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  • Things We Learned: Currie Cup Final
    Rugby

    1) Western Province can win the Currie Cup when they are expected to do so. 2) The BMT of Demetri Catrakilis cannot be underestimated. 3) The Gert Smal revolution is effective as well as attractive. 4) The Lions will come back stronger. 5) Allister Coetzee and Juan de Jongh really really like each other.

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    1. Western Province can win the Currie Cup when they are expected to do so.

    In 2012, they won the Currie Cup final in Durban when no-one gave them a chance. In 2013, they lost the Currie Cup final at Newlands when they had all the expectation that comes with a home final. In 2014, Western Province won the Currie Cup at home for the first time in 13 years and put to bed some demons.

    When it comes to viewing Western Province and the Stormers collectively, the last 15 years has been littered with so many big game disappointments at Newlands. The 1999 Super 12 semi-final against the Highlanders after all those player strike murmurings, back to back Currie Cup home semi-final losses to the Cheetahs in 2004 and 2005, Sireli Naqelevuki’s high tackle against the Bulls in 2009, the loss to the Crusaders in 2011, losses to the Sharks in the 2012 Super Rugby semi-final and the 2013 Currie Cup final...the list is damning.

    Now, after years of waiting, the players have overcome the hurdle of home ground expectation.

    While Western Province enjoyed home advantage, there was a fair amount of public doubt in picking a winner before the 2014 final kicked off. The Lions had played great rugby for the whole campaign, and certainly looked the more dangerous of the two teams when one compared their respective semi-finals.

    As is so often the case, the margin between success and failure was minute. Western Province will be glad to get over the line at home. They’ve stopped a habit. They’ll hope that they’ve started a new one.

    2. The BMT of Demetri Catrakilis cannot be underestimated.

    If you want someone to deliver with the ball in a pressure moment in a big match, get it to the Greek.

    The big match temperament of Demetri Catrakilis was on show throughout. Apart from a fine performance in controlling the game from the pivot position (including his slick hands that led to his team’s only try), his placekicking was just perfect. He slotted 5 out of 5, and that takes his Currie Cup final kicking record to 13 to 13 (which excludes his winning drop kicks in 2012, of course).

    One can’t help but compare the contributions of both flyhalves in the match and how the contrast can be viewed as the difference between winning and losing. In contrast to Catrakilis, Marnitz Boshoff created some nightmares for himself.

    For someone who has launched himself in 2014 as a golden boy when it comes to kicking flyhalves, Boshoff only delivered a 3 out of 7 return from the tee (with his final attempt being particularly haunting). In general play, he seemed to force the issue with some options that were costly (possibly overcompensating for his poor goalkicking?).

    Marnitz Boshoff is a fine rugby player who will hopefully bounce back from this to become an even better one. If he paid attention to the temperament of his opposite number, he would have seen what he needs to do so.

    3. The Gert Smal revolution is effective as well as attractive.

    Pre-April, there were some mind-numbingly dull Super Rugby defeats coming out of Cape Town. 6 months later, the union lights up the stage with an attractive Super Rugby u-turn as well as a Currie Cup win. Boy, life has changed since Gert Smal became the director of rugby.

    Allister Coetzee and his assistants were getting it from all sides for the brand of rugby they were producing, even when they were winning games more often than not. Now, with some more help from upstairs, the team has flourished with the same coaching staff.

    New young stars have been backed and they have produced. Along with magic moments from newly appointed captain Juan de Jongh, there were many others from the likes of Nizaam Carr. Cheslin Kolbe moved to fullback and just seems to keep growing as a player. Shoot, just watching Seabelo Senatla run at full speed either with the ball or chasing it is worth any entrance fee alone.

    Western Province’s play in 2014 will be defined by its exciting players as well as the trophy it brought. There can’t be any better compliment to the Smal/Coetzee team than that.

    4. The Lions will come back stronger.

    It ended sadly, but it was a great Lions season that’s marked an incredible turnaround since the player exodus that came with their Super Rugby hiatus in 2013. One really can’t compliment coach Johan Ackermann enough.

    As for other areas of leadership, one can hardly fine a better embodiment of a Captain Fantastic than Warren Whitely. His influence and class has been obvious throughout. His grace in defeat was yet another fine example that he’s set, but you can tell that it’s not something that he wants to show often.

    Their disappointment on the day was palpable, but their post-match demeanour in how they must use the experience to bounce back was almost as clear.

    It’s a scrum that scares all that come near it and it’s a playing style that’s doing good work in refilling Ellis Park. Some players that have been unearthed are banging seriously hard on the Springbok door. In short, currently, the union is just a treat to South African rugby.

    There’s disappointment, but they’ll bounce back from that. They’ve certainly bounced back from worse.

    5. Allister Coetzee and Juan de Jongh really really like each other.

    Has there ever been a winning captain and coach combination that has jumped around in a more boyish embrace than the post-match meeting of Juan de Jongh and Allister Coetzee?

    Before you answer that question, here's a hint. The answer is no.

