It’s staring us in the face – Jake

Jake White

In South Africa, we always say, “New Zealand, New Zealand, New Zealand,” when we talk about how to solve our rugby problems. The All Blacks are the benchmark in world rugby, but we have that same system for success in our back yard and we don’t seem to see it.

It all became clear to me watching Maties play Wits in the opening round of the Varsity Cup. I switched on the TV and saw a stadium full of students having fun, a stadium full of maroon T-shirts and people singing songs, and then I saw the crowd sing the anthem with the two teams lined up.

I heard the commentators talking Wits up and saying this was going to be a great game of rugby. They explained that Wits had come up in leaps and bounds, that their rugby is growing and their captain, Constant Beckerling, is a great leader and a warrior who leads from the front.

Maties had this Chris Smit boy at 12. He kicked well, ran well, took the ball to the line and basically ran the whole show.

Wits were there, playing with spirit, passion, guts and emotion. But even though everything looked like it’s supposed to, Maties were always going to win that game. That’s exactly how New Zealand rugby operates.

Maties have been to eight of the 11 Varsity Cup finals and won four, and if we just changed the name ‘Maties’ to ‘New Zealand’ and ‘Wits’ to any other rugby nation, then that match would have played out exactly like an All Blacks Test.

As the game unfolded, the team with a 12 that understood what needed to be done, and a young 10 that listened to the 12, took control. Maties’ new scrumhalf made a linebreak for a 60-metre try that reminded me of Aaron Smith.

Take nothing away from Wits, they scored two really good tries and the commentators called it champagne rugby. But even when they scored in the beginning and it was relatively close, if you watched the game with no emotion, it was never going to happen.

As a guy who went to Wits, I can relate to how they were feeling, but what emotion and passion can’t match is decades and decades of tradition.

Maties got murdered in the scrums and lineouts, and, just like New Zealand would do, they won.

The way they overcame the challenge of losing first-phase possession smacks of a championship team. There’s so much more to the Maties program than just winning scrums and lineouts. If you’re at Milnerton High School in that situation, you probably don’t win the game, but if you’re at Paul Roos or Affies, you do. Why is that?

Maties will go back to the drawing board and fix their set piece over the next couple of weeks but there’s a lot more to them than just being a good rugby team.

The things the All Blacks pride themselves on, Stellenbosch oozes. The traditions, the blazer, the jersey and what they represent.

If you listed the greats who have come out of Stellenbosch, it would match (if not better) any other country’s legends. You could almost pick a World XV from that group.

Maties is the envy of every other team in the Varsity Cup and people know that when you go to Coetzenburg, it’s different. It’s a full house, they’re good players and they’re well coached. Wits will be saying “we killed them in the lineouts!”, but the reality is that even if you play well for 30 minutes, you still leave Stellenbosch with no points. There will be days when teams get it right against Maties, but that doesn’t change the fact that the building blocks of the Stellenbosch program makes them a well-oiled machine, just like the All Blacks.

And rugby is much easier when all those other things are in place.

What the All Blacks are famous for we have in our University system. Why aren’t we emulating that program in our senior and national teams? We sit in awe of New Zealand and ask how they keep doing it, but the winning recipe is on display every Monday night in the Varsity Cup.

It’s staring us in the face.

- Jake White

Let's chat

  • Barry

    Thanks Jake, a good read.

    You only need to attend mid- week house matches to understand the passion, commitment and tradition!

    It does again emphasize just how sad the current state of affairs are with WP rugby. How is it that you can have three great rugby producing varsities on your door step and still manage to balls things up. With the resources in such close proximity WP should be unstoppable- the administrators have much to answer for!

    • Greg Shark

      Run like an amateur club? Lack of real ‘professional’ leadership and management? Resonate with most RSA unions? Somewhat out of touch?

    • Whinger

      Too many Ikeys and ex-Ikeys in the WP set-up. Some very iffy players being contracted. Just have a look at the WP Currie Cup side and rugby challange side.

      • Barry

        Can we assume a Stellies man then, perhaps?

  • John Comyn

    I think Jake is eluding to building a winning culture and as Jake will know, better than most, this is extremely difficult in SA. Winning the WC was the perfect platform to build continuity for the next 4 years but SARU, in their infinite wisdom, did not renew his contract and hired PDivy. Rassie was appointed on a 6 year contract to do exactly this and was under pressure to survive after 4 or 5 games! Here we have a, generally, poor media, provincialism (a good example is the bleating on this site when a favorite Shark, Lions player is not picked) and then of course we have ANC politicians telling the coach who they can and cannot pick. Maties have none of these problems and 100 years of tradition behind them.

