It wasn't just an innings that makes you run out of superlatives. It was an innings that makes you run out of synonyms for ridiculous too.
It wasn’t just an innings that makes you run out of superlatives. It was an innings that makes you run out of synonyms for ridiculous too.
While South Africans rejoice in the fastest ODI century being achieved by one of their own, they also have to spend time alienating themselves from AB de Villiers. Sure, they can embrace and appreciate the batting skills of their own countryman, but they also need to alienate AB de Villiers from the human race.
De Villiers is not just a genius. He’s a freak. That 44-ball 149 made both of those qualities obvious. Fans watching the innings went through the full spectrum of “That’s amazing!” to “How the hell did he do that?” to “Come now, AB. That’s just silly.”
The thought of AB de Villiers being a role model for young South African cricketers is as heart-warming as it is horrifying. Holding up such an embodiment of excellence and boyish enthusiasm is one thing, but what would local cricket come to if all under 11 batsmen tried to emulate him by falling over to the off side and try to paddle-hook balls for six? A few single figure all out scores and a bunch of bloody noses, that’s what.
Even if there is a kid somewhere with the same amount of talent as de Villiers, it’s still impossible to grow up to be like him. That’s simply because when de Villiers bats like that, there’s nothing adult-like about him. One has to live in a fantasy world just to attempt those shots as well as having zero respect for the bowlers. This world record innings was blissfully and fantastically immature from beginning to end. De Villiers has Peter Panned his way into those cricketing records with his genius. Unadulterated genius, if you will.
None of us can be AB de Villiers. Not even Hashim Amla can be AB de Villiers. Shoot, when that incredible partnership started, it was clear early on that the guy on 120 needed to give the strike to the guy that had just come to the crease. It was a situation that was as unbelievable as it was obvious.
Speaking of Amla, his contribution with Rilee Rossouw should not be ignored. If the two openers hadn’t set 247 for 1 after 38.3 overs as a platform, de Villiers wouldn’t have felt the freedom to pepper the boundary from ball one and the world wouldn’t have witnessed him bringing up his hundred off 31 balls. Instead, they would have seen him bring up his hundred off 80 balls (which by comparison seems almost Gavaskaresque or Boycottian).
The Amla/Rossouw partnership of 247 is a South African ODI record for the first wicket. Amazingly, this great feat only became seen as a curtain raiser for the world’s fastest ODI fifty, the world’s fastest ODI century and by far the world’s fastest ODI 149.
Oh, and the world's only ODI 439.
Batting conditions were pretty much perfect for de Villiers and a lot of the West Indian bowling missed its mark in the final 10 over chaos. All of that helped, but 149 off 44 balls is not just the work of modern bats, fielding restrictions, Highveld air and bowlers missing yorkers. It’s the work of genius. Freakish, unadulterated, ridiculous genius.
He’s made a lot of memories, he should make many more and he’ll personally bankrupt the next IPL franchise that successfully bids for him. His brilliance must be celebrated, but kids, don’t you dare try that nonsense at home.
1) 2014 can't end soon enough for Heyneke Meyer. 2) All the "this team can keep their composure" sentiment from earlier in the year has been thrown out the window. 3) Rugby has to find some consistency concerning taking the man out in the air. 4) The Welsh mental block has been broken. 5) Calling all centres.
1. 2014 can’t end soon enough for Heyneke Meyer.
4 losses in the year and more scraped wins than comfortable ones. To soften this latest blow against Wales, Heyneke Meyer will no doubt hold up his first win against the All Blacks as the most important part of his yearly report. He doesn’t have too much more that can be brightly highlighted.
How the mood has changed in the two months since that day in Johannesburg. In October, the team looked like it had successfully turned a corner in form as well as ideology after a fine fortnight of positive play at home against Australia and New Zealand. Now, the team’s play has reduced itself to be littered with errors on what has to be one of the worst Springbok end of year tours in years and years.
The game against Wales showcased all the Springbok low points of 2014 and more. In Cardiff, they had an extraordinary litany of unforced errors, a failure to really dominate in any area of the game, a horrific injury to captain Jean de Villiers and a score that shows the ever so frustrating truth: all it would’ve taken was one inspired breach of the Welsh defence to win that test and the Springboks couldn’t find one.
Gone was the confident intent of a pack being precise at the breakdown, running play based around a flyhalf attacking flat and an eye to be more accommodating for those out wide. Instead, when faced with slippery conditions and a desire to just get the win over and done with to end the year, out came the queue of one-off runners as the Springboks worryingly reverted more to type.
