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Is Super Rugby’s restructure to blame for the All Blacks’ slump?

More and more experts are concluding that New Zealand are missing regular clashes against South Africa. It seems that the Boks’ exit from Super Rugby has done more harm to New Zealand rugby than vice versa.
By the time you read this, the All Blacks have halted their losses at three.
But, regardless of the outcome against the Springboks in the second round of the 2022 Rugby Championship at Ellis Park, this season has been one of discontent for New Zealand.
There is no denying the All Blacks are in a slump after losing five of their previous six Tests before the Ellis Park clash. But a slump for a team that historically wins 77% of its Tests, and in the professional era (1996 to the present) wins 81% of the time, is a relative concept.
A little more than a month ago, the All Blacks beat Ireland 42-19 in the first Test of that series before losing it 2-1.
While the score flattered the home team slightly, they showed their traditional ruthlessness from turnovers.
Ireland had issues going into the first Test with Covid disruptions, front-row injuries and losing influential flyhalf Johnny Sexton in the first half of the match. The All Blacks feasted on the chinks in the Irish armour that day.
But, in the following two weeks, Ireland sorted out their issues at prop, Sexton stayed fit and the tourists played a more percentage-based game, which exposed an alarmingly soft All Black underbelly.
Ireland dominated the gain line, won the breakdown battle and earned lineout supremacy as the All Blacks’ set piece inexplicably broke down. In short, the mighty All Blacks were bullied physically.
More harm than good
It seems that South Africa’s exit from Super Rugby has done more harm to New Zealand rugby than vice versa. They were bullied in contact in Mbombela, again underlining that their pack has lost an edge.
In 2020, the alliance broke down for reasons that are too long to go into here.
The upshot was that South Africa went north and was aligned with European competitions, and New Zealand remained tethered to Australia.
Some pundits warned that South Africa’s lack of exposure to New Zealand’s skilful ball players at provincial level would be to the Springboks’ detriment in the long run.
However, it appears that New Zealand players’ lack of exposure to the brutal physicality of South African provincial teams is having a bigger negative impact on their game.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster ...

Batting in focus as Proteas gun for Test glory against an old foe

Dean Elgar will shoulder a lot of responsibility at the top of the order, but the South Africans will need their best players to fire as a collective if they hope to claim the desired results against England.
The Proteas have progressed steadily over the course of a challenging and significant multiformat tour to England. After sharing the ODI spoils with the hosts, and claiming T20I series victories against England and Ireland, they are in a positive space heading into a three-Test showdown with the old enemy.
Earlier this season, the Proteas beat top-ranked India in South Africa before drawing a series with the Black Caps in New Zealand. They have reason to believe that another major success is within reach.
At the same time, they should know why a Test series triumph in England will require a step up in intensity and composure.
There’s a buzz in the UK about the national side and the type of cricket they have played since Brendon McCullum took the coaching reins.
Dean Elgar — a warrior-like batter and an unflinching leader — intends to tackle England’s “Bazball” tactics head on. South Africa certainly has the players to unsettle England’s batting lineup, and the local conditions may suit the Proteas’ quick bowlers.
Whether the Proteas batters can master these conditions and post totals of substance remains to be seen.
South Africa enjoyed much success when touring England in the 2000s and early 2010s. In 2017, however, a less experienced unit was routinely exposed, and a disastrous series ended Heino Kuhn’s Test career and Russell Domingo’s tenure as head coach.
Batters bolstered great side of 2012
Five years earlier, the Proteas boasted a more experienced and balanced Test team, arguably the greatest South African XI.
The point was made on the eve of the third and decisive Test at Lord’s when Hashim Amla — who scored a record-­breaking 311 in the first fixture of the series — made an astounding claim.
He was asked to comment on his ascent to the top of the batting rankings and his status as one of the world’s premier Test players. How did he feel about being the best?
Amla smiled before responding: “I’m not even the second-best batsman in my team.”
That Proteas side included Jacques Kallis — the third-most prolific run-scorer to date — as well as the supremely gifted AB de Villiers. At the time, some felt that Amla’s comment was self-effacing. Those in the know recognised that ...