    • Greg Shark

      Well John would you not bleat when your favourite WP player is not chosen over a journey man player? When some damn good players from a side that just chopped WP in the CC final (deride the competition if you feel) yet some WP players not deserving go on Bok tour? Provincialism is alive and well…..

    • Dale

      And what did Pdivvy do wrong ? He beat the Allblacks in their own backyard and got robbed at the World Cup? He won the British and Irish Lions too ?

    • Dale

      Maties also have a have politics involved, they have Varsity cup rules enforced to them to play with a certain amount of players aswell! Don’t use our countries politics and history as an excuse!

  • Lesego

    Its always lekker to have some bucks in the sparries rekening…

  • Charles Botha

    Hello Jake rugby is like Family, like Business you can only build on a good foundation laid with the intention of ages to come.
    To look good for a short while is possible but not sustainable.
    I watch rugby and see two things 1) the Scrums collapse out of sheer pressure from the big players behind the front row. It is extremely dangerous and tiring so much so that teams need replacement front rows for each game. The solution will be that nrs 6 and 7 do not engage in the scrums and take their places behind nr 10. That will take 4 players out of the scrum and relieve the pressure making the scrum safe and bearable for the front row. It will also make the game faster and more exciting to watch. If this is implemented and satisfies the rugby world then it is a step forward.
    2) The 2nd aspect that i as a viewer has noticed is the players have developed such rugby skills that the rugby field is well covered making it difficult for players to breakthrough the defence.
    That leads to many rucks and mauls and i get tired of watching this over crowded rugby. What could solve the problem is to have nrs 6, 7 and 8 rotate on the nr 8 position.
    Yes i do mean that we play with 13 players on the field that would make the front row safer, the game faster and breath life in to the game of rugby. The front row can now be lighter and more agile.
    Players, Supporters and Viewers will enjoy a game of skill and pace making Rugby Great again.

    • Faghrie

      It would make it safer for the front row but would take away all the space as there would be extra bodies in and around the backline. I think the law should change to force all eight forwards to engage in the scrum and lineout. This would create more space for the backline to attack as it would basically be 7 versus 7 from first phase ball. They should also police the offside line more aggressively.

    • chris

      How would adding 4 more loose fwds to the backlines lead to less rucks or not overcrowd the backline ?
      Aslo fail to see how that would enable more backs to break the defensive line after a set play.

  • SweetAz

    At the risk of getting repetitive, I will tell you the problem. On second thought, never mind.

    • Barry

      Getting soft Sweet, off colour perhaps?

      • SweetAz

        Nahh, just don’t have the patience anymore, -and some people just refuse to see the wood for the trees as evidenced already by some “Ikey” fanboy. I will tell you this though, I went to Affies when the culture Jake speaks off was prevalent and my wife went to Potch Girls High. Both schools historically had the culture Jake speaks of, my daughter went to Potch because her mother was an old girl and nowadays it’s more like a zoo and everything is in chaos, so it’s quite apparent that institutions which have maintained their cultures remain successful whilst the more “integrated” ones descend into chaos. You only have to broaden your view to Eksdom, Transnet, SABC, SAP, SANDF and the SPRINGBOKS to see the exact same chaos.
        An old saying springs to mind, you can mix Shyte and ice cream and the shyte remains unaffected, but it sure as hell stuffs up the ice cream.

        • Herman Schroder?

          Gee whiz, SweetAz, sounds like you’re going through menopause. Strength brother the sun will come up tomorrow. Cheers.

        • Simnikiwe Xabanisa

          Sounds rough being you, man…

          • SweetAz

            Still rather be me than you.

  • Chris Mouton

    You make some good points, Jake. I’ve always been an adamant supporter of promoting from the ground up. The coaching staff of successful Varsity Cup teams needs to have some serious backing and even promoted to further levels. This can only lead to success. Imagine if all the Super Rugby coaches have that winning pedigree on some level, be it at varsity level or junior level? Perish the thought.

  • Piet

    Jake you just jinked Maties. Tuks is going to win them this year.

  • Mark

    Professionalism. When people play for money – that’s the issue. (Somehow NZ have found a balance) When pplayers play because they want to play for their team = real passion. Danie Craven is spinning in his grave. Super Rugby is dead, Rugby Championship is Dead, and we have murdered the Currie Cup in the quest for more money.

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