As New Zealand and Australia get set to do battle on the sporting field once again, this time in the Bledisloe Cup, the one-time pinnacle of International Rugby, i think it is only fair that we, as kiwi fans, take a moment to spare a thought for our Australasian cousins. The realists among them are starting to come to terms with the reality that their star has faded, and they are no longer the sporting superpower they once were.
Around the turn of the century, Australia could lay claim to being the best all-round sporting nation on the planet. Not a huge population, they still managed to excel in a number of discipines:
Tennis: Their two best players in Hewitt and Rafter spent time at #1, and won multiple Grand Slams. The Woodies, particularly Woodbridge, could lay claim to being the best doubles players ever. It was a golden time
Cricket: Undisputed kings of all forms, unbeatable at home, nigh unbeatable away, with a host of all-time greats; and in the discussion as the greatest cricket side of all time
The Olympics: Sydney was a triumph of an event, with the home nation taking home 58 medals, including 16 gold. THis flowed in to 2004, where they took their tallies even higher, across a huge number of sports
Motor Cycling: Mick Doohan was coming off 5 straight MotoGP championships, while Troys Corser and Bayliss were winning Superbike titles repeatedly
The Socceroos were assembling their greatest ever side that would eventually get out of the Group Stage of the World Cup, including such luminaries as Cahill, Kewell, Schwarzer, Viduka, Aloisi, Bresciano
And of course rugby. 3 super sides were always at the pointy end. The Reds topped the table in '99, The Brumbies were tussling with the Crusaders for the claim to be the best team in the comp. And this flowed to the Wallabies. '99 World Cup. 01 Lions. Multiple wins over the All Blacks, legit claim to be the best team in the world.
And this isn't an exhaustive list, their league team was more dominant, it seemed no matter what they played, they won. A true golden age.
Compare and contrast with today
In tennis, their two best players are a couple of douchebags universally reviled by their own fans, who can't even be fucked playing at Wimbledon
The cricket side has slipped to 4th in the world records, and closer to little old NZ than the top of the table. Series losses home and away are now the norm, rather than a cause for shock. Players were on strike a week ago because they couldn't afford to buy a 2nd Italian sports car
In the Olympics, Australia's plummet down the medal table has been stark. Medal totals have halved, and again, they are closer to little old NZ than the top of the table.
Do they still ride Motor Bikes? Daniel Riccardo seems like a bit of a dude in F1, but hardly in a position to actually win anything.
The Socceroos are in a fight to qualify for the next World Cup, despite playing a bunch of impoverished nations.
And of course the rugby. Super teams winless against NZ opposition. One team fighting their death in Court. The Wallabies are unable to bank a win at home against Scotland any more. Grass roots on it's knees. A bad Bledisloe series, and the public could switch off, for good this time.
So, dear All Black fans, while you are having your pints this weekend, celebrating the return of test match rugby, and the opening of the once-revered South Hemisphere competition, take a second and commiserate with our trans-Tasman cousins. They are going through a tough time of it, it's never easy getting used to a new reality.
People (especially ozzies) often say that Super Rugby is difficult to follow because they know little about the opposing teams, so in the spirit of adding something different to the conversation I thought I would a bit of write up Crusaders' opponents for this Saturday's Super Rugby final, the Lions.
Where are they from?
On paper the Lions represent three unions in the central north east of the country, but they are really Johannesburg based team.
So what kind of place is Jozi? Imagine London, Detroit and Kinshasa all mashed up together.
The city started as a mining town back in the late 19th century and quickly grew to be the largest city in South Africa and the its economic center. The 130-odd years since has done little change the feel of the city and everything feels like it could be replaced/abandoned tomorrow and no-one would bat an eye. Everything feels temporary.
The clearest example of this is the old CBD (where Ellis Park is situated) which used to be the most important real-estate in the country, but in the period between the late 1970's to the early 2000's it was abandoned by business and the middle-class to become crime-ridden high-rise slum. It is sad to see, but in a typical Joburg fashion the businesses simply folded up their tents and set up shop 10km further north without a hint of nostalgia for what they were leaving behind.
In general joburg can be broken up into three parts - London in the North around the stock exchange and assorted high finance types; Detroit in the east and west around the few remaining mines and factories; and Kinshasa in the south around the deserted city center and Soweto even further out.
