Fans of oval balls,
The past few days have been ever eventful, with two main highlights/lowlights:
1. Super Rugby continues to show why it is the leading rugby competition in the World, and I’m sure you will agree that the Sharks vs Crusaders game was a shining example of how modern-day Rugby should be played. The ‘old farts’ of the Northern Hemisphere may have even sat up in their wheelchairs to take notice.
2. The World Cup Bok jersey has been unveiled, and as predicted, the Bok emblem is on the left sleeve rather than on the chest – besides the jersey looking cheap, even more disturbing is that Canterbury won’t move their logo to the sleeve to accommodate a 105 year-old Bok logo! Sponsorship and money care nothing for tradition it seems.
Anyhow, to the topic of the day: We need a Hero. Desperately. And more specifically, I refer to a Hero Bok Captain.
Yes, I know Super Rugby is the current order and topic of the day, and that there is much rugby ahead of us to focus on before the Tri-Nations and World Cup kick off; but I have this constant niggle as I watch the weekends games unfold, and how key players form is on the wane. I cannot help but think that we may be all at sea in terms of Bok Leadership once the World Cup rolls around come September. You’re familiar with the old saying: “Prevention is better than cure”. We need to start addressing now who the contenders will be leading us in NZ in September.
At this point, I am not confident that either John Smit or Victor Matfield are the guys for the job. A big call you might say? I am a loyal fan of both. Both are icons of the game, that is undisputed. But let’s analyze the two players more closely, and maybe that will give you a view as to the scale of my concern.
In any team, your captain needs to be written down first on the team sheet. John Smit is not the number one hooker in the country. The student has surpassed the master. In fact, Bismarck has surpassed all no. 2’s and can be counted as the World’s premier hooker at the moment. Smit is not a prop, and never will be – that experiment failed for the Boks, and will fail for the Sharks during Super Rugby. Both John Plumtree and Peter De Villiers know Smit cannot honestly make the Bok or Shark starting XV at hooker, so need to accommodate him somewhere. Sadly, this is short-sighted and harmful to both the Sharks and Boks. The Crusaders game saw the Sharks scrum embarrassed. Once Beast came on, there was some form of solidity. Smit’s time has passed. He was won it all (bar a Super Rugby title), and let’s be fair, is potentially the best captain the game has seen. But he is past his best and I am worried he will be a weakness rather than the cut and thrust belligerence that Bismarck brings to the party. Bismarck is feared and respected. Smit is purely respected (sadly, only now for past achievements).
Matfield pleasantly surprised me on last years end of year tour when he took the Bok reins. 3 wins out of 4 (excl the BaaBaa’s game) is not a poor result bearing in mind the Boks were in disarray earlier in the year in the Tri-Nations. But once again, Matfield’s temperament weakness reared its head in the losing effort against the Scottish – he has a habit of becoming like a petulant child when a refereeing decision goes against the team – this is where Smit is head and shoulders above him and why Bok Management want to keep Smit around – his calm demeanor and diplomacy in tense situations is unmatched. Yes, Matfield has won it all with the Bulls, but this weakness can bring the Boks to their knees. If Matfield was the captain at WC 2007, I have no doubt we would not have won. Recall the Fiji game when Smit kept the team calm and focused when the Boks were looking down the barrel? Those crucial moments require poise and a clear head, both of which Matfield suffers with. That negativity then starts to ripple through the team.
So, my solution for Bok captain? I don’t have one unfortunately. Schalk, I believe is not a Bok captain – he even struggles at Super Rugby and Currie Cup level – a full-blooded, ‘lead-from-the-front’ captain he is, a strategically strong captain, he is not. Jean de Villiers? Maybe, but am still not convinced, and he is prone to injury during World Cups! That doesn’t leave many other contenders.
One can only hope that a Hero emerges over the next few weeks.