North vs Southby Bob Skinstad / 27.11.2009
This weekend is going to be huge. It’s being billed as the best of the Northern hemisphere versus the best of the South. Clash of the titans. World championship up for grabs. I mean the Irish media are going bananas about the game this weekend.
And I’m very positive. I think some of the changes the coaches have made are going to inject a lot of enthusiasm into the team. I mean there’s no doubt the guys are tired. But the Dewald Potgieter is full of youthful exuberance, I mean he’s just bouncing around the hotel, he can’t wait to get involved. The return of Jean De Villiers has boosted the mood. And Wynand Olivier has been rewarded for a wonderful season. I know there’s been a lot of talk in the media about Adi being a weak link in the backline, but I’ve always maintained that he’s a wonderful attacking player, but he’s twisted his ankle and he’s not there and that opens a gap for Wynand, who has been patient and passionate. And it’s hard for international rugby players to be patient because you want to play all the games all the time and contribute as much as you can. And he’s been behind Adi for ages, and done so well for the Bulls. I think he’s going to do great. He’s a very physical player and the one place the Irish aren’t that physical is at 12. Although Paddy Wallace is a good distributor, he’s not a big front tackler.
And to have Jean De Villiers on the bench is perfect. We know what we’ve got in Jean De Villiers. He’s a great rugby player and has played some fantastic rugby over the years. But Wynand has played some remarkable rugby this year and he needs his opportunity. To have JDV on the bench, with all that experience is a wonderful position for the Springboks. And I don’t think he’d have expected to go straight into the starting line-up either.
As a team, I think they’re bitterly disappointed with themselves for losing against France. And they only lost by 7 points in a very difficult encounter to a very good team. So there are not a lot of teams that have gone to France and won. So they’ve put it in perspective. But what I think is brilliant is the spirit that the youngsters have brought to the first team. I remember 13 years ago when I was on the bench for South Africa against England. I couldn’t wait for the game, I was so excited and I had all this energy around me. So let’s hope that energy in the camp translates into something on the field.
There’s been a lot of talk dedicated to John Smit’s return to hooker. Everyone knows how good he is in that position. And there’s no doubt that people thought it was a decent move for him to go to prop, because he’s played prop for many years and he needed to make way for Bismarck Du Plessis. But Bismarck hasn’t been in the greatest form of late. So maybe that came into play in this selection. But he’s still right up there fighting for his place in the starting line-up. And that competition is healthy. But I also know that from John’s point of view, he’s a helluva physical guy, but he’s also quite tall, so when we play scrums that are shorter than us, they’ve managed to get underneath John and Bismarck. And once they do that, the guys get shoved backwards. And I think with the shorter, stockier BJ Botha at tight head, that’s going to happen less in this game. And it’s just evident that you need to have a pack going forward at the scrum, against the Northern hemisphere teams. They play everything so close to the ruck. They maul it up and are very physical. And you want to be on the front foot and moving forward, otherwise there’s no space to do anything.
To be honest I’ve been quite disappointed by the standard of refereeing on this tour. I think guys in our midweek games were very unlucky on the night. What you’ve got is refs who’ve never had the forward experience judging players who are playing a very physical encounter, close to the ball. In that area you find that Heinrich Brussouw is either the messiah or the pariah. And the ref has normally made that call before he gets onto the field. And I find that very tough. It’s hard on the player who is trying week in and a week out to improve their game. it makes it difficult for them to gauge themselves. Until we can get more consistency in that area, the breakdown is going to be a contentious part of the game. So I think the refs have been a big influence on this tour, definitely.
Looking to tomorrow’s match up, the clashes on the field I’m licking my chops about are the two loose forward pairings. Both strong sets of forwards. Brussouw vs Wallace on the open side. I’d like to see the young Irish flyhalf Jonathan Sexton move the ball a bit, because that’s going to get Brian O’Driscoll running. And we all know what he can do. I also want to watch the hooker Flannery and his front row with Hayes, Healy and O’Connell in the second row. They’re going to present a big scrum and I want to see how BJ, John and Beast front up in that environment.
Looking at our backline, you know Bryan Habana has been looking for work on this tour, but he hasn’t really been given the opportunity to play the kind of rugby that gets everybody excited. He’s worked hard off the ball and he’s put in the extra graft on defense, but he hasn’t really had the ball in open space. And it looks like it might be windy, but the rain is going to stay away. I’m a little bit worried about the Irish kicking game. I think they have got a little bit more to offer on that front and this Kearney fellow at fullback is incredible at counter-attacking, and along with Tommy Bowe, their big strong winger, they’re going to be very keen to run the ball at us. I think we’re going to have to put a lot of pressure on them and be very tight defensively. Because they can create a lot of pressure with their runners.
Yes it’s been a tour that we could look at negatively, but I think the overall call should be, let’s judge them after Ireland. The Irish is probably one of the biggest challenges the guys have been presented with all year. So let’s have a look at the year and the tour in light of their achievements and how they do against some very good Northern hemisphere teams at the end of the year.
Catch up with Bob behind the scenes at bobskinstad.co.za