Springbok coach refuses to concede that selection decisions were behind Ellis Park setback

The All Blacks capitalised on a strong start to beat the Springboks 35-23 at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber was defiant that his selections for the second Test against the All Blacks were correct, even if compelling evidence on the field suggested otherwise.
Nienaber chose to start with inexperienced hooker Joseph Dweba and match-shy No 8 Duane Vermeulen for the crucial encounter. And both players struggled while the in-form Malcolm Marx and Jasper Wiese looked on from the sidelines as the All Blacks built up a lead.
Both players were substituted before halftime, but by the time Marx entered the match on the half hour, it was 10-0 to the All Blacks. When Wiese joined in the 35th minute, it was 15-0 to the visitors.
The Boks clawed their way back into the contest and led 23-21 with 10 minutes to go, but they faded badly in the dying moments of the thrilling contest as New Zealand scored two more tries to win 35-23.
Only they will know exactly how much it took out of them to fight back from such a large deficit, but they clearly ran out of puff at the end of the match.
Marx’s omission in particular was a mystery because he gave a brilliant man-of-the-match performance a week earlier when the Boks beat the All Blacks 26-10 at Mbombela. He made five breakdown turnovers in the match. At Ellis Park the Boks did not make a single breakdown turnover in the first half.
The most likely way the All Blacks would win at Ellis Park was to make a strong start. Marx’s and Wiese’s absence allowed the All Blacks a small window of opportunity and they barged through it.
Dweba, who was called up to start when Bongi Mbonambi pulled out with a knee injury, is clearly a talented player with a bright future.
But in the cauldron of Ellis Park, against the old enemy, in a match where the Boks had a chance to beat the All Blacks twice in consecutive weekends for the first time in a generation, the best players needed to be on the field for as long as possible.
Marx is not only the best hooker in the world on current form, he is quite possibly the best rugby player in the world right now too. Lukhanyo Am might have something to say about it, but that is another story.
At a lunch held at Pirates Rugby Club ...

The All Blacks Springboks clash of Ellis Park in pictures

The All Blacks produced a performance of brutal physicality and smart running to reclaim the Freedom Cup for a 12th straight year at Ellis Park on Saturday. They ended a three match-losing streak and stopped the Springboks from winning the Freedom Cup for the first time since 2009. The All Blacks now also have a better than even chance of winning the Rugby Championship.

All Blacks bounce back against Boks with stunning Ellis Park heist

If this was to be All Blacks coach Ian Foster’s final Test in charge, he can exit the job with a sense of satisfaction after a superb display by his callow team.
South Africa 23 (10) New Zealand 35 (15)
After being smashed in Mbombela, the All Blacks produced a performance of brutal physicality and smart running to reclaim the Freedom Cup for a 12th straight year.
They ended a three match-losing streak and stopped the Springboks from winning the Freedom Cup for the first time since 2009. The All Blacks now also have a better than even chance of winning the Rugby Championship.
There was certainly an element of ‘backs-to-the-wall’ mentality from the All Blacks and it’s probably too early to say if this result represents the start of a resurgence, or just a one-off spike. The next few weeks will be telling.
For the Boks though, the same questions could be asked in reverse. Was this one poor performance amid a growing body of good work, or are they not as good as they should be?
One thing is certain, the Boks are now under huge pressure for the away stretch of the Rugby Championship because their record in Australia is poor. A few more losses on the road in the coming month will certainly raise legitimate questions about the direction the team is going.
The final scoreline and margin perhaps flattered New Zealand with Scott Barrett’s late try, but the All Blacks started faster and finished stronger. That was telling.
The Boks began poorly and were never able to fully claim a foothold in the match, even though they briefly took the lead for the first time 12 minutes from the end.
Perhaps it was the seemingly never-ending pomp before the game, but it took an age after the teams emerged from the tunnel to start with a Boeing flyover and the Minister of Sport being presented to the teams. After the frothing frenzy of the anthems, everything went flat before the match started.
Poor selections
But in truth, the Boks lost this match in the selection process. No 8 Duane Vermeulen was not match ready and gave his most anonymous display in Bok colours.
He was pulled off five minutes before halftime. Hooker Joseph Dweba might be the coming man, but he’s not quite at the level of Malcom Marx and Bongi Mbonambi.
The strange decision to start the youngster when Mbonambi was ruled out with a knee injury, ...

