Friday, January 20, 2006

Not "Loose"-ing Perspective

South Africa has been blessed over the years with quality loose forwards. If it is the one area we can claim to have had the best throughout the world since the game turned professional, it is in this area.

Names like Ruben Kruger, Francois Pienaar, Tiaan Strauss, Andre Venter and Gary Teichman is enough to instill the fear of god into any opposition team. Strangely enough, many of our recent Springbok captains were loose forwards.

There are a lot of reasons I believe we consistently produce quality loose forwards, one of which is the culture we have in South Africa and South African rugby. From an early age, we encourage our kids to play the game in such a way that they naturally develop the skills needed to be a good loose forward.

As South Africans we have always put a lot of stock in the physical side of the game, areas such as tackling, mauling and wrestling for the ball are all things young kids from under nine level are taught before we worry about concentrating on something like skill levels, kicking, etc.

I do not necessarily believe it is a bad thing, our rugby is built on tradition and our strengths, and we will naturally pass that down to the younger generations. I just wish when kids reach the ages of 15 or 16, we have coaches capable of identifying specific strengths in players to develop them into flyhalfs, or locks, or props, but that is a story for another day.

Another reason I believe we have so many talented loose forwards, is because of the South African trait to convert players into certain positions. A guy might just be a tad short, or light, and he suddenly does not qualify for a certain position and is thus converted. Gcobani Bobo, Pierre Spies and Schalk Brits are a couple that springs to mind.

It is of course much easier to convert a backline player to a loose forward role and vica versa that it is in any other position. The skills and talent needed is basically the same, speed, vision and good defense to name a few, so its no real surprise we see this happening at a professional level. But what makes a loose forward great, what makes him stand out from all the others, what makes him, that one guy every kid wants to be and every opponent fears and respects?

If I could compare the two, loose forwards basically perform the same role in the pack, as what a flyhalf or center does in the backline. Of course your tight five will give you the platform in every match, and they do the hard yards for everyone else in the team to perform their roles effectively, but it is up to the loose forwards to read the game, adjust their own style and patterns accordingly, and to help the pack adjust its style and patterns accordingly to suit the conditions, to asses oppositions strengths and weaknesses and look to dominate the opposition in general play. If they do this effectively, they put their team and specifically their backs in a perfect situation to dominate the game and effectively put their team in a winning position.

In my opinion the great teams of the past, not only had solid and dependable tight forwards, they had great loose forwards. In some Springbok teams I will even go as far as to say that the backs were very ordinary, but what made them dominate games was because of the ball they used to get, not only from tight phases, but general play.

As the game continues to evolve, no other position's role changes more than that of the loose forwards. As an example, I believe that the loose forwards of today need to perform a bigger role in defense and as links in the backline than 5 years ago, because of the speed the game is played at currently and also because defensive patterns have become such a big part of the game. They don’t perform the grunt roles in the engine room guys like Venter and Kruger for instance did with huge success. It is for this reason that I find comparing great loosies of yesteryear to those of today extremely unfair.

For instance, there are those who believe that Bob Skinstad would have been a better center than a loose forward. Although I cannot fault the line of thinking, I believe we got it wrong in the days Bob played, we should have adapted our game around the ability of your great or star players, not force them to play a style that does not suit their skill or talent. That is why I believe Bob was a great loose forward, he just found himself in the wrong era. His style of play was revolutionary to many, and that is why he was so successful at it. He, with two or three other loose forwards, revolutionized and set the standard for loose forward as we know it today.

My pick at number 8, is Zinzan Brooke. He was one of the most naturally gifted and talented footballers I have had the pleasure to see play in my life. Unconventional and unpredictable are just two words that spring to mind when you think of this All Black great. To add to that he had great strength, great vision, and when he put you down in a tackle, you more often than not stayed down. He had exceptional skill and was a strong ball carrier, and with his no nonsense attitude on the park, he was one guy you would much rather play with than against.

