Stormers’ ability to win clutch games at Newlands, pointing out that we’ve lost more games at home this year than away. While that might be true, he forgets to note that of the games we’ve lost, they were against top teams (Bulls, Reds, and Crusaders), and for the large part we were our own worst enemy. The major advantage of a bye going into the playoffs is that you have a rest week, as well as a week’s extra planning going into the game. The Stormers have never has this luxury before, and surely Gavin should’ve taken this into account.

 

Just how he gets so much space in the Cape’s premier Saturday paper is beyond me!

Will we argue against Prof. Tim Noakes AGAIN??? June 21, 2011

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South Africa national rugby union team (sevens)

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I’m currently reading ‘Branding & Marketing You’ by Donna Rachelson. She takes 9 prominent South Africans from various fields and outlines how they have built their successfull personal brands through various means. (For more on the book, please see the website here)

1 person she profiles is Professor (Dr.) Tim Noakes. He is probably the world’s foremost sports scientist, and a well respected figure in the world of sports medicine. In 2006, very correctly, he enthusiastically cautioned the Springboks against over-playing the experienced players in the year leading up to the Rugby World Cup. Thankfully, his common sense prevailed, and we famously triumphed in Paris.

However, it wasn’t only the fact that we were well-rested going into the tournament that won us the Webb Ellis trophy. Our biggest threats, Australia and New Zealand, were dumped out of the competition at the first knock-out hurdle, while we faced England in the final, who we trounced 32-0 in the pool stages. Furthermore, back then, the Super Rugby competition had 14 teams (which means less matches and less money), and our pool of young talent was not nearly as deep as it is today.

Today, the Super Rugby competition has now 15 teams, with 20 derbies amongst the South African teams, as opposed to 10 in 2007. And everyone knows that the intensity of these matches are monumentally high (just ask the Bulls and Sharks players who played at Loftus last Saturday). This would’ve meant the risk of more injuries.

However, it looks like the core of experienced players were well managed in the pre-season this year, and most of them, save for some the Stormers’ players (read Schalk Burger and Andries Bekker) should be in peak physical condition, come September this year (I say this because, hopefully, they would play at least 2 more games then any other South African franchise, and hence need a proper rest in July and August). The exciting aspect thrown into this year’s mix is that, finally, South Africa has a well of young talent chomping at the bit, ready to make their presence felt at senior international level. I hope that Pieter de Villiers uses the Tri-Nations to blood these youngsters and select the cream that rises from that tournament to tour New Zealand. Our core of experience (John Smit, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Fourie Du Preez, Danie Rossouw), although long in the tooth in rugby terms, look primed to give it one last hurrah, which only bodes well in giving the youngsters the support they need to excel and this level.

Again, although we have seen to manage our players well, rugby is still a collision sport, and anything can happen. But with 80 days to RWC 2011, South African rugby is looking increasingly healthy, and a successful defense of the biggest prize in rugby football, in our greatest opponent’s backyard, might not be a pipe dream.

We have seen to heed the good professor’s call while not diluting our excellent level of professionalism and quality. Might our administration finally have its house in order?

The week that defines Champions June 13, 2011

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Okay, so the Stormers had a rathy nasty blowout last Saturday. The following should be happening at the High Performance Centre in Belville today…

 

Firstly, the senior players really need to take a long, hard look at the way they let the team down. Andries Bekker, Conrad Jantjes, Bryan Habana and especially Ricky Januarie all need to be read the riot act on their performance. You could see something was wrong when Kurt Coleman kicked the ball out on the full in the first minute, and none of the aforementioned players went over to support him. Yes, it was a big occasion, and yes he’s still young, and he had this one thrust upon him, but its clear that Kurt was not psyched up for this game. The senior players, however, have no excuse….

 

Secondly, the set-pieces were a shambles to say the least. Just exactly who was the leader in the lineouts? And why did we look flat going into every scrum? Yes, it was a brutal game, but in the words of the Springbok coach, “This is not ballet!” This is the business end of the competition. We need to show that as a pack, we belong here.

 

But that being said…..

 

We played without a recognised flyhalf for most of this game. And because of that, there was a dearth of quality ball to the back line. But everyone to a man gave it their best shot when they got the ball (What a shame this only really happenend in the second half). Habana, although astonishingly overawed, still gave 100% to the cause and in the end, vindicated himself after the shocker that was the first half. Also, a Bulls team of old would’ve put the game beyond doubt very early, but not this time. We still managed to keep in touch on the scoreboard, even after the try we gifted them.

 

Hence, in order for us to achieve the greatness that is written all over this team, a few things need to happen.

 

1. Go to Free State, win, and score 4 tries

 

This will best be done by putting the best pack we have in the starting line-up. Start Tiaan Liebenberg and Anton van Zyl, and give Deon Fourie and Rynardt Elstadt a rest. These two have played well this season, but they’re young and fading fast. Give them 2 weeks break (assuming we win next week and get a bye), so that they are fresh and ready for the home semi. Anton will want to prove that his Barbarians showing was not a once-off. Give him that chance, Also, pick Nick Koster and Simon Kitshoff on the bench. Of the 21 that played, these youngsters seemed to be more hungrier to play than most of their seniors. Then maul the Cheetahs all day long, and get some belief in those legs!

 

2. Ricky has to make a decision

 

Ricky has to decide whether he’s in or out. You cannot play world class rugby with a scrumhalf who is not interested in playing for his team. If he’d rather go to Lyon now, then release him from his contract, and let him go. Certainly his performance on Saturday night did not suggest he still wants to play for the Stormers. There is a queue of young, quality talent behind him, and unless he fronts up, all he’s doing is frustrating the cause.

 

3.   Give Peter Grant the ball

 

Here’s the main reason why Ricky has to decide whether he’s in or not. Peter Grant has just had the best opportunity to rest up, if he wants to make an extended run in the Bok side, come September this year. He will now be chomping at the bit, eager to upstage a clearly waning Morné Steyn, and claim the no. 10 jersey as his own. He’s going to need quality ball, every time, all the time, to do just that. He will want to put his centres into try scoring gaps every time (and they’ve demonstrated this season that they can take advantage of a mere crack in a defense), as well as being an absolute wall in the route 1 channel. The next 4 weeks will decide whether he plys his trade in Japan or new Zealand come September. He will be available on Saturday, as reported here, and will want every chance to show off the talent outside him. And the best move of all would be to….

 

4. Put Bryan Habana in space

 

I remember coming back from a 5 month secondment in Denmark in September 2004, relishing my return to Newlands after being away for so long. My first game, however, was headlined by a young centre from the Lions, Bryan Habana, who summarily tore the WP backline apart with sheer speed (that match report can be found here).  What André Pretorius did very well that day was put Habana in space through deft passing and excellent tactical kicking. In the form that he is in now, Bryan needs a quality flyhalf who will do just that. Although the try line elludes him right now, Bryan will gladly chase down every grubber, every chip and Gary Owen that Peter feeds him. All he needs right now is 5 paces head start, and he will do the rest.

 

This is the season that will ultimately define all the good work that Rassie Erasmus and Coach Coetzee has done in the last 3 years. This will be the week that will define their legacy at Newlands. The team must now believe in themselves that they are able and willing to convert that hard work into success on the field.

 

And remember, gents, while you’re training for Saturday…..THE FAITHFUL ALWAYS BELIEVE!!!!