Thursday, 30 August 2012

Our green tinted dimmers……

We as South African rugby supporters are so passionate about the sport, we live, breath and eat rugby, some even say we are religious when it comes to the sport. This is great for the game, with this passion comes great interest and investment from fans and business alike, this investment helps to grow and improve the game, the down side to this zealous support is that we sometimes lose objectivity when assessing the state of our rugby and our teams.
Don’t get me wrong, I get worked up, elated and frustrated just like most when watching rugby, I wear my heart on my sleeve when my team takes the field, but after the final whistle, well maybe not right after the final whistle, I like to take emotion out when assessing the team’s performance.  This is why after every weekend of SANZAR rugby I always like to read articles by Kiwi journalist Tony Johnson, his outside view is almost always unbiased, honest and places games, especially those involving SA teams, into perspective for me.
Now I don’t expect us to be void of ANY bias or emotion when discussing or writing about our rugby, it’s the differences in viewpoints that make the braai-time banter interesting. We all have different choices for different positions and preferences to different playing styles, these are aspects which are subjective and are needed to create healthy debate, to gain new ideas and to ultimately improve.
What I do find frustrating is when fans and rugby analysts take obvious information and twist it to support arguments that bolster the image of our rugby, sometimes undeservedly. I am all for backing your country, in fact I take exception to those who do not cheer for an SA team when they play ANZAC teams, but I cringe at the arrogance that is sometimes dished  up by people when our teams are perceived to be doing well.
The most recent SA rugby propaganda being reported is that the South African conference in this year’s Super Rugby tournament was the strongest of the 3, it is suggested that because we had three teams in the top 6 and one topping the overall table that we were better than the Australasian conferences, this argument, while on the surface looks appealing and true, conveniently excludes the performances of the other 9 teams. Each conference is made up 5 teams and therefore all these teams HAVE to be included when judging the performance of the entire conference.
I am no statistician and know that anyone can bring in a multitude of additional figures to disprove my logic, but below I try to illustrate which was the best conference in this year’s Super Rugby tournament by focusing simply on log points attained. Log points are the end game to get home ground advantage, teams can get points even when they lose if they are competitive enough, so I feel this is an accurate gauge of conference strength.
In the tables below I compare total maximum points available to a conference to their final points accumulated by the teams. Each derby match provides the 2 teams to get a combined maximum of 7 points from a game while each cross conference match offers either team to get a maximum of 5 points. So let us get to numbers.

Conference log points comparison. 

As we can see from this illustration is that the NZ conference is almost 4 bonus point match wins ahead of us in the final analysis, that is quite substantial if you ask me. This year Australia were very poor by only taking half of their points on offer, the numbers would suggest though that the conferences were closer to each other when looking at the competitiveness  of the derby games, who said the Aussie conference would be easy?
I have also added as similar analysis using the top 3 finishers from each conference, with this graph I wanted to illustrate that although we had 3 teams in the top 6 we ended with only 2 more points than the NZ conference top 3. Not really the dominance some might want you to believe.
All numbers aside the more important fact is that we had 3 teams in the finals and only came away with that participation medal they call the conference trophy, let anyone try argue that we are the best after that that little stat.
The addition of ex Bok and Italy coach Nick Mallet to the SuperSport rugby panel has been great for me to watch, his frank opinions on various rugby topics have been a breath of fresh air and is exactly what SuperSport desperately needed as the sports channel has become more of a pom-pom bearing cheerleader of SA rugby than critical analysts most fans enjoy. Their pre/post match analyses have become predictable and not even a touch screen can liven up what to me has become a glorified post match, clich├ęd interview. Mallett offers us more with his insight and thought provoking arguments than any of the player sound bites and video clips thrown at us every Thursday night. He asks the hard questions which are avoided by most, questions which some are too scared to know the answers to.
We need people like Mallett and Johnson to give us perspective, to generate debate and to help us put a spotlight on the deficiencies in our rugby, to help us remove our green tinted dimmers, if we can’t do that, how else are we to improve?

