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  • Things We Learned - Round 6 of Super Rugby
    Rugby

    1) The term 'senior player' has never looked more meaningless. 2) Warren Whiteley and his Lions team just get more and more likeable. 3) Don't blink when the Cheetahs are playing. 4) The Waratahs are done warming up. 5) Good thing we have Super Rugby to keep us grounded from all that 6 Nations basketball.

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    1. The term ‘senior player’ has never looked more meaningless.

    An early Chiefs red card should have been an invitation for the Sharks to make sure that they keep their cool and spend the rest of the game leaning on the extra man advantage. Instead, they saw the Chiefs red card as an invitation to go down to that level and lower.

    Here’s a lesson for the Rugby’ginners: the term ‘senior player’ isn’t just a cap count. It actually denotes responsibility.

    Frans Steyn’s red card ended up being rescinded and fans will hope that brings an end to his flirting with disciplinary fire. As for the Bismarck du Plessis kick to the face, it’s impossible to overstress just how stupid it was, let alone dirty.

    Surely du Plessis has left the union no option but to take the captaincy away from him. If not, it would show absolutely no respect for the responsibility the position brings.

    As for the actual rugby, after they’d finished concluding the buy one red card get one free deal, the Sharks ironically showed great discipline and got a fine win over a Super Rugby contending team. You can’t get a clearer example of how working as a team trumps having individual stars on the field.

    2. Warren Whitely and his Lions team just get more and more likeable.

    If you needed a South African example of how to lead as a captain to juxtapose the Bismarck du Plessis one, look no further than Lions captain Warren Whiteley.

    With 25 tackles, with so many good carries and so much emotion at the final whistle it was almost palpable, Whiteley set an excellent example that his team clearly followed.

    It was another sucker punch type win for the Lions, again achieved with less than half of the possession as well as territory (which seems to be a type of win that’s getting more and more fashionable in rugby). It’s been a fine blueprint to rack up some wins on tour at least.

    Next up for the Lions is a hapless looking Reds team for a possible third win on tour. If that’s achieved, it would not only be a first for the union, but it would be the joint best return for any South African Super Rugby tour.

    3. Don't blink when the Cheetahs are playing.

    Not only did the Crusaders vs Cheetahs game fall squarely into the great ‘game of two halves’ cliché, it was pretty much also a second half of two quarters.

    The Cheetahs were leading 14-10 in the second half, and unless you’ve accidentally changed the channel from The Bachelor to Supersize vs Superskinny, you’ve never seen anything get so ugly so quickly.

    Point flurries like that can happen if you drop your guard against New Zealand teams, particularly against the Crusaders. Hopefully the Cheetahs tighten up quickly on tour so as not to offer themselves up to their hosts as walking bonus points.

    4. The Waratahs are done warming up.

    Just when the Australian Conference threatened to become a one-Brumby race, the Waratahs came with a timely reminder of just who the champions actually are.

    Michael Cheika’s team offered up some fine rugby and some fine entertainment on a Sunday (which is a day that must surely be used more often to ease up on the viewing congestion). On their day, they play lovely flowing rugby with fabulous running play and the most physical pack in Australia.

    Now they just need Jacques Potgieter to keep the homophobic slurs down to a minimum.

    BONUS POINT: Good thing we have attritional Super Rugby to keep us grounded from all that 6 Nations basketball.

    Who needs all those free flowing try-fests going on up north in perfect weather for running rugby anyway? All those ‘rugby’ players prancing around clicking up the scoreboards and cheapening the value of a try are just a slap in the face to the rugby traditionalists, really.

    Bring on the good old attritional grind of Super Rugby instead. Nothing speaks to the rugby purists better than some wet weather and a bunch of reset scrums.

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  • The Proteas and their mocking of pre-game concerns
    Cricket

    When it comes to South Africa's World Cup quarter-final against Sri Lanka, it's hard to find a pre-match concern that the Proteas didn't make a complete mockery of.

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    When it comes to South Africa’s World Cup quarter-final against Sri Lanka, it’s hard to find a pre-match concern that the Proteas didn’t make a complete mockery of.

    There was all that concern about what would happen if the Proteas didn’t bat first. Well, all that fuss came to nothing.

    The toss looked massive and the choice for either captain looked obvious. Angelo Mathews won the toss for Sri Lanka, chose to bat and all early-rising South Africans groaned before their kettles had boiled.

    Dale Steyn went to the top of his mark. The scoreboard showed the two teams corny countdown mash-up and the umpire shouted “Play!”

    It was as if he actually shouted “On my signal, unleash hell.”

    37.2 overs later and Sri Lanka were 133 all out in a blur of hostile bowling, dot ball pressure and regular wickets. You know the bowlers have done an amazing job when the guy that’s taken a hat-trick isn’t the man of the match.

