Backing bulk


If rugby is the game played in heaven, I’d better pick up weight or my skinny ass is going to burn in hell.

Rugby is a game that is supposed to celebrate a wide variety of skills and talent, all shapes and sizes – that is why we have 30 guys on a field in a game.  Not everyone can be a Beast, a Bakkies or a McCaw, just as not every player can be a Dan Carter or Gio Aplon, but in a rugby team you need all of that to be successful, that is why we love the game so much.

But something has changed, and what has changed is a combination of the law changes trying to put an appealing product together and the mindset of those who coach it.

For years we have been told that rugby needs to become more entertaining in order for it to compete on the global stage.  For years laws have been changed and tweaked in order to achieve this, and in the last couple of years the only thing this achieved was to morph rugby into a league type product with some scrums and line outs.  A game where muscle and weight is more valued than skills and special awareness.  A game where a team’s defensive records are celebrated more than their ability to score points.

Comments by Dawie and Brendon on the Super Rugby review thread yesterday made me think of the dozens of blogs I wrote over the last 8 years on the ability to coach players to become skilful.  To coach a player to ‘train-his-brain’ and recognize patterns, identify opportunities and think 2 seconds quicker than the opposition.  Something, sadly, I reckon most people still believe you cannot coach…

Of course this comes naturally to some players more than others, but it remains a skill, and skills can be coached and improved.

Our mindset these days however has become a safety-first approach.  We spend as much if not more time trying to prevent the other team from scoring than trying to score ourselves.  We try to minimize mistakes to the extent that patterns dictate us and our thinking where it should be the other way around.

As Springbok supporters which New Zealand and Australia players do we fear most?  I got a list and feel free to add your own, but names I can think of includes Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor, Israel Dagg, Aaron Cruden…  Why do I fear them?  They can turn a game upside down through a single moment of brilliance and absolutely mad skills.  They make mistakes, sometimes they make plenty of mistakes – but as was mentioned yesterday, do you think opposition coaches and players remembers a crazy kick or pass that went astray, or do they remember those ones that worked knowing it is impossible to set defensive plans against it?

South Africa had those players in the past… Remember Slaptjips? Brent Russell?  Opposition coaches do…  There is even one or two around today, think Gio Aplon, Willie le Roux, Piet van Zyl… Do we celebrate their ‘mad skills’?  No, we are afraid of unleashing it, or as Keo said in his column, we prefer to reward those players who don’t make mistakes.

There are loads of misconceptions in SA Rugby in my opinion – like the belief that we don’t have 6 teams good enough to play Super Rugby, or that transformation is doomed to fail.  The most ridiculous of all and relating to the above is that we don’t have the skills to compete with New Zealand or Australia.  We do, we just don’t coach it, or reward those who have it.

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  1. The guys winning the games for Australia/NZ against South Africa these days are the forwards on top of their backs… they’re bigger, faster, stronger, smarter with more skills… the was not always the case…

    IMO there are ‘more’ skillful players in RSA than there ever were… just look back at some of the most successful teams (like 97/98) in the past… there were some shockers that would struggle to make an Emerging Boks side in their prime…

  2. “Our mindset these days however has become a safety-first approach.”

    That’s test rugby for you when ever year players are better, stronger, faster…

    There is ONE reason and one reason alone Quade Cooper cannot make the Wallabies 22 anymore…

  3. We hide skilful players, we put them in little boxes and don’t allow them to flourish.

    It is like watching a Japanese gardener pruning the shit out of a Bonzai tree.

  4. Maybe the little okes have to have skill to make up for running over players mentality. Been a small oke and playing rugby I remember seeing team just try off load the biggest kid.

    So in this regard is these big player some times dont have the skill. The aussies have such a small player pool and really utilize the skill factor.

    Interesting with scenarios I see the chiefs use a table with figures they push around, kind like old military style I have seen a video of screen scenarios. This is where guys like Willie and Quade are good. Great spacial awareness.

    So yes as small oke I am more than happy to see a style that allow small okes with talent to play.


  5. I think you sort of miss some of the points that was made in the super rugby thread and some others around the last couple of days. The biggest problem everyone mentioned around Le Roux, is not his talent at creating something, but rather his defensive frailties.

    All teams need that special type of player if they want to succeed, but that same special player needs to put in the tackles as well. Of the NZ and Aus players you mentioned, very few have defensive grailties. I will allways pick someone who does the hard yards and puts his body on the line for the team, above a player that can create gaps but is a lasy defender.