African champions Sundowns Ladies ready for stampeding Buffaloes in bid to retain Cosafa title

Defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa will face Green Buffaloes from Zambia in the decider of the 2022 CAF Women’s Champions League Southern Africa qualifier on Saturday.
They may be the reigning African champions but Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies have not had it all their way in the second edition of the southern region’s qualifiers for the CAF Women’s Champions League.
Following an emphatic 8-1 win in their opening game of the ongoing Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) mini-tournament (which they won in 2021), Sundowns were unable to be as ruthless against Botswana’s Double Action Ladies – being held to a one-all draw.
Ther result caught Banyana Ba Style by surprise. They are used to running riot against opposition, or grinding out a positive result even on a rare off day. However, Double Action, who the South Africans thumped 6-0 in last year’s edition, demonstrated massive improvement to hold the Tshwane side in Durban.
“We faced a very organised side who showed they have learnt their lessons from last year’s competition. Although we played our best, we ended up with a result that we least expected,” was Sundowns assistant coach Agnes Nkosi’s assessment.
“Despite the result, we remain a force to be reckoned with and we will dust ourselves off from this and plan for the next game.”
In spite of that result, the reigning African champions still finished top of their group with four points from their two games, thanks to second-placed Double Action’s inferior goal difference.
Now Masandawana must attempt to stop the stomping and stampeding Green Buffaloes in the tournament final in Durban. The Zambian side collected maximum points from their two group games, scoring eight goals and conceding none on the way to comfortably topping Group B.
Read in Daily Maverick: “Sundowns Ladies kick-start Champions League defence in Durban”
For their troubles they now have a final date with the continental champions. Sundowns’ usually solid and assured defensive line will have its hands full with the focal point of the Buffaloes pack, Ireen Lungu, who tops the scoring charts, having netted five times so far.
“She is a girl who you don’t have to coach a lot, she is intelligent and knows what to do with the ball. She is a very sharp player. I think we are lucky to have her,” said Buffaloes coach Charles Haalubono of the impressive Lungu.
“She is also a utility player, you can play her even on the wings ...

South Africa out to tick one more Boks against All Blacks at Ellis Park

The Boks could win back-to-back Tests against the All Blacks for the first time since 2009, which is another box they want to tick.
In terms of the Rugby Championship, Saturday’s Springboks vs All Blacks clash at Ellis Park is important, but not decisive. But for many other reasons, it represents the biggest clash between these sides in a generation.
The Boks have not beaten the All Blacks on consecutive weekends since 2009. They have a chance to not only win a Test against the old foe, but also to establish undeniable supremacy over their age-old tormentors.
Ever since the mission of winning Rugby World Cup 2019 was accomplished, the Springboks’ eyed another challenge: establish consistency between World Cups.
Covid-19 set that plan back because it took the Boks out of the entire 2020 season. In 2021 it became a weekly fight for survival in a season that was ravaged by positive Covid cases and affected by biosecure bubbles, which took a toll on all members of the squad.
Therefore, 2022 is the first “normal” season the Boks have had since winning the World Cup and represents the real yardstick of their progress. And matches against the All Blacks are always the tip of the yardstick.
The Boks might have won a Lions series and beaten the All Blacks in Australia in 2021, but it was a disjointed season.
Which is why, after three wins in four Tests in 2022, and with a chance to put the All Blacks away again after last week’s 26-10 victory at Mbombela, this game is about so much more than winning the Freedom Cup and staying in the chase for the Rugby Championship title.
To use the favoured coaching cliché, it’s about ticking important boxes – consistency and dominance. A home defeat at Ellis Park for the Boks would be a major setback.
Ellis Park
Tactically and physically both sides have their plans and ideas going into the game, but some aspects are hard to define and even harder to prepare against.
Ellis Park, the Boks’ spiritual home, is a unique ground because on big days, the mood is feral. Joburg’s air might be thin, but the atmosphere at the old ground is thick with hostility towards opposing teams. Especially the All Blacks.
Former All Blacks captain Kieran Read described it as the hardest place to win and where he played his most memorable Test – a 38-27 victory over the Boks in 2013. He described ...