But in all these places you will find people who are looking to make their fortunes. Whether it be fresh-faced finance graduates, or dirt poor immigrants from from other parts of Africa, they are all looking to make a buck. Joburg is a little slice of the good 'ol US of A; big, brash and dangerous.
Yeah, so? What about the rugby team?
The Lions are just the Golden Lions (previously Transvaal) in a different frock.
Despite its population and economic advantages Transvaal has historically been the third most successful union behind Western Province (Cape Town) and their northern neighbour, Northern Transvaal.
This is kinda weird though, why have they not dominated SA rugby in the same way that Auckland dominated rugby in New Zealand? I think it has something to do with the schizophrenic nature of the place. Kinshasa was never allowed at the table and London had better things to do. That left Detroit to represent the entire region. It is this aspect that I would argue still shapes the personality of the union to this day.
Nothing, and no-one, personifies the blue collar culture of the union better than the union's president during their heyday of the early nineties, Louis Luyt. Luyt was self-made man who worshiped his creator. Growing up poor in the Freestate he made his millions from fertilizer and beer before becoming president of the Transvaal Rugby Union. During his tenure the Lions built a formidable team of former Northern Transvaal players who all conveniently decided to play their rugby south of the Jukskei river (this was when shamateurism was rife). At the union also invested heavily in Ellis Park, exactly at the time when everyone else was moving away from central Joburg. This decision to double down on their downtown location was probably the start of their long decline.
Professionalism wasn't kind to the union. In a typically egotistical moment, Luyt, by then the President of SARU, arranged a marriage between the Gauteng Lions and Freestate in what should have been the strongest South African frnachise on paper, the Cats. On grass however the Cats sucked, never quite living up to their team sheet.
Well not quite never. The Cats had a uncharacteristically successful couple of seasons right at the turn of the century under a brash and abrasive Laurie Mains. They made the Super Rugby semi's in 2001 and 2002 when this still meant something. There really seems to be something about cunts and success with this team.
Between this little blip and 2012 the Lions continued to slide into oblivion. It is quite astounding how rubbish they were. Between 2003 and 2012 they only finished above second-to-last once, in 2009 when they finished 12th out of 14 teams. By 2013 they had been kicked out, and looking back it is pretty hard to justify keeping them in the competition with those sort of results.
But wasn't just the on-field performance that were poor. The union had become rotten to the core. Club rugby was dying, they were producing nearly no Springboks, those they did produce moved off to other provinces and their school league was probably the weakest in the country.
By the end of 2013, the union was all but broke and dead. The year out of Super Rugby had bankrupted the union and there appeared to be no way back.
It was around this time, that the union found some benevolent board member who were able to finance the union over until they they sorted themselves out. It is amazing to think how close rugby was to dying in South Africa's largest and richest city.
It seems like Joburg just thrives on regenerating itself just when you think it is dead.
Johan Ackerman, who took over as head coach in 2014 will deservedly receive great praise for what his team has achieved, but the rebuild actually started a little bit before that.
Between 2011 and 2013, John Mitchell was coaching the team. Unlike the other cunts mentioned so far, he didn't enjoy a lot of on-field success, but his contribution was invaluable in re-starting the union. Mitchell and his assistant coach, Carlos Spencer, changed the way that the team trained with much greater focus on improving the individual skills of the players. Absolutely vital in this regard was extracting the Lions from the general dick-waving contest that is junior rugby in South Africa.
The Currie Cup here has two junior competitions at under 19 and under 21 level that run concurrently with the senior competition. The big unions also played Vodacom Cup at the same time as Super rugby. All in all, the big unions maintain between four and five full time pro teams at any one time. The competition for young talent is silly, with WP, Bulls and Sharks all signing about thirty to forty kids straight out of high school. This obsession with big squads is terrible for the balance sheet and also for the quality of coaching that players receive once they are in the system. Under Mitchell the Lions started contracting fewer kids and started focusing on improving the few that they do sign. Mitchell's revolution has meant that the Lions have been able maximise the talent of their squad. We can only hope that the Lions continue down this track despite their new found onfield and financial success.
At time of writing the Lions are still one of the
four three original Super franchises who have never won a title. That may or may not change this Saturday, but regardless of result on Saturday, this is good time to be a Lions supporter.
They have an honest, humble, likable team under their very impressive (and unfortunately injured) captain Warren Whitely. The team is often incorrectly described as a bunch of journeymen, but that is not really accurate. They are bunch of talented players that have been allowed to flourish in an environment which should act as blue print for the other South African team in how it should be done.