    I loved a player like Brent Russel, but he also put it in tackles, as does Hougaard, both special talents and small. But players that rely on their skill to get into a team and are not willing ro do their bit on defense, would never play in a team if I were coach. Im not saying willie doent want to defend, but I am saying that in a test match, which more often than not is a game of margins, you cannot miss tackles. So though I agree that size should never be why you choose a player, as a small guy with heart will defend just as hard, I think you might have misread some comments around the special players mentioned, such as the fact that the entire Cheetahs nackline are in the top20 worst defender thus far. Just my opinion in any case, but the game I love is all about heart and I expect the players I support and pay to see play, show that heart. Yes you need skills, but a hard working average joe, will outplay and outperform a lasy skilled player any day, skills can be coached, attitude not.

  6. Reply to Morné @ 1:56 pm:

    Interesting… have you looked at the current Junior RWC side… take out Serfontein (is he playing or not) and the 6 remaining centres, wings and full-backs out of 7 are absolute midget Orks ranging from 170cm (I kid you not)- 177cm and 70kgs -78kgs!

    We’ll see how far this gets them against say England for example… whose centres/wings/full-backs average at 186cms and 93kgs with some monsters in there…

    Or NZ with the avg of 188cms and 92kgs with an almost two metre beast in the mix…

    Going to be raining high-balls or running over speed-bumps all day long…

  7. Reply to Aldo @ 1:50 pm:

    Quick check on Super Rugby stats.

    Willie le Roux in top 20 in the following categories:

    Most tries
    Most tries assists
    Most kicks
    Most kick meters
    Most line breaks
    Most line break assists

    Not mentioned in most missed tackles top 20.

  8. Reply to Morné @ 2:18 pm:

    Most missed tackles this season according to

    1. Chris Noakes (Blues) 31
    1. Robert Ebersohn (Cheetahs) 31
    3. Raymond Rhule (Cheetahs) 30
    4. Michael Hooper (Waratahs) 29
    5. Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes) 27
    6. Mitch Inman (Rebels) 25
    7. Demetri Catrakilis (Kings) 23
    7. Matthew Hodgson (Force) 23
    7. Pierre Spies (Bulls) 23
    10. Asaeli Tikoirotuma (Chiefs) 22
    10. Brad Shields (Hurricanes) 22
    10. Kyle Godwin (Force) 22
    10. Sergeal Petersen (Kings) 22
    10. Siyamthanda Kolisi (Stormers) 22
    15. Alapati Leiua (Hurricanes) 21
    15. Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies) 21
    15. JJ Engelbrecht (Bulls) 21
    15. Lodewyk de Jager (Cheetahs) 21
    15. Phillip van der Walt (Cheetahs) 21
    15. Ronnie Cooke (Kings) 21

    Which list did you check?

  9. Reply to Morné @ 2:15 pm:

    The heights and weights of ALL the back three is scary… maybe not enough PC’s in the pack (I only saw two) as there is no variation… and someone like Tyler Fisher (still 19) and 1.90m and 100kg’s with all the skills to boot omitted…

  10. Ask Jaco Taute how defensively frail Messerschmitt-Willie is.

    Ask the Sharks on how his tackle stole the game from them.


    Boks without Messerschmitt are gonna be playing Stormers rugby in TRC.

  11. Again you read what you want, nowhere did I say that attacking attitude is bad and that it is not also an attitude, but we all know that defense has everything to do with attitude. I also did not say that an attacking player has a bad attitude, just that Id rather have someone with a good attitude and that Id rather coach skill than sttruggle with a skillfull guy with a bad attitude. As for the top 20 stats, I mentioned what was mentioned in the thread, I didnt check any top20 stats of anything, but like I said that was mentioned in the thread.

    Attitude can make a mediocre player brilliant, off course rather have a brilliant player with an awesome attitude, but a lot of times the attitude is reflected in the defensive stats. I played in the backline and would rather have a brilliant defender next to me, so that I only have to worry about defending my channel and then moving on than worry about defending his channel as well. I was allways the playmaker in all the teams I played in and my outside backs scored plenty of tries even if they were not necesarrily the most skillfull players. They didnt need to be, I played them into gaps, but they were allways solid defenders. Maybe Im not objective in this conversation, cos I loved pulling of a big hit more than scoring a try. Defense was my favourite part of rugby.

    Anyway, like I said earlier, it is just my opinion, so you can unbunch your panties Morne.

  12. Like everything in life we will first have to lose that one big game before we are willing to accept what is obvious: the more weapons you have the more likely you are to win the war.

    I look at our game against Argie last year or even the Scotland game. These supposedly inferior teams suddenly compete with the Boks and we struggle to best these guys.

    The reason is we dont select wizzards anymore who together with our bug guys offer us the right arsenal to blow teams away.

    You see its one thing having to front up to Bakkies and Alberts type players for 80 minutes, yet its the russels who really screw you over because you cannot prepare for them.

    Something Bryce has mentioned many times and that I believe in 100% is that rugby is now a 22 man game. This allows coaches to have all kinds of players in the 22 for different match situations.