It’s a time to be seriously disappointed in how the year has ended, but not a time to panic. The team has plenty of good rugby players and a lot can be turned around before the World Cup. However, they mustn’t just come out and tell the public (as well as themselves) that they will learn from their mistakes for 2015. They must actually learn from them.
While the win against the All Blacks was indeed a huge stepping stone for his team, just imagine how badly 2014 would have ranked if the SuperSport producer didn’t step in with all the replays of that Liam Messam tackle on the Ellis Park big screen.
2. All the “this team can keep their composure” sentiment from earlier in the year has been thrown out the window.
Remember those barely believable comebacks against Wales at the Mbombela Stadium and against Argentina in Salta? Remember all the control in the last 20 minutes against Australia at Newlands to blow the Wallabies away? These games were supposed to show the extra level of calmness that the Springboks can reach when faced with the pressure-filled final 20 minutes. In the game against Wales, nothing could be further from the truth.
The last 25 minutes at the Millennium Stadium was pretty much just one disaster after another for the Springboks. It started with the tamest of knock-ons from Patrick Lambie. From the ensuing scrum, a Springbok pack that had done well to hold its own all day was wheelie binned backwards and conceded the last kickable penalty for Leigh Halfpenny. Then Jean de Villiers was screaming in pain.
While the captain’s agony was the most gruelling moment, it certainly wasn’t the climax of this horror film.
A controversial yellow card made its mandatory appearance. Then Francois Hougaard pulled off the most laughable double-whammy of not only wasting a quick tap penalty by kicking it, but by also landing said kick out on the full.
If only erring on the side of kicking over the touchline had existed in Handre Pollard instead. His punt from a penalty ended up not finding touch at all (a disturbing homage to Morne Steyn in Perth).
The Welsh replacement Scott Williams even gifted the Springboks a fumble from that kick over his own in-goal area and gave them a 5-metre scrum. They couldn’t take advantage and fumbled from the base. This just showed that after all the great escapes earlier in the year, this was a game where the Springboks were not getting out of jail even though Wales had opened the cell door for them.
Willie le Roux seemed to spend the entire final quarter knocking the ball on softly except for when he ended the game with a forward pass.
Calmness in comeback was a trait to rely on. In the last test of the year, it was gone. At the moment, it looks like a quality that can’t be brought to the World Cup without a massive over-reliance on Fourie du Preez.
3. Rugby has to find some consistency concerning taking the man out in the air.
So, are you allowed to contest the ball in the air or aren’t you? Currently, it seems that it’s allowed, but if the attacking player doesn’t quite get it right, he’s expected to contort himself miraculously mid-air in order to avoid any contact with the kick receiver.
This issue has been riddled with controversial decisions throughout the year in both hemispheres. Sometimes, the attacking player has even been penalised after getting his hand to the ball.
Yes, recklessness must be guarded against when dealing with players in the air. It’s an area where serious injuries can be incurred and it’s fair to punish negligence with regards to harming a player (not just intent to do so). However, a lot is being expected of the contesting player who doesn’t understand what’s expected.
Cornal Hendricks will be very confused why his challenge for the ball got a yellow card while others were either punished less or left totally unpunished. He’s not alone.
On that issue, with all this confusing clamping down of contesting the ball in the air, it should make the Springboks and other teams seriously question the merits of any high kick chase plays at all. What good is a box kick or an up and under without a good chase? And what good is a chase with an extremely fine margin of avoiding punishment?
4. The Welsh mental block has been broken.
Fair play, Wales. Deserved win. About bloody time.
For the Welsh, the game should be viewed more importantly for the result rather than their play itself. They got over the line after years of trying against a SANZAR side, and that’s something that had festered many doubts for them as a side.
Their game was built on their massive defence. They hardly missed tackles and committed quickly to closing down space (especially for Willie le Roux, their tormentor in chief earlier in the year). They seemed to react to the previous week’s chilling heartbreak against the All Blacks with a supremely committed response on defence. That was predictable, but no less admirable.
Captain Sam Warburton was a nuisance throughout at the breakdown. Dan Biggar walked away with the man of the match award based pretty much solely on his defensive effort.
In the cold light of an unemotional video session, they should still question their inability in attack. Scoring 12 points in total in a match where possession and territory were in the balance should be disappointing. After all, they probably had more try-scoring opportunities than the Springboks did and didn’t take any either.