    No doubt some of Coetzee’s joy was that he was able to hug someone outside of the coaching box. Watching all the coaching staff bundle up together at the final whistle looked like either a vertical game of twister or an ill-conceived “most people in a small area” world record attempt.

    While we all respect that Newlands is an old building, do the coaches really have to be stuck in the most claustrophobic space in world rugby? Seriously, that narrow room looks like it’s roughly 50% table, roughly 10% chairs and roughly 35% Matthew Proudfoot.

    Thankfully, Coetzee escaped that death trap unscathed and enjoyed the sweet release of hugging his captain in the open air. He went on to continue the goodwill with others in the squad, which just embodied the whole Newlands atmosphere.

    Yes, the Springboks don’t take part in it anymore and mass exodus of South African rugby players in general has changed the tournament a lot, but not only is the Currie Cup alive and well, it doesn’t need all these overprotective types constantly reminding us that it's alive and well.

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  • Things We Learned: Currie Cup Semi-Finals
    Rugby

    1) The Lions scrum doesn't mess around. Ever. 2) Western Province will need to up their game. 3) The Sharks need to build a new group of senior players. 4) The Bulls must really stop wasting Handre Pollard. 5) Providing all the match officials for a Bledisloe Cup test might be too much of a strain on South African refereeing depth.

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    1. The Lions scrum doesn't mess around. Ever.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s when the starting pack is out there or if it’s after the replacements have come on. The likes of Schalk van der Merwe, Ruan Dreyer and Julian Redelinghuys were so dominant, it got to the stage that the Lions didn’t even seem disappointed when they knocked the ball on.

    The Sharks had Thomas du Toit at loosehead, a young prop that has shown incredible promise at the Sharks this year. He spent his Saturday getting a tough education. They also picked Matt Stevens, a man who was a part of the British and Irish Lions squad last year. They might as well have picked a wheelie bin.

    Kyle Cooper also started throwing his line-outs skew. No prizes for guessing what Lions captain Warren Whitely kept choosing every scrum or line-out option.

    It provided the Lions with all the front foot ball they could dream of and more. Their talented players cashed in on it. And more.

    It's a team with threats in every department, and if they have a scrum that dominates like that, they will kill their opponents in every department.

    So, none of the Lions props are Springboks, right? Just checking.

    2. Western Province will need to up their game.

    After the gauntlet had been so dramatically thrown by the Lions in the first semi-final, Western Province could only respond with a spluttering rendition of ‘A win is a win’.

    Sure, there were some sparks offered up by the likes of Cheslin Kolbe and Seabelo Senatla that lit up an underwhelming game. Hell, give those two the ball with some space and they’ll light up any game. You get the feeling they better cash in on any ball they get against the Lions because they might not get too much.

    Nizaam Carr’s injury put a bit of a downer in the Province camp’s victory celebrations too. With their depth at loose forward getting tested, a Nizaam Carr injury must be right at the top of the Things Western Province Don’t Need list.

    While it wasn't the most fluid of victories, Western Province were in control on the scoreboard throughout and a semi-final is an environment where there is no need to look beyond what needs to be done.

    It’s just that against the Lions, a whole lot more will need to be done.

    3. The Sharks need to build a new group of senior players.

    The core group of Sharks experience used to be their strength when it came to the business end of the Currie Cup in recent years. Now it looks like a weakness that needs addressing, especially if resting Springboks throughout the tournament is going to be the norm from now on.

    Oh, how they must’ve yearned for having a pack with the full Springbok front row in it like they were able to have this time last year...

    Elsewhere, while Tera Mtembu looks to have had a fine first season as captain from number 8 (and it must have been trying amidst the Jake White situation), there are other key positions in the spine of the team where more composure needs to be shown.

    Conrad Hoffmann had a big challenge at scrumhalf behind a pack going backwards, and it was a challenge that he didn’t really meet. Lionel Cronje lived up to his CV, which says he’s a flyhalf who has been given a run at all five of the major unions in South Africa yet hasn’t really kicked on at any of them.

    While SP Marais brings a touch of class in his play, there does seem to be a lot of moaning coming from him when times get tough. It’s not a good look.

    2014 started with optimism all around the defending champions. Now it just seems like a year that the union just can’t wait to be over and done with.

    4. The Bulls must really stop wasting Handre Pollard.

    What was going through Frans Ludeke’s head when he decided not to choose Handre Pollard as his pivot? “Yes, he’s proven himself as a class flyhalf against the All Blacks, but in a Currie Cup semi-final? No, playing flyhalf in that game is a lot of responsibility.”

    Just to exacerbate things, inside Pollard’s centre channel, scrumhalf Rudy Paige and flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter kicked as if they had no idea that one of the most promising talents in world rugby was standing outside them.

    If experience was the tipping point in the Potgieter selection, then that just totally backfired. All he brought was a slew of missed penalties, the odd shanked drop kick and an indulgence of pointless kicks to a threatening back three.

