Thursday, July 21, 2016

Eight gold medals for New Zealand, says Sports Illustrated

Eight gold meals, eight silver and three bronze are to be New Zealand's lot at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero if Sports Illustrated's quadrennial pick for medals is to be believed.

Significantly among those from New Zealand, the American sports magazine doesn't believe shot putter Valerie Adams will be able to defend her title from London in 2012 with China's Gong Lijiao rated the gold medal prospect.

Also Lydia Ko is not tipped for gold in women's golf which is making a reappearance after last being played in 1900. Canada's Brooke Henderson is rated ahead of the world No.1.

New Zealand has the favouritism for the men's rugby sevens with Fiji picked to take the silver medal and South Africa the bronze.

Australia's women are tipped to win the women's sevens ahead of New Zealand.

In rowing, where New Zealand has been the dominant team in recent years at World Cup and World championship level, there are only two gold medal tips, They are Mahe Drysdale in the single sculls, Hamish Bond and Eric Murray in the men's pair without cox.

Kayaker Lisa Carrington is picked to win gold in both the women's 200m and 500m singles while in cycling the New Zealand men's sprint team is picked to win gold while in the women's events Linda Villumsen is Sports Illustrated's prospect for gold in the time trial.

Sports Illustrated's predictions for New Zealanders at Rio Olympics:

Canoeing

200m Kayak Singles, Lisa Carrington, gold
500m Kayak singles, Lisa Carrington, gold

Cycling

Men's

Keirin, Eddie Dawkins, silver
Team Sprint, New Zealand, gold
Team pursuit, New Zealand, bronze

Women's

Time trial, Linda Villumsen, gold

Golf

Women's, Lydia Ko, silver

Rowing

Men's

Single sculls, Mahe Drysdale, gold
Double sculls, Chris Harris and Robbie Manson, silver
Pair without cox, Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, gold
Lightweight four without cox, New Zealand, silver

Women's

Single sculls, Emma Twigg, silver
Double sculls, Eve Macfarlane and Zoe Stevenson, bronze
Pair without cox, Rebecca Scown and Genevieve Behrent, bronze
Women's eight, New Zealand, silver

Rugby Sevens

Men's
New Zealand, gold

Women's
New Zealand, silver

Sailing

Men's
49er skiff, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, gold

Track and field

Women's
Shot put, Valerie Adams, silver




Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bennie Osler runs into Mark Nicholls on muddy Newlands

Part Two: In which outstanding Springboks five-eighths Bennie Osler completes his description of the 1928 tour of South Africa by the All Blacks.


 When the All Blacks were in the final stages of their 1928 tour of South Africa they faced Western Province in their third last game, in Cape Town. Heavy rain overnight had the ground awash at 1pm on the day of the game.


Bennie Osler recalled the game on a tape recording that was transcribed and published in The South African Sportsman in January 1967.

"Newlands was a sea of mud and the correct tactics were obvious – the forwards must control the proceedings. We knew that we could out-scrum the All Blacks, who were still persisting with their 2-3-2 formation with one forward having a roving commission.

"Our captain Phil Mostert, decided that he would choose scrums to lineouts whenever he could and that I would use the boot to keep the All Blacks on their heels."

Osler recalled that the tactics 'worked like a charm'. However, while the All Blacks three-quarters were knocked over when they got any ball it wasn't the fault of any problems inside them.

"Bill Dalley, the All Black scrum-half, was a shining exception. He was simply great and I doubt if I ever saw a finer exhibition of scrum-half play behind a beaten pack," Osler said.

"It was mainly due to him – and a bad blunder by Jock van Niekerk – that the All Blacks had a 3-nil lead at half-time. Jock tried to stop Robilliard with a high tackle which the All Black wing shook off with ease and the next moment Dalley was up to take the pass and score."

In the second half the All Blacks lost centre Syd Carleton to injury which reduced the effectiveness of Ron Stewart who had to move to the three-quarters.

The All Blacks defence was stout however. Osler was able to level the scores with a penalty goal and then when wing P.K. Morkel unleashed a sidestep to score a try.

Several times Osler looked for a dropped goal only to find the All Blacks keen to deny him.

"We were seeing so much of the ball though that my chance had to come, and it did. I was going to try the blindside of the scrum when I noticed the entire defence swinging across to cut me off. I turned quickly on my left instead and ran a few yards infield.