Things are looking up financially, but their position will always remain precarious due to their stadium. Ellis Park is great when the crowds stream in from the suburbs, but as soon as soon as they lose momentum those same supporters will stay at home rather than running the gauntlet that in central Joburg.
It is amazing how things just seem to fix itself when things start going well. All of a sudden the Lions are again producing Springboks and their Craven Week side was crowned champions at the annual senior schools competition.
As fellow traveler I want to congratulate the Lions on what they have achieved and wish them the best of luck for Saturday.
|Highlanders v Reds||Dunedin||14-Jul||7:35 PM|
Richard Buckman, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Rob Thompson, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Kayne Hammington, Luke Whitelock (c), James Lentjes, Liam Squire, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown
Reserves: Ash Dixon, Aki Seiuli, Guy Millar, Gareth Evans, Dan Pryor, Josh Renton, Marty Banks, Patelesio Tomkinson
Karmichael Hunt, Izaia Perese, Campbell Magnay, Duncan Paia’aua, Eto Nabuli, Quade Cooper, James Tuttle, Adam Korczyk, George Smith, Caleb Timu, Izack Rodda, Rob Simmons, Taniela Tupou, Stephen Moore (c), Sef Fa’agase
Reserves: Alex Mafi, Markus Vanzati, Sam Talakai, Kane Douglas, Reece Hewat, Moses Sorovi, Hamish Stewart, Jayden Ngamanu
|Rebels v Jaguares||Melbourne||14-Jul||9:45 PM|
15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 Nic Stirzaker (captain), 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith
Reserves: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Fereti Sa’aga, 19 Esei Haangana, 20 Murray Douglas, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Sione Tuipulotu, 23 Semisi Tupou, 24 Jonah Placid
15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Matías Moroni, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Rodrigo Báez, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Benjamin Macome, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Enrique Pieretto, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Reserves: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Ramiro Herrera, 18 Lucas Noguera, 19 Ignacio Larrague, 20 Juan Cruz Guillemain, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Juan Martín Hernández, 23 Santiago Cordero
|Kings v Cheetahs||Port Elizabeth||15-Jul||5:00 AM|
15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Wandile Mjekevu, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Lionel Cronje (captain), 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Mzamo Majola
Reserves: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Irne Herbst/Mzwanele Zito, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Rudi van Rooyen, 22 Masixole Banda, 23 Waylon Murray/Yaw Penxe
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Elandre Huggett, 1 Ox Nche
Reserves: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Armandt Koster, 20 Junior Pokomela, 21 Chris Dry, 22 Ruan van Rensburg, 23 Niel Marais
|Sunwolves v Blues||Tokyo||15-Jul||3:05 PM|
15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Willy Tupou, 12 Timothy Lafaele, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Tu Tamura, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 6 Malgene Ilaua, 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Kotaro Yatabe, 3 Koo Jiwon, 2 Takeshi Hino, 1 Koki Yamamoto
Reserves: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Yasuo Yamaji, 19 Yuya Odo, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Jumpei Ogura, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka
1 OfaTu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 3 Charlie Faumuina, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5 Scott Scrafton, 6 Akira Ioane, 7Blake Gibson, 8 Steven Luatua; 9 Augustine Pulu, 10 Ihaia West, 11 Melani Nanai, 12 TJ Faiane, 13 George Moala, 14 Matt Duffie, 15 Michael Collins
Reserves: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Jerome Kaino, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 Rene Ranger
|Chiefs v Brumbies||Hamilton||15-Jul||5:15 PM|
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Solomon Alaimalo, 13 Alex Nankivell, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames.