    Do I want Willie to start against NZ? God no.

    Do I want him in the last 15 minutes when we are behind by 5? Of course.

    Yet Heyneke will bring on Meisiekind and replace Hougaard with Vermaak. It makes no sense.

  13. Just like its important for many players to play a season of 7’s, so it helps many players to spend a year at the Cheetahs where you are given freedom to develop your attacking skills because you attack a lot.

    Then go to Stormers where you will learn to defend properly because you do a lot of it.

    Its about balance. Id love to see how many tries and Aplon and De Jong wil score in a Cheetahs jersey.

  14. YOC –
    Did someone spike your drink?
    “Do I want Willie to start against NZ? God no.”

    Really hoping you’re being Obama-like by getting agreement on one little novel concession before going full on Mao-Tse-Tung.

    Messerschmitt-Willie would have treated the Argies & Scotland last year like a speed bag.

    Those were crappy teams that SA played on their level – in the muck because they didn’t have anyone that could take the gap AND DISTRIBUTE WITH VISION.

    I think they should play the way they always have – but call for Willie-Time for certain segments of the game where he slots in just as he does with the Fun Bunch.
    Chaos & Tries will ensue. The rest of the time they can play straight up.
    Again you can’t game plan him that way.

  15. Reply to Americano @ 4:41 pm:

    Test rugby is about winning and then dominating. Not that SA ever bothers with the last bit.

    I always hold 1998 as the ultimate Bok game plan and try to slot players into this frame.

    Willie is a bit slaptjips bit early Percy.

    We were happy to play Percy for a great many tests before he learnt to defend properly. He was electric in those days because he popped up in the right places. Willie does the same but has an even better distribution game.

    Serfontein is Snyman (albeit more skillful).

    If someone can just give Jean the freedom to be a distributor and not a crash ball runner he could have been a Franco Smith/Brendan Venter/Dick Muir type but I fear its too late now as his distribution game now is below par.

  16. Reply to Aldo @ 3:50 pm:

    And attack has nothing to do with attitude? Or can attitude only be measured in defence?

    Why can attitude also only be measured in defence? Why must a player also have a defensive attitude first and later be coached skills? How about taking an attacking attitude and coaching him defence?

    Defence is firstly based on systems, then individual skill & technique. Ever heard some of our best defensive coaches talking about players ‘trusting the systems’? There is a reason they do that.

    The individual skill part is coached like any other skill.

    We have lost the balance in our game locally, we over rely on the one part at the expense of the other, because we think one is more important.

  17. Almost every game, they show the total and tight-five pack weights around the time of the first scrum and guess what I’ve noticed?

    The Aus and NZ teams have bigger forwards than us. Almost every team.
    Add to that, their backs are visually and obviously larger than our guys also.

    And you guys want us to play even smaller players? Madness!

    Plus one should be careful knocking League. Some of the biggest and most amazingly skilful backs we’ve seen recently came over from League. Union clearly has a lot to learn from them. First lesson is called the Sonny Bill: “Size and skills are not mutually exclusive.”

  18. Reply to Timeo @ 6:32 pm:


    And yet one of the smallest backlines around (Stormers) is part of the team with the best defensive record in the last 3 years?

    Joe, 83kg’s
    Gio, 80kg’s
    De Jongh, 88kg’s
    Jantjies, 88kg’s
    Grant, 90kg’s
    Jean is probably the biggest at 100kg’s

    League lends itself to develop and therefore produce skillful athletes as they do not have the set plays of union. It is like admiring basketball players because they are taller than baseball players.

  19. Skills may be taught, right?

    Why not then, choose the biggest and fastest guys you can find and teach them the necessary skills. No need to even bother with the small guys, you’ll always have the wood over those teams.

    That seems to be the trend internationally.

    In SA, we have POCs, who seem to be generally small, and we have transformation. We feel a need for boosting the small guys, but it’s something external from the sport.

  20. Reply to Timeo @ 7:02 pm:

    Coach skills to whoever you want, but for the love of…. just coach it!

    Our preconceived idea of rugby these days though seems to be that bigger guys are better, regardless of skills.

    There is also some basic science involved, the heavier you are, the slower you start moving.

    At times I thought to conjure up some bullshit supplement (because they all are in anycase) to compete against those who guarantee muscle mass – a lean muscle supplement which ‘guarantees’ lean muscle mass without reducing flexibility and speed. Would have made a killing (outside of SA).

  21. Reply to Morné @ 7:07 pm:

    On my bigger is better remark…

    Comes from the belief of ‘winning the collisions’. Not that I doubt rugby is a physical game, collisions are inevitable and Newtons laws are a bitch, but our ability to avoid collisions to start with is really starting to worry me.