"The posts were right in my sights and I even had time to aim deliberately before letting fly with my right boot. The sodden ball did not lift too easily but it somehow spun over the crossbar for four points," he said.

Soon after the final whistle blew on the All Blacks' fifth tour loss 3-10.

Hopes were high that the Springboks would do likewise in the deciding fourth Test.

But as Osler recounted the Springboks went into the Test 'just a little too confident and too complacently sure of ourselves'.

"Our mental attitude to the last test certainly played a big part in our defeat, but it was certainly not the only reason for the hiding we got. Oh no, that would be very unfair to the All Blacks' great performance that day.

"They staged one of the most glorious fight-backs in the history of rugby in that final test and deserved every bit of credit for winning," he said.

Osler noted it was the only Test in which Mark Nicholls, the vice-captain and veteran five-eighths, played.

"Why this player was so consistently overlooked throughout the tour I will never know, but we Springboks were certainly grateful that Mark did not get more opportunities against us.

"He gave such a masterful display that wet and miserable day at Newlands that I must rate him the finest fly-half I ever played against – on that one solitary performance.

"It was virtually a repeat performance of the first test of the series with the one important difference that this time the All Blacks wielded the whip. Their forwards came to light with a glorious performance and Nicholls dominated the match with his boot."

While the Springboks scored a first half try to J.C. van der Westhuizen, converted by Osler, Nicholls kicked two penalty goals to give New Zealand the half-time lead 6-5.

"In the second half the Springboks were hammered into the ground. The All Blacks held us even in the scrums and controlled the lineouts and the loose with some of the most fiery determined play I ever saw from any pack of forwards.

"Their dribbling rushes were difficult to stop and from one of them Swain got a try and then, to really rub it in, Mark Nicholls put over a beautiful drop goal to make the final score 13-5 – and we were very fortunate that the margin was not bigger."

Referees too often miss the point

Have referees in Super Rugby forgotten some of the basic tenets of the game?

After watching Round Six action over the weekend you can't help but wonder.

Take the Blues v Jaguares game at Albany's QBE Stadium.

Jaguares players were constantly in front of the kicker at re-starts and twice when penalty goals were landed by the visiting kicker players were in front of him before he struck the ball.

In one instance a player was two or three metres in front of the kicker. Under the laws of the game that is an infringement and the penalty goal should not be allowed

Given that referees constantly spend time at re-starts, both at halfway and the 22-m line, asking players to get behind the kicker to the point of being pedantic about it, you would think they would at least pay attention at penalty goal attempts.

They only seem to have eyes for the ball, as with much else in the game. 

What is going on?

In the same game, and no team is innocent here so the Jaguares are not being picked on, there was deliberate intent of diversionary runners to block players from attempting to line up tackles.

Sadly, there is nothing new in this and it has been going on for years but these are clear and obvious obstructions that are being allowed to continue uninterrupted. The referee on the ground makes an arbitrary decision that a player was not impeded.

Where has one of the great sights of the game, the crash tackler, gone? He has no show of lining up a player from a distance out and delivering a bone-jarring tackle to dislodge the ball and sometimes change a game because someone is deliberately getting in his way to prevent that happening. Why not just call it gridiron, or American football, and be done with it?

The crash tackle, a legitimate tactical option, has gone the same way as the ruck and the four-point dropped goal - down the road, and not always for the better.

Another point. The notion that halfbacks would have to feed the ball straight into the scrum is now recognised for what it always was, a joke, but should that slackness in rulings be allowed to apply to lineout throwing.

In a key moment in the Waratahs v Rebels game in Sydney on Sunday, the Waratahs had a lineout throw which was clearly down their line, yet the referee standing behind the lineout with an unimpeded view did nothing. This was in spite of a roar from the Rebels' side of the lineout, 'Not straight'.


It is often said that the best referees are those who are inconspicuous and who have a feel for the game. Those qualities are not being exhibited consistently enough by referees who are more guilty of being a distraction in the playing of the game.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Springbok legend describes 1928 series with All Blacks

Springbok flyhalf Bennie Osler is regarded as one of the great five-eighths to have played the game and he was a formidable opponent for the 1928 All Blacks on their tour of South Africa.

Yet, for all his feats during that season, Osler said he went into the 1928 season with his enthusiasm for rugby at a low ebb.
 