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Do not become hypocritical when judging the Kings………

Much has been written about the inclusion of the PE based franchise in next year’s Super Rugby tournament and I have spent weeks pondering what my position is on this matter, after all the “facts” I have read in the media I would have to settle on being pro Kings inclusion although I do not wholly agree with the method this was done.  Looking at what has been said before regarding this mess, created by the so called leaders of SA rugby, it would be foolish to try and rehash arguments for and against their inclusion so I am not writing this post to convince anyone that SARU was right or wrong on this decision.
As most will know, and others might need reminding, the way the Kings gained entry to Super Rugby is not without precedent in SA rugby, the Natal Rugby Union was elevated to the Currie Cup Premier division in 1987, back then I’m sure there were heated arguments for and against this decision just as is the case with the Kings today. Granted the game had not gone professional back then and the gap between Currie Cup first division and Super Rugby is much, much bigger than the one the Banana boys had to jump back then, but the point remains it has been done before and it has reaped great benefits for the Bok team and whether the Kings deserve this promotion or not should be seen with this precedent in mind.
One of the major reasons for the Kings’ inclusion and major consternation within the rugby community is the need for transformation in SA rugby, we all have our opinions, reservations or optimistic views regarding the matter and it is a topic that will be around in SA sports (barring Soccer) for a very long time. I have yet to come across a white rugby fan who has a problem with any player of colour in their respective team as long as he is there on merit, all they ask is for the players to be the best in their positions regardless of the colour of their skin, thankfully this is the view point of the broader rugby community as well. Today in the Springbok squad we have players of colour who are great and in some cases legends, no one can deny the pedigree of Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen  or Beast who have served the Boks with distinction, then there are those who are working their way into the side such as Sia Kolisi, Lwazi Mvovo, Juan de Jongh and Bjorn Basson, to name a few, who will one day be Springbok greats, these players are examples of the game not only transforming but transforming in a meaningful and positive way despite, in my opinion, the lack of adequate grass roots development structures for black communities from SARU.
I truly believe that the only way to have sustainable and effective transformation in SA rugby is to build it from the bottom up, make sure you have strong structures in areas you want to develop, ensure you provide assistance for those you want to help grow and make sure you create opportunities for them to grab. This is where the Kings come in, their goal and reason for wanting a franchise in Super Rugby is to promote and develop what is often referred to as the breeding ground of black rugby in SA, the Eastern Cape. In order to do this they need the resources being exposed to Super Rugby would provide, from what I read they have an academy up and running and have a few signings out of that academy.  The structures are being put in place, if what we read is to be believed, and the increased revenue next year will go a long way to strengthen them. Although the building blocks are there I do not believe that those structures are the conveyer belt of black players the Kings’ detractors are screaming for at this point in time, now I spend a lot of time on rugby news and blog sites while also following a lot of rugby people on the various social media such as Twitter and the underlying tone of derision towards the Kings is “well if you are in Super Rugby for transformation where are all your black players?”,  this is an argument which both confuses and irritates me as some of those fans, posters and bloggers who demand merit based selection of players in all rugby teams now want the Kings to select the first 15 black faces in their squad to compete in 2013, not one of those who are shouting for this darker tone from the Kings’ team, in their first year of Super Rugby, would accept it if that were forced on their team.
Whether you agree with the Kings method of inclusion or not, no one can escape the fact that they will be playing in 2013, any anger for this mess should be directed at the circus which is currently running our rugby and not at a union who is only fighting for its best interests. The inclusion of the Kings however does take a step in the right direction, and in my opinion a step which is necessary for SA rugby, to help resolve the long standing issue of transformation.
In the Springboks squad we now have those players of colour mentioned before but it must not be forgotten it has taken us 20 years to reach this point. Some might say 20 years is too long, there are many complicated reasons for this, too many in fact to argue in this short blog posting, the point I am trying to make is that to transform rugby we need to focus planning and development projects in the right areas and from the bottom up, this will take time to do properly, whether this IS done will be seen through the Kings.
The white portion of the SA rugby community has always asked for patience with regards to transformation at the traditionally white unions as they know this process takes time, the Kings now should be afforded this same courtesy. There should be no double standards applied to the Kings when assessing their transformation goals and no vitriol spewed their way before they have even started trying, allow them time to build, to develop, to fail and hopefully one day to succeed, using the Sharks elevation as an example, the Springboks can only be better off if they do.