That overall performance will be enough to beat a bunch of Springboks seemingly in self-destruct mode. In reality, that kind of overall match contribution probably won’t be enough to win a World Cup quarter-final.
It was a fabulous occasion for Wales and a huge relief for many. However, if they are going to match their showing in the 2011 World Cup next year (let alone better it), this game must be looked at as a starting block to such a showing and not proof of it.
5. Calling all centres.
Over 100 caps for Jean de Villiers and only 3 of them coming in World Cup games. We hold out hope that he’ll be available to put an end to his William Webb Ellis curse, but tragically, it looks like the Springboks are going to have change plans away from him for the fourth World Cup in a row.
If the Springboks want some serious centre experience, they better start begging. As we speak, there could well be SARU officials frantically wording their Frans Steyn apology as well as figuring out just how much money it would take for Jaque Fourie to Matfield himself out of retirement.
Otherwise, the inside centre responsibilities probably fall squarely on Jan Serfontein’s shoulders, who has of course spent half the season indulging in Heyneke Meyer’s favourite past time of turning non-outside centres into outside centres.
Who could Meyer turn to outside him? His past selections don’t exactly make it clear. Damian de Allende? Looks like he lost a lot of Meyer faith at 13 after just two tests in the position. JJ Engelbrecht? Surely that’s a back from the dead story that's too absurd to be true. JP Pietersen? He probably spent this whole end of year tour showing that his experience could me more crucial on the wing. Jaco Taute (he played for the Springboks at 13 too, remember)? Shudder.
It’s as if fate is trying as hard as possible to tell Meyer that Juan de Jongh is his man. Let’s see how many other cards the coach will play before he caves in and folds.
2014 is over. Join us again next year for another season of Who Wants To Be Springbok Centre?
1) Another game in Italy, another forgettable win. 2) When it gets scrappy, there aren't enough Springbok players to neaten it up. 3) The Matfield/Etzebeth centre pairing is not what Bakkies would want. 4) It's questionable if Italy are actually developing at all. 5) Someone needs to give Italian rugby some cameras.
1. Another game in Italy, another forgettable win.
You might remember that Nizaam Carr showed promise on debut and you might remember Willie le Roux combining nicely with Handre Pollard. In a couple of weeks, you won’t remember anything else.
It was an incredibly forgettable match, just like every match that the Springboks have ever played and will ever play in Italy.
Think back to the history of the Springboks in Italy. What can you remember from 2009 in Udine? You might, just might, remember it for Wynand Olivier’s only test try, purely because him scoring a test try stands out for being so remarkably absurd.
Anything else from that game sticks out in your mind? Thought not.
2001 in Genova? Nope. Nothing. Apparently a backline containing Louis Koen, Braam van Straaten and Trevor Halstead ran riot. Couldn’t have been too many dummy switches from that lot.
1997 in Bologna? It was Nick Mallett’s first test as coach of the Springboks. Apart from giving an answer to an obscure pub quiz question, it gives nothing. 1995 in Rome? Sandwiched in between the most historic World Cup win ever and the first post-isolation Springbok win at Twickenham, that game was doomed from the start.
In Italy, it’s always a scrappy affair. The Springboks never really get their momentum going. They never put in a performance that looks convincing, even if the performance was convincing.
The Springboks are not alone. Most other rugby nations completely forget that they’ve played in Italy. Most Italian players probably forget that they themselves have played in Italy. Rumour has it that Sergio Parisse was shocked when he reached 100 tests because he could only recall playing in 25.
2. When it gets scrappy, there aren’t enough Springbok players to neaten it up.
The Springboks enjoyed the majority of the possession as well as the territory, they were more than in control in defence and could take care of themselves in most scrums. There were just precious few moments that neatened up all the moments that were scrappy.
The Italians were resolute and passionate in defence while always trying to keep the game tight. That was to be expected. It always looked like a game where you still need to work to earn your right to go wide. It just never seemed to be earned neatly, and when it was, the Springboks were usually untidy when trying to cash in.
Often in games like this, the Springbok line-out can still operate smoothly and help out as a base for attack. This wasn’t the case in this test. The Springboks lost 3 of their own line-out ball. That’s as much as they’ve lost in the previous 3 test matches combined.
In other recent games, Duane Vermeulen has been providing so much turnover ball that the Springboks can either work with or it calms things down with a penalty for holding on. He couldn’t get any of that good work done in this test, either by not getting over the ball or the referee not enjoying it when he did.
In the backs, Lambie often ran at the line flat, but it didn’t result in much thereafter. The centre combination of Jean de Villiers and Jan Serfontein still needs to work on how they can mix up attacking space as well as contact. Johan Goosen joined the line from fullback nicely, but seldom. It was hardly a fun day to be a wing.
It needed some substitutes to take the Springbok game away from its bish-bash funk. For instance, Willie le Roux's impact could be seen immediately. Creative reliance on him is hardly a new concern for Heyneke Meyer and this game only accentuated that.
Handre Pollard might have been able to run at some tiring Italian legs while Patrick Lambie didn’t, but he certainly cashed in more.
In setting up Cobus Reinach's try, Nizaam Carr showed a flash of how see sees space to run into while backing it up with offloads. Hopefully it’s a sign of some more Springbok endeavours by him or others to come.
3. The Matfield/Etzebeth centre pairing is not what Bakkies would want.
Locks hanging around in the centre channel is hardly a new fad. It’s also got some merits in terms of setting up mismatches in running at backs. However, both locks constantly hanging around in the centre channel has got to be overkill.
It was especially apparent in the second half of this game. Eben Etzebeth and Victor Matfield were constantly out wide trying to combine. It ended up looking like a case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Or, to give the saying a more literal relevance, too many carriers and not enough cleaners.
It could be a by-product of playing a team like Italy, when your overwhelming favourites tag lulls you into a sense of security. Tight forwards can start thinking that only a couple of cleaners are needed to get quick ruck ball and that they should start hanging out in the backline so that the team can have as many numbers as possible to get into the business of scoring tries.
Throughout the game, the Springboks never truly got into a great cleaning rhythm against Italy. When they did have enough at the ruck, they often didn’t ruck hard and precisely over the ball. Cobus Reinach often had to dig for the ball rather than having it neatly presented to him.
In games like this, the Springboks will be better off erring on the side of the tight forwards hitting too many rucks rather than too few.
It might be naive to ask Matfield to get stuck in more. He’s an old dog set in his old tricks, playing the “I’m the number 5” lock card of being the more looser of the two. However, there’s surely still hope for Etzebeth not to get sucked into this behaviour too often.
Rumour has it that the shock of the Springbok enforcer lock looking to carry the ball too much prompted Bakkies Botha's retirement.
4. It’s questionable if Italy are actually developing at all.
Sergio Parisse had some lovely touches linking the backs and the forwards, Martin Castrogiovanni was his usual nuisance self and Italy were committed in defence. Apart from those familiar highlights, Italy offered hardly anything else when it came to their play.
When it came to off the ball stuff, they had plenty to offer. Shoving into the Springbok line-out before it’s been organised, blocking people chasing kicks, provocative slaps after scrum time...you name it, they brought it.
A lot of that type of behavious is geared towards damage control. Recent examples of it that the Springboks have had to deal with include Scotland at the Mbombela Stadium last year and just about any match in Argentina. However, those sides could take a couple of try scoring chances when they came their way. Italy’s scoreboard was only good for a scrum penalty and a rolling maul one, otherwise they didn’t really threaten.
So Italy have a couple of ageing stars and some physical presence (which seems to have always been there). Can they truly say that they’ve advanced? After 15 seasons in the 6 Nations, does their world ranking of 14th not show a downward trend instead of an upward one?
Compare the state of Italian rugby today and how Argentina seem to be on the up after 3 seasons in the Rugby Championship. The latter is offering up much more hope than the former, and even pulled off beating the former away from home despite resting a bunch of players for what turned out to be a win in France.
After years of being exposed to regular top rugby, Italy should question themselves if they are not seriously disappointed by being comfortably beaten at home by a team that by their own standards were far from convincing.
5. Someone needs to give Italian rugby some cameras.
This constant wide camera shot of the match from far too far away might do a job in football, but in rugby, it simply has to stop. Most Italians probably associate the game of rugby with headaches.
It makes the game hard to scrutinise. For instance, whenever there’s a turnover, you have absolutely no idea who pulled it off. Don’t bother waiting for a replay to sort that out for you either. That’s just the sort of nuance that Italian producers have no time for.
Thank heavens there wasn’t a tricky TMO decision in this test. With only two possible cameras able to offer a workable view (okay, 3 cameras at a push sometimes), TMO’s will definitely not be able to give any reasons not to award anything.
What happens when Steve Walsh referees there without being able to see many angles of himself on the big screen? Does he start doubting his own existence?
Okay, that might be worth seeing. Let’s wait until after that’s happened before TV companies have a camera whip-round for Italy.