Relating his life story, as covered in a series of book extracts from audio tapes he made before his death, in The South African Sportsman magazine in 1966-67, Osler said it wasn't the game that bored him that year.

"It was the atmosphere of exaggerated praise, unfair criticism and constant argument which surrounded me that depressed me most of all," he said.

Osler admitted that he hadn't enjoyed his rugby since leaving the University of Cape Town in 1924. He had become a marked man and that drove him to play more of a kicking game than he wanted.

However, the All Blacks offered a new challenge and he first played them on their second game of the tour against Western Province Town clubs.

"It was a rough, grim match and a very unfortunate one for me. Beforehand there was a rumour that the All Blacks had delegated one of their forwards, Ron Stewart, to make me his prime objective.

"Steward was a good forward, tall, heavy and fast, and with his roving commission, he was a real thorn in my side in this match," he said.

However, Osler's game was badly affected by a twisted ankle when a boot came down hard on the bridge of his foot, causing him to fall awkwardly. It didn't come right until around the time of the first Test, where Osler was buoyed with the news his brother, 'Sharkey' [Stanley Osler] was to play at centre.

"We were quite confident mainly because we knew that the All Blacks could not hold us in the scrums with their outmoded 2-3-2 formation," Osler said.

Once the Test started, Osler noted: "Watching the two packs struggling for supremacy I remember noticing the difference in mental approach. The All Blacks were quiet in a deadly sort of way and Brownlie would only occasionally bark out an order. The Springbok forwards on the other hand appeared more volatile and relaxed and they kept encouraging one another.

"What a great pack they were that afternoon! Slowly but surely they took a vice-like grip on the proceedings and Pierre de Villiers, all nippiness and purpose, began getting the ball away to me despite the attentions of the All Black scrum-half Dalley, who did his best to smother my little partner from Paarl," Osler said.

The Springboks had a chance to score 20 minutes into the game when wing Jack Slater got through with only fullback Dave Lindsay to beat with Stanley Osler unmarked outside him.

"But to our horror Jack, instead of passing to Stanley ran right into fullback Lindsay and a glorious chance was lost."

Soon after inside centre Duffy was tackled heavily and while continuing was not in good shape.

"From virtually the next scrum I got my first chance when Pierre evaded Scrimshaw, who was acting as the All Blacks' 'rover' that day, and passed the ball to me. I was hemmed in by the defence but instead of smothering me as quickly as possible they hesitated – the biggest crime you can commit in a test match. I dropped for goal and the ball went high over the crossbar. With four points up we were off to a good start. This reverse stung the All Blacks into all-out aggression and until half-time we had to defend with all we had."

Duffy was taken from the field at half-time leaving South Africa to play the second half with 14 men.

Soon after the re-start Osler landed his second dropped goal.

"As my boot hit the ball, an All Black tackled me from behind and I was nearly knocked unconscious…

"After my second drop-goal the All Blacks began to concentrate on me with an intensity that was almost frightening. To be too concerned with one player is a double-edged sword, however, and when I was late-tackled less than three minutes later, Mr Neser was on the spot to award a penalty."

Osler added a second penalty goal, although his description was interesting: "I got another straight-forward pot at goal" which to most New Zealanders of a certain age would suggest a dropped goal, or 'taking a pot'.

"I then decided to have another try at bringing Stanley around the blindside and this time he was right there to streak right through. At the right moment he flipped the ball to wing Prinsloo who went over the line but lost the ball as he bent over to dot down!"

Eight minutes before the end they did score through Slater to beat the All Blacks 17-0. Osler's match haul of 14 points was a world record for an individual in Test rugby.

The press and public went wild but Osler remarked it only took three weeks for them to turn after the All Blacks took the second Test 7-6. He was booed when missing touch a couple of times and criticised for not giving his wings more of a chance.

"…yet a quick glance at any newspaper report of the match will tell that no less than four tries were thrown away by the Springboks because of rank bad handling.

"I am not trying to make excuses because I DID kick very badly that day. Although I put over a penalty [sic – conversion], I missed several drop-goals from easy positions and my touch kicking was also weak and pointless," he said.

The third Test at Port Elizabeth he rated as one of the most enjoyable of his career as both teams ran the ball throughout before the All Blacks were beaten 11-6.


But a bigger challenge awaited. (To be continued)