Reserves: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Tom Sanders, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Shaun Stevenson
1 Nic Mayhew, 2 Robbie Abel, 3 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 4 Tom Staniforth, 5 Blake Enever, 6 Scott Fardy (C), 7 Jarrad Butler, 8 Lolo Fakaosilea
9 Tomas Cubelli, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 11 James Dargaville, 12 Andrew Smith, 13 Nigel Ah Wong, 14 Henry Speight, 15 Jordan Jackson-Hope
Reserves: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Ben Hyne, 20 Tom Cusack, 21 Jordan Smiler, 22 Ryan Lonergan, 23 Tom Banks
|Hurricanes v Crusaders||Wellington||15-Jul||7:35 PM|
Jordie Barrett, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara (c), Brad Shields, Ardie Savea, Vaea Fifita, Sam Lousi, Mark Abbott, Jeff To'omaga-Allen, Ricky Riccitelli, Ben May
Reserves: James O'Reilly, Chris Eves, Loni Uhila, Reed Prinsep, Callum Gibbins, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Wes Goosen, Cory Jane
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 David Havili, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd (captain), 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Sean Wainui
|Force v Waratahs||Perth||15-Jul||9:45 PM|
15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Bill Meakes, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Michael Ruru, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Pek Cowan
Reserves: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Jono Lance, 23 James Verity-Amm
15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Ron Horne, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Cam Clark, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Dean Mumm, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Reserves: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 David Lolohea, 18 Angus Taavao, 19 David McDuling, 20 Ryan McCauley, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Mack Mason, 23 Andrew Kellaway
|Sharks v Lions||Durban||16-Jul||3:15 AM|
15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 S’busiso Nkosi, 10 Garth April, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt (captain), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit
Reserves: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Jeremy Ward
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Reserves: 16. Akker vd Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza
|Bulls v Stormers||Pretoria||16-Jul||5:30 AM|
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Duncan Mathews, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Nick de Jager, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Shaun Adendorff, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Conraad van Vuurren, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Pierre Schoeman
Reserves: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 John-Roy Jenkinson, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Piet Van Zyl, 22 Tony Jantjies, 23 Burger Odendaal
15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Reserves: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Juan de Jongh, 23 Dan Kriel
- Joe Moody (27)
- Codie Taylor (18)
- Owen Franks (93)
- Brodie Retallick (63)
- Samuel Whitelock (87)
- Jerome Kaino (80)
- Sam Cane (43)
- Kieran Read (99) - Captain
- Aaron Smith (61)
- Beauden Barrett (52)
- Julian Savea (53)
- Ngani Laumape (1)
- Anton Lienert-Brown (12)
- Israel Dagg (64)
- Jordie Barrett (1)
- Nathan Harris (7)
- Wyatt Crockett (61)
- Charlie Faumuina (49)
- Scott Barrett (7)
- Ardie Savea (15)
- TJ Perenara (32)
- Aaron Cruden (49)
- Malakai Fekitoa (23)
- Mako Vunipola
- Jamie George
- Tadhg Furlong
- Maro Itoje
- Alun Wyn Jones
- Sam Warburton (captain)
- Sean O'Brien
- Taulupe Faletau
- Conor Murray
- Johnny Sexton
- Elliot Daly
- Owen Farrell
- Jonathan Davies
- Anthony Watson
- Liam Williams.
- Ken Owens
- Jack McGrath
- Kyle Sinckler
- Courtney Lawes
- CJ Stander
- Rhys Webb
- Ben Te'o
- Jack Nowell
(booboos original post follows)
Flush the dunny.
ABs will be forced into more changes in the backs anyway.
Forwards should stay the same. And forwards bench unlikely to change.
Backs well ...
We'll be without Bender and SBW, probably Naholo and maybe Crotty still.
If Crotty is close to better they'll bring him in, but assuming he's not, and assuming all foyr as above are out what's your plan?
For me, given hiw Laumape went I'm starting him at 12.
Can Rieko play 14 (With Jules to 11)? I'm thinking of leaving him at 11 though and moving Izzy back to 14, with JB to 15.
Would give serious consideration to JB kicking.
Would need to find a new benchie. Does Julianuary offer enough cover from the bench? Would mean Rieko or maybe JB covering midfield.
Next in line appears to be Goodhue. Dmac could have a claim at that given both are injury replacements. Or have I forgotten someone?
As for the Lions I'd suggest lawes to start ... but am not really fussed about them. They'll be strong regardless.
Once again it will be as absolute war. If it's 15 on 15 for me is a 50:50 prospect.
It was funny watching yesterday as usually you have this feeling that the ABs just need to get some possession and they'll start to roll over the top. Just didn't get that impression yesterday. Although that may have been due to the numerical disadvantage.
Poite is likely to be weird but less weird than Garces. Of the two am pleased that he and not the other is reffing the decider. I'd prefer just about anyone else but is the lesser of the two evils.
We'll be interesting. Lions playing good rugby to come back into that game and deserve massive credit. I still think Warren G is a massive dick and hope he loses.
And hope the good guys win and send the chippy Pom Islanders home with their tails between their legs.