After spending an evening guffawing with a few SA rugby legends from the amateur era, Tank Lanning ponders whether rugby might have lost a bit of it’s soul in the pro era in his Sport24 column this week.
It has been a long time since I guffawed as much as I did last night. Asked by the Wynberg Old Boys Association to host a Q&A with Keith Andrews, Andrew Patterson and Christian Stewart, I knew we would be in for a few good stories from the back of the bus, but this would have rivalled anything from our cousin Barry Hilton.
I feel seriously privileged to have had my very short career overlap with these three immense characters of the game. A career that included a pre Super 10 tour to Australia and New Zealand with last night’s comedians and a host of other SA rugby luminaries such as Danie Gerber, Tiaan Strauss, Garry Pagel, Gavin Lawless, Faffa Knoetze, Gert Smal, Neil Hugo and Chester Williams – See the team pic below.
It was a tour that saw Chester get a red card against Crusaders, and Dale Santon (“Without the “D” because I am not as larny” is how he reminded us of the spelling) not make it onto the field given that he knocked one of the opposition out in the tunnel!
It was a tour that generated plenty of fodder for last night’s banter. Fodder that of course cannot be shared in this forum given that guests are encouraged to tell the tales that do not make it into the papers in a closed, media free “Safe” environment. But if ever given the opportunity to sit round a fire with any of these three, do it. Especially with an ice cold beer in hand!
And while we laughed until what is left of our stomach muscles ached, we also got to chat about the more serious aspects of the game. Things like the deluge of players being lured by foreign currency, whether said players should be selected for the Boks, the importance of the scrum even given the changes to the engagement, and perhaps most vociferously, our style of play.
“South African rugby borders on being unwatchable” said one. None of the three will attend a live game, preferring to perhaps keep an eye on it at home should the garden not need attending. “When last did you see a South African loose forward pass a ball?” asked one as we lamented the lack of creativity and willingness to deviate from the blueprint.
But it was not an all-out attack on the SA game. Sure the Boks, and any franchise with a shout at Super Rugby glory, tend to revert to type – which has always been about using our massive tight forwards, but it was a lament about the game in general.
Rassie Erasmus, as head of the SARU mobi-unit, is perhaps the most influential person in South African rugby at the moment, and he has the stats to prove that games of rugby are won by the team that sees less of the ball. I am sure I could see a tear in Christian’s eye as he reminded us of this fact. And with win records to protect, one cannot really blame coaches for playing the numbers game.
But one has to wonder if rugby has perhaps lost a little of it’s soul in the process? Yes, that might be a smidgen OTT for a Thursday column, but with sport needing to attract our entertainment Rands, often in short supply these days, should rugby not be trying it’s best to be more entertaining and attractive? Do people really want to see legalised obstruction via driving mauls from lineouts and the best defences stymieing any sort of creativity from your inside centre?
Do we drop 2 players and make it a 13 man game? Do we ban short lineouts in order to give the backline more space in which to play? Perhaps? But one thing we simply must do is encourage young players to build skills, encourage coaches to pick players like Willie le Roux and Gio Aplon, and applaud brave decisions in sport like Hashim Amla’s declaration in the 1st Test against Sri Lanka.
Let’s not play to draw. Let’s play to win. Perhaps it’s more mindset than structure?