Other great players that deserve a mention here is Tiaan Strauss and Gary Teichman.

There are so many talented blindsiders one can choose from, guys like “The Iceman” Michael Jones was one of my personal favourites and helluva intelligent. I believe Bob Skinstad should have specialized as a blindsider too, but the best in the business and one that also defined the position in my view, is Rassie Erasmus.

I think it is no secret by now that I see my blindsider as the outside center of my forwards. In fact, I want my blindsider to be of such a mould that he could easily be switched to outside center although I am definitely not a supporter of players switching positions.

Your blindsider has to be the cleverest guy of the pack; he must be the thinking rugby player and be able to perform multiple roles effectively. Rassie was all that and more. A lot of people made mention about Rassie as a similar player to Skinstad, and they were right, he was. But what made Rassie exceptional was his ability to adapt to circumstances, the opposition and the game plan. Rassie had the knack to easily slot into any role the coach wanted him to, but what was his most amazing ability in my view, is changing the way he plays on the field of play as and because of how he read the game.

In my mind there can be no doubt who the player was that defined openside play and made the position his until retirement. Although a lot of South Africans will disagree with me on this, I believe Josh Kronfeld was the master and set standards very few players have and will ever reach.

The role of the openside flank has been discussed and lauded as one of the most important in the professional era of rugby. To an extent I agree, this position or player is vitally important in the modern game to create turnovers and slow opposition ball down in open play. Because of the well designed and coached structures we find in the modern game, the only area any team stands a real chance of turning over opposition possession or put the opposition under pressure is in broken play, ruck and tackle situation. Your opensider plays a huge role in this area and is certainly a very valuable player for any team.

This guy is my mongrel. The in your face irritation you need to have and the player that constantly disrupts opposition ball. Kronfeld in my view was and still is the master in this position.

I must mention that Ruben Kruger was as good as Kronfeld, but Josh just added that extra bit of grunt in my view.

Having looked at the players I regarded as the leaders in these positions, it is vital to make another point. I believe a lot of coaches and fans, underestimate the importance of your loose trio to gel as a combination.

I could have picked my three best loose forwards in my dream team, but whether they would have been effective is another story. I am not going to analyse the role of loose forwards, but it is very important to understand that they need to work together as a combination in order for them to be successful.

Looking at last years Currie Cup, this is one area that the Cheetahs absolutely dominated in, and the only other team that came close and maybe at times overshadowed them, was the Lions.

It is strange, but proves my point on combinations, that when you consider where the majority of the Springbok loose forwards come from, being the Bulls and WP, that the Cheetahs (with only one Springbok) and the Lions were more effective in this area.

Did Jake White get it wrong? No, certainly not. The combination that Jake employs in our national side is very effective and it works for him. But guys like Joe, Schalk, Jacques and even Juan needed to gel as a combination for Jake for them to be effective.

The WP setup is the most noticeable. With players like Schalk and Joe, and even Luke Watson, one would expect them to dominate this area of the game, but strangely enough, it was this area of the game that the Blue Bulls destroyed them last year and not the scrums or line outs as most people thought would be their weakness.

It is also the same area where the Cheetahs completely overshadowed their Bulls counterparts in the Currie Cup final. Just ask Rassie what a difference Kabamba Floors made.

Rassie managed to take a talented bunch of individuals and turn them into a formidable unit and combination.

In Juan Smith you have probably the smartest forward in world rugby around. If he specializes in this position he will become a Springbok legend, and he is also a logical pick for future Springbok captain, plus, what better mentor to have than the greatest blindsider of the modern game in Rassie Erasmus.

Ryno van der Merwe is every bit a Josh Kronfeld in my view and I believe he will be a much better opensider than a number 8. He is all over the park and is a constant nuisance for all the teams that face him. He, because of this fascination with size in South Africa, is one of the most unfortunate players not to have played for his country yet.