    Speaking of hat-tricks, that brings us to another pre-match concern that was mocked with righteous indignation: the make-up of the fifth bowler overs. More reliance on JP Duminy was supposed to provide an obvious target to a batting line-up that grew up on spin. Instead, Duminy’s contribution provided the middle over home nirvana of wicket-taking as well as containment.

    His 9 overs yielded figures of 3/29. The decision to give him extra bowling responsibility would’ve been justified if he had conceded twice that amount of runs and taken half that amount of wickets (is it possible to take 1 and a half wickets? A Duckworth Lewis equation can probably find a way).

    Another issue that went out the window when the Sri Lankan ended after 37.2 overs was that of slow over rates. The Proteas even got a bit of their own innings in before the dinner break, even with a quick Sydney shower’s cute homage to the 1992 semi-final.

    Worries about a possible future ban for AB de Villiers for over rate infractions can wait. In fact, if the Proteas reach the final with their captain unscathed, it might be worth considering taking as long as he feels is required in the field to try and win the World Cup with punishment only possible after the tournament is over.

    Is that cynical and against the spirit of cricket? Of course it is. But hey, would you rather be labelled an unsporting World Cup winner or a sporting choker?

    Anyway, back to the quarter-final. At the game’s halfway mark, all concerns about how the Proteas go about run chases had a huge load taken off when a target of 134 was on offer. Let’s leave the worries for how they go about chasing higher totals if it gets to that. Besides, now with only two games left before the champions are crowned, that ‘if’ just got a fair bit bigger.

    What that target did provide was a clear opportunity to settle the issue of one of the more publicised pre-match concerns:  Quinton de Kock’s form.

    Not only did he score runs without getting dismissed, he scored them quickly and gracefully. This wasn’t an innings of outside edges and mistimed scratches. The ball raced off the bat more often than not, at times with an almost insouciant lack of effort. Rock out with de Kock not out.

    His final drive for the winning runs brought an end to the biggest and longest standing pre-match concern of them all: the Proteas World Cup knockout game hoodoo. It ended up being the biggest knockout match win in terms of balls to spare in the history of the World Cup.

    So not only did the Proteas end their uncomfortable 23-year wait for a maiden World Cup knockout win, they did it with more comfort than any team has ever done so before.

    One knockout game down, maybe two to go.

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  • Knockout games and the World Cup pain rite of passage
    Cricket

    No matter how old you are, World Cup cricket pain is a national rite of passage.

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    Maybe it’s time for the chokehold to be loosened. Maybe it’s time for the knockout hoodoo to be broken. Or maybe it’s just another wincing, gut-wrenching car crash that can only be watched through one’s fingers.

    There’s no reason for pundits to analyze the Sri Lankan cricketers and point out why the Proteas should be wary of them. Even though the Proteas have world class cricketers of their own, it’s easy to imagine a large variety of ways that South Africa could lose tomorrow pretty much regardless of their opponents.

    Hey, let’s face it. This year might be different, but come World Cup knockout time, the Proteas lose. It’s kind of their thing. No matter how much you love the Proteas and no matter how great the current team is, as a fan, you have to hold back from the emotional commitment of saying "They'll win no matter what."

    When it comes to World Cups, it’s a case of 6 times bitten, always shy.

    ICC World Cup pain is a national rite of passage. Most of us have been going through it since we were kids. In fact, the only South Africans that didn’t go through ICC World Cup pain when they were kids are the ones that are too old to have been kids for the World Cup debut in 1992. Those South Africans are less jaded, because they are all secure in the hypothetical surety that Graeme Pollock would’ve no doubt smashed Clive Lloyd’s West Indian side to at least 3 consecutive World Cups titles.

    All other South African cricket fans would use their first World Cup heartbreak as a chapter heading in their autobiography. When was your first cut that was the deepest? Were you kicking and screaming as an 11-year-old at 22 runs off 1 ball and the unfairness of life, the universe and everything in 1992? Were you staring longingly at your Allan Donald poster while a bowling attack without him was being smashed by Brian Lara in 1996? Or was your first that run out? If it was, don’t worry. No-one is ready to talk about it yet.

    Maybe this World Cup is ‘the one’. Maybe the Proteas win the toss in the quarter-final, bat first, flirt with 400, put no bowler under pressure and they advance at a canter. Maybe they then go on to win the whole bladdy thing.

    If not though (and be honest, no cricket fan can really be that surprised if it’s not to be), find a way to deal with it like you always have. Shout. Throw things. Hey, it’s a free country. Maybe use the c-word. Maybe also use the word ‘choke’.

    Also, maybe look out for that 11-year-old who’s just been heartbroken for the first time. Give warm condolences and maybe hide a little smirk.

    Because one day, the Proteas are going to win the whole bladdy thing, and all the pain experienced in the World Cup pain rite of passage will make enjoying that day so much better.

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