Former national rugby coach Ian McIntosh tells a story about an irate fan approaching him after the Springboks had returned home from their tour to New Zealand in 1994.
The expedition had been marred by poor refereeing while the advent of post-match citing procedures had South African supporters up in arms that the Boks had consistently been done in.
Emerging from isolation the Springboks struggled to come to terms with some interpretations, lost the series to the All Blacks (two defeats with the final Test drawn) and gave away their totem Springbok head to Otago. The upshot was that “Mr Mac” was sacked, much to the outrage of his supporters in Tom Bedford’s Last Outpost of the British Empire, and one of the King’s Park faithful needed to express his support of the coach.
“It was bad enough that they cheated you Mac, but what was worse is that the buggers made you play at 4.30 in the morning!”
That was in the days before rugby officials and television execs adjusted kick-off times to fit in with 10-hour time differences and South African fans had to be up before dawn to watch the matches.
These days, thanks to the marvels of technology, rugby tests played at awkward times are easy to track. Just set up the PVR and watch when it suits you.
In fact, my habit is to always tape games to be able to check on incidents so NZ vs Australia at midday and the Boks against Argentina late on Saturday night meant a “koffie-en-beskuit” viewing on Sunday morning.
One can skim through quickly, avoiding scrums being set or kicks being taken, but I was not expecting to discover a new insight into the wizardry of the All Blacks.
The factors that give the All Blacks supremacy are unquestioned. Their structures are better, they are more skillful, more assured in their methods, smart at disguising or shifting the point of attack, fitter and always seem to be able to produce an X factor player such as the outrageously talented Beauden Barrett.
However they are also quicker of thought and execution.
This became abundantly clear while doing my catch-up. The Explora decoder spools quickly and after watching the profoundly disappointing Springboks against the Pumas I skipped to recorded action at Eden Park.
With the All Blacks in possession I kept finding that I missed lineouts or scrums when rolling the picture forward. Each time it was the ABs turn to put the ball back into play after touch or a breakdown play would already be on when the action came back to real time.
The Kiwis are quick to kick penalties to touch (if they decide to), quick to take lineouts, quick to go down for scrums, quick to get back in position, quick to hustle into defence and quicker and seemingly fitter after long passages of play.
It was something I also noted during the Super Rugby Final between the Crusaders and the Lions when one could overhear ‘Saders captain Sam Whitelock hurrying up the referee with a sharp, “can we get on with it, mate!” to end a stoppage.
Juxtapose this with the way the Boks, and others, tend walk to lineouts or take their time in setting scrums.
The All Blacks have a relentless appetite for attack and will always try to speed things up.
Thus it follows that the way to beat them is to frustrate them. As former Wallaby lock Nathan Sharpe has pointed out, the way to get the better of them might be to play set-piece/field position rugby, to employ hard line tactics and to limit mistakes.
Add to make them play from deep, to kick accurately to land and not to hand to keep them on the back foot to draw the sting of their exceptional fire power once the ball goes loose.
The Boks used to be able to play this way. Eighty minutes of “in-your-face” rugby – securing the ball, powerful scrums and dominant lineouts, indomitable driving, crunching tackling and turning the opposition.
Perhaps it’s time to wind back the clock and return to the way we used to play rather than being obsessed with how they play?
The question is whether we still possess that indomitable attitude and commitment and, the question has to be asked, are our players fit enough?