The only weakness if you could find any would be at number 8. But looking at the combination of Van der Merwe, Smith and Scholtz, and that Smith could also fill in at number 8 you arguably have one of the best units or combinations in South Africa.

The Cheetahs, with the Lions, will continue to be successful as teams in South Africa for as long as they pick successful loose forward combinations like they have been doing, and if the Bulls and Stormer’s don’t catch a wake up soon, they will find they are way behind when they loose their tight forward monsters and sublime backline players respectively, though injury or whatever, which has kept them up there in the last couple of years.

PA Great article, hope a lot of people pop in to read and comment on it.

I will make peace with you on the Skinstad tiff- because I agree on the obvious skills that he posessed and the fact that it was not used properly.

The rest I am pretty much in agreement with.

It was a masterstroke by Rassie to use props to nullify the Bulls momentum runners- but the fact that bakkies & Vic tried to be the playground bullies also helped.

I am sorry that Matfield is injured, as I believe that him playing for the Bulls against the Cheetahs is actually weakening them.

Now they will have a 5 lock that will be playing his heart out- and Matfield was taken to the cleaners anyway by barend Pieterse in two successive finals. He did murder us in the Bloem 2005 game though in the lineouts.

Interesting cohesion that you mention about the Cheetah pack- It is becoming a force to be reckoned with. Pity that we could not sign Tokkelos Coetzee.

Will also like to see the way Ockie Van Zyl is going in the S14, and another yster is in the making in Bian Vermaak.

I agree with you totally as always on Ryno vd Merwe, being very underrated and would like to add the name of barend Pieterse- who is an extra loosie but with tight five mongrel

Thanks again- good arti- much appreciated.
always a pleasure, you know by now loose forward play is a passion of mine and an area in the game that is highly underrated.

i agree with you on matfield, too little is made from the psychological edge in rugby. the stormers had it until last year in the S14 against all other teams for 2 or 3 years, and the cheetahs have that over matfield it seems, although he always seems to perform like a king in bloem strangely enough. must like your ladies there!

the prop thing was a materstroke by rassie, not only did he close the bulls down effectively, it freed up his loosies to a large extent not having to commit to the tackle too much and they ran riot in the tight loose.

without what i reckon being a decent number 8, rassie has somehow taken three brilliant flanks and made them into a potent combination. something i still cannot quite figure out how he did it but that is why he is the technical genius.

Juan could fill in at 8 and he will actually be very good there, but he is by far the best blindsider in the country and arguably the world at the moment and will only get better, so he must be kept there.

ryno does a brilliant job, but man i would love for him to specialize at 6. unfotunately he might end up in the same boat as the late ettiene botha, being a brilliant player but never running out for the bokke. man this size fascination really pisses me off.

i was honest in my assessment that the only team that can compete with, not only your loosies, but your pack, at this stage is the Lions. they might just be edging you in the speed and ball carrying ability in the loosie department currently.

in a perfect world (and if i was a cheetah supporter) i would loved to have seen a combo of:

6. Ryno
7. Juan
8. Wikus van Heerden

i still rate wikus as a potential great number 8 - the Lions are missing a trick here.

dont you want to give us some of the monster props you guys are breeding there?

hell i will even take ollie!!!

(actually i rate ollie - he is a smart-ass and i dont like him on a personal level but a good player)
hehehe on the Props

Its all about skaapboud & genes

And there are some good trainers here as well

On Wikus- yes the Lions is missing it but I still believe that the Bulls are missing him the most,

on the lions loosies sure, they outplayed us in bloem, the difference was not as pronounced at Ellis- so we will see what happens in S14- then we must sqeeze them more upfront.

cannot blame matfield on the bloem ladies- but then only of academic value to me :-)

I am really looking forward to the 10 feb game- it is going to be good

the Bulls will be well prepared and whoever plays will be determined to win- likewise the Cheetahs

Hope it is a good game- whoever wins- so that it can kickstart a great South African S 14
On Ollie

I do not know him personnaly so take my comment for what it is

How many pro-players are really nice guys when they are at home?