  22. Reply to Morné @ 7:07 pm:

    I’m all for that, but it’s not the prevailing mindset in SA.

    In SA, the belief is that rugby is genetically innate. Players with skills that are clearly coached are despised. We want x-factor. We want heads-up. We want creativity.

  23. Any event, the point of this blog was never for small vs. big – it was about the fact that our mindset in coaching these days (years) is that skills on the pitch on game day just ‘naturally’ happens.

    If you don’t coach it, it won’t.

  24. Guys we always here that match practice is the most important kind. You can coach drills all week but on the field with pressure everything is slightly different.

    My point RE the Cheetahs attack is simple. Cheetahs backline players are forced to use the ball more during matches because they are entrusted with creating momentum and scoring opportunities.

    Naturally by week 11 a guy like Sadie would have handled the rugby ball a great many more times than say De Jong would have.

    Come the semi’s we thorw our hands in the air and ask why Stormers backline cannot play catch up rugby and score tries in crunch games.

    Well the simple answer is they have not had enough match practice doing just that.

    As a result a great schools level attacking player like Serfontein might soon start looking rusty when he is asked to attack, where a Sadie might look more flash.

    Yet Sadie has handled and passed at speed in match situations at least 40 times more than Serfontein has.

    Its logical.

    We have players with great skills sets but many of these skills are allowed to go stale as they are not utilized enough in match situations.

  25. Shit I was watching my daughter’s school’s Under 9’s where the players were being taught game plans no less…

    I once heard a guy whinge a few years back under the HM regime because Bulls rugby is so planned it looks choreographed… and someone answered him with “ballet is also choreographed but you’re not complaining”

    In truth fans don’t worry how the Boks play… just that they win.

  26. Reply to DavidS @ 10:09 pm:


    I care how we win, and i care to spend my money based onn what I value the brand to be. Right now I dont even watch enitre Boks games without flicking the channel. I refuse to buy any merchandise for myself or my family and over my dead body will I travel to see a game.

    I may be the minority who think this way, but my group is growing by the day.

  27. Too many sports codes and other forms of entertainment vying for our attention. Our generation might still be loyal. The next one will just skip the boring shite.

    You want rugby to have a future? Ensure it remains an entertaining spectacle.

    Last year the stormers were winning most of their games but they did not make any friends. This year the Cheetahs win most of their games and they are making friends and pulling kids towards the TV screen.

    In the final analysis this is all that matter – winning is meaningless if the way teams win slowly kills the game.

  28. My dad has a good solution. He wants rugby up to under 16 level to have a scoring system whereby any try that originates between your own 22 and the half way line to count 7 points. This way the that space become the ‘red zone’ for teams on attack and kids will heave to learn to use the set piece very well to create space to score break-out tries. It will also teach kids to use tactical kicking instead of just kicking for touch or to get out of danger.

  29. Hahaha Morne, I know you were just gicing me kak, as I was just giving you. You should know by now that I will allways find some way to argue with whatever point you make, even if I agree in principal.

  30. Oh and speaking of Serfontein. He has withdrawn from the u21 world cup squad, which can only mean that Heyneke is seriously considering him for the Boks. Would love that.

  31. Yup.
    I don’t care how.
    Just win.
    Or get off the pot.
    Any way it takes
    Above all
    In spite of all
    Boring all
    Just win :boks: :boks:

  32. En ek skakel van rugby na Pepsi IPL na test cricket na Top n14 na UEFA na UFC en kyk almal nie net een nie. Don’t sacrifice one sport for the other…

    That was the point you Tyrolean dork

  33. Reply to DavidS @ 11:15 pm:

    sport is only one aspect of entertainment. A good rugby game I still sit and watch and in the old days that was our only form of entertainment.

    These days you switch on your tablet or your smartphone and immediately you have 25 apps that provide more entertainment than a kak rugby game.

    For rugby to survive against all these forms of entertainment it MUST find a place for those players who make the game a spectacle.

  34. Reply to The Year of the Cheetah @ 12:16 am:

    You need to find yourself another sport to watch then in between playing Angry Birds and checking who is online on WhatsApp…

    Rugby IS growing… Super 15 has been awesome this year (both at the grounds and on tele), NH rugby is stronger than ever (both at the grounds and tele), test rugby is closer than ever (and not just the top 10 teams in the world)… and again the pinnacle of entertainment… the BIL tour is just around the corner and the energy can be felt even here in Victoria right in the middle of AFL season…


  35. Rugby is about as dead as test cricket. Growing by the day, yes people might start watching cricket because of the excitement of 20 over cricket, but as they begin to understand the game, they start watching test cricket.

  36. Strange how one of the great luminaries of unpredictable rugby, one Pieter Rossouw, espouses the philosophy as an attacking coach, summarized as follows:

    Speed times size scores the tries

    That is a direct quote…