Goals galore in DStv Premiership as teams sharpen up

Kaizer Chiefs flexed their scoring prowess ahead of a mouthwatering tie against reigning DStv Premiership champions Mamelodi Sundowns.
Following an opening DStv Premiership weekend, where goals were as scarce as moisture in the desert, the midweek fixtures remedied that paltry return from the curtain-raiser.
The first game week of the new campaign saw only 10 goals scored in eight fixtures, including two nil-all draws and just as many 1-0 victories.
By contrast, the second set of Premiership fixtures had a bit more to offer on the goals front, to the satisfaction of supporters back in stadiums from the season’s onset following the Covid-19 pandemic.
The goal tally improved by nine goals from the opener, with Kaizer Chiefs recording the largest winning margin – a 3-0 thrashing of Maritzburg United in front of a partisan crowd at FNB Stadium.
There was also a thrilling 3-2 win for Swallows over Cape Town City, while Royal AM netted three in their win versus Chippa United. AmaZulu compounded the misery of SuperSport United (who recently rehired Gavin Hunt as coach) early in the season by beating the Tshwane outfit.
Usuthu edged Matsatsantsa 2-1 thanks to strikes by former Orlando Pirates striker Gabadinho Mhango and Bongi Ntuli. Meanwhile, there were 1-0 wins for TS Galaxy and Sekhukhune United, who beat Mamelodi Sundowns and Golden Arrows respectively.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “DStv Premiership returns – some key takeaways from SA’s top-flight football league”
Amakhosi’s sworn rivals, Orlando Pirates, could only manage a 1-1 stalemate against a stubborn Stellenbosch side.
Resurgent Chiefs
In a convincing victory, Amakhosi demonstrated potential for the type of scintillating football they can play under new coach and club legend Arthur Zwane. Dynamic, blisteringly fast and clinical in front of goal, the Soweto giants repeatedly carved Maritzburg apart.
Chiefs’ new striker, Ashley Du Preez, acquired from Stellonbosch in the off-season, netted his first goal for his new club. Bafana Bafana midfielder Keagan Dolly grabbed the second, before Amakhosi’s 18-year-old academy graduate, Mduduzi Shabalala, added gloss to the result in the dying embers of the game.
Now the Soweto side will be looking to transfer the momentum gained against Maritzburg to a crunch tie against champions Sundowns on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld.
Masandawana are licking their wounds after falling to a surprise defeat as they faced a TS Galaxy side who keep improving under German coach Sead Ramović.
Speaking after the match, Sundowns co-coach Rulani Mokwena suggested that some of the side’s undoing came from the fact ...

‘Mbombardment’– All Blacks shuffle the pack and grumble about Boks’ aerial game

The All Blacks have made three changes to the pack and one in the backline for the return Test against the Springboks at Ellis Park this weekend.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster made minimal changes to his side, in what could be his last Test in charge, for Saturday’s return clash against the Springboks at Ellis Park.
Instead of overhauling the team that lost 26-10 in Nelspruit to their old foes, Foster has asked referees and touch judges to pay more attention to the Springboks’ kicking game. You know, the one that his side couldn’t cope with in Mbombela.
Brutal Boks destroy All Blacks despite red card
Richie Mo’unga will start at flyhalf in the only change to the backline, while young props Tyrel Lomax and Ethan de Groot have been called to start. Flank Shannon Frizell, who scored a late try in Nelspruit after coming off the bench, will also start.
Prop George Bower, who started last week, has been retained on the bench while fellow front rower Fletcher Newell could make his debut from the bench.
Foster’s selection is a concession that his pack was well beaten in Nelspruit, but by retaining the same back three, he hasn’t addressed the aerial shortcomings through selection.
Wings Will Jordan and Caleb Clarke and fullback Jodie Barrett struggled to cope with the Boks’ kicking game.
Perhaps they have come up with a new plan in the few days between Tests, or perhaps Foster is banking on referee Luke Pearce and his assistants taking a more sympathetic view of the All Blacks in the aerial contest. If so, it’s a risky ploy.
Nienaber continues to show single-minded clarity with five changes for All Blacks backlash
Tough situation
Foster is obviously in a tough situation after five losses in the past six Tests, which included a home 2-1 series defeat against Ireland. Barring thrashing the Boks at Ellis Park, there doesn’t appear to be an obvious way he can survive.
New Zealand Rugby held one review after the Irish series defeat and the upshot was they axed assistant coaches John Plumtree and Brad Mooar, but