Is the coolness a facade or a by-product of their percieved status?
his coolness is not a facade, given i met him a couple of years ago in CPT things might have changed.

but he was a real ass then. very young and just broke into the big time.

we had a common interest back then, a lovely las from oranje meisieskool who visited het mom every holiday in CPT.

btw, neither got the girl, she ended up with some twat from the strand and went all weird and hippy like embracing some weird religion.....but damn she was fine.
PA you surely have fond(led) memories of the "Pampoen Klooster" then ;-)
oh hell yeah OO.

man she was a honey if i ever saw one.

this is maybe why i always wanted to move to bloem, if all the girls looked like that man i would have been in heaven.

mind you in all my visits to bloem i had the time of my life, great place, great people.

i love it there, unfortunately my better half thinks it is a backwards plaasdorpie. (and look where we are now!!!!)

i will educate her though...
hell in some cases she is unfortunatly spot-on , but hey times are changing- but it is not St Petersburg, yet ;-)
hey i am a small town boy, i hate the damn city.

i would fit in perfectly.

pitty they already have the best analyst in the game their.

ag couple more years and ill kick his ass
"Pampoen Klooster".....???

Great arti, PA.

Just think, if George Smith or Neil Back had been South African they'd never have played international rugby.
good point ras.
Okay, I have to know what a 'Pampoen Klooster' is right now!!

OO, you never commented on those figures I provided for the Western Force, do you think the Cheetahs are being short changed?

"Are the Cheetahs being given a raw deal from SARU?"
Well even Rassie needs abreak now and then, He should start a analyst academy here


Oranje Meisies Skool aka pampoen klooster- their skirts got this awful colour, but if its short enough, habba the colour

the girls got this weakness for "foreign accents" hence PA's fondness.

Yes we have been Short changed for quite a while now, in the boardrooms but somehow the on field play have consistly shown up the politicians, from King Louis to BvR

We are used to this, just a pity that most of the time our own administrators also manages what we have in a very "questionable manner"

i have to run, will pick up things later tonight

thanks for visiting
I disagree PA

There's major problems among our national loose forwards because their roles are not defined.

We don't have either a specialist fetcher or a good specialist ball carrier.

Our loosies are effectively left to their own devices without any thought for what their loose forwards roles should be and rather with regard to what their role is in the main strategy of the game .... i.e. rush defence.
why do you think i rate the Lions and Cheetahs loosies then davids.

they basically do exactly the opposite of what you just said is wrong with sa loosies and how we use them.

what rassie has done though is an enigma itself, in my view he has 3 flankers but still manage to use them effectively as a combination.

the lions are missing one trick like i said, wikus will be a great number 8.
in addition to that like i mentioned in the article, you can have teh three best individuals as loose forwards, but if they don't gel, they will be useless.

gelling in effect means that they work together as a team with each one doing his specific job.
Some rugby supporters with brains as well. Congratulations PissAnt on an interesting article. I am always a supporter of common sense. In rugby terms this mean that team selections must be clever.Oh I like your loose trio combo. No "Moans" about old Wickus. He is a quality player with presence and BMT. Also no place for old Schalkie? He is totally overrated. He won't make my Bok team or even my super 14 team. As a lock ala Matfield i will look at him again. People generally dont agree. According to most people he is a superstar-legend in the making. Bla bla bla.... The best springbok combo of the past decade was Rassie, Venter and Teichman. The latter nothing special as an individual player. But so effective in the team set up and as a Captain. I prefer a nr 8 or 9 as my captain. (Or any other person with common sense and BMT)seperate article? Bob Skinstadt was a briljiant sub, but nothing more. At the end a super asshole.
thanks sors.

interesting thoughts and it seems we concur.

you are right when you mentioned, common sense seems to fall by the wayside when it comes to rugby - in the end it is a simple game, and should be coached, played and reffed as such.
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