    For a union that has spent so much energy in bringing in all the top young South African talent, it’s time that the talent was backed properly.

    5. Providing all the match officials for a Bledisloe Cup test might be too much of a strain on South African refereeing depth.

    Craig Joubert refereed a test in Brisbane with two South African touch judges and a South African TMO. Any one of those four seemed sorely missed on the weekend of the Currie Cup semi-finals.

    For the first semi-final, it’s hard to criticise the performance of Jaco van Heerden. For the second semi-final, it’s hard to stop criticising the performance of Pro Legoete.

    Legoete looked indecisive throughout. Scrum penalties were plentiful and they all looked like guesswork. Awarding a penalty against Grant Hattingh for his ‘challenge’ on Nic Groom in the air was just a tragic moment for rugby in general (and to think the TMO agreed with that decision).

    Come on, IRB. Just stick Romain Poite on the touchline for a Bledisloe Cup game. What’s the worst that can happen?

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  • #ProteaFire: Much more than just marketing
    Cricket

    It's more than just a hashtag.

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    It’s more than just a hashtag. It’s an identity and a culture created by the national cricketers themselves that’s being shared with the nation.

    It's based on a symbolism around the national flower and its relationship with fire. The Protea is characteristic for not only being able to survive fire, but actually uses it to regenerate. It’s this nature which has been embraced by the cricketers to form the core of their team mantra and playing culture.

    As imagery goes, there are plenty of correlations that the players can draw on of what constitutes their own fire that they need to strive in. Difficult playing conditions, impossible match situations, public pressure, inner passion...the scope for poetic symbolism seems endless.

    At the official #ProteaFire launch, former captain Graeme Smith spoke of how the idea of finding a common team identity and inspiration germinated in his head after the team’s World Cup semi-final exit in 2007. Then the concept developed and grew from a team camp conducted in 2010. Now, in the build-up to next year’s World Cup, the current team captains have shown that #ProteaFire has fully flowered.

    Apart from being an internal concept that forms a common identity and passion amongst a team that has had to adapt to its own diversity, the players are at pains to point out that this spirit is inclusive to all South Africans.

    For a start, the team speaks of how they get their inner inspiration from the population itself. Playing for the South African people is what fuels a fire inside them. It’s the strength they draw on when they spend so much of their time overseas and it’s what they love the most when they are playing at home. It’s a team manifestation of ubuntu.

    Also, it entrenches an identity for the national symbol itself and makes it more relatable to the public. While it’s always been the national flower, its relationship to the public as a sporting symbol hasn’t seemed to be much more than a symbol of reconciliation.

    Now, the special qualities of the flower have been embraced and given a sporting context that can be used as a source of inspiration for all South Africans.

    The Proteas players have given many examples of inner strength and heroic cricketing deeds, mainly in test matches in the last five years. To name a few, they include Hashim Amla’s triple century at the Oval in 2012, the marathon match-saving innings from Faf du Plessis in Adelaide that same year, JP Duminy’s fairytale century that turned the test at the MCG in 2009, a variety of flat deck 5-wicket hauls for Dale Steyn and the latest great test escape in Colombo 2014. This current group of Proteas have given more than their fair share of great moments in adversity to back up their ideas around #ProteaFire.

    It even goes beyond the idea of winning, or even saving the match. For instance, at the official launch, so much focus was put on a #ProteaFire moment that occurred in a test match that South Africa actually lost.

    It was a moment that happened during the historic test series win in Australia in the 2008/09 season, which gave many great examples of #ProteaFire. One was given far more focus than any other.

    Which one was it? How they successfully chased a target of 414 in the fourth innings in Perth? Nope. JP Duminy’s century in Melbourne? Nope. Dale Steyn’s match haul of 10 wickets in the same test? Nope.

    Instead, they chose the example of Graeme Smith walking out to bat with a broken hand in the final test in Sydney, a match that the Proteas fell 11 balls short of saving.

    While the aim of playing cricket is to win, the sport can still throw up heroic moments when you don’t. You get the feeling that if the team can correctly harness this spirit in their preparation and skill execution, the results will take care of themselves.

    The #ProteaFire launch is all a part of what will be a hopeful crescendo at the World Cup, a tournament that has provided a serious amount of historical fire for South Africans. If you are a fan that is all-consumed by the ‘choke’ word, you might even view this campaign as an attempt at being a psychological anti-choke mechanism. After all, how can you not equate symbolic fire with pressure situations in World Cup ODIs?

    Maybe, instead of crumbling in the World Cup pressure situations like the team has in the past, this mantra can help them accept the fire of the pressure, help them think clearly through them and put them in a better position to navigate their way through them.

    #ProteaFire is a wonderful initiative shown by a generation of players that’s far more than a hashtag, a TV ad and a bunch of what will no doubt be a seemingly endless stream of promos. It’s a common identity that a diverse cricket team has strived for, it’s a passion that they’ve shared with the whole country and could serve as an inspiration for other South Africans to flower amidst their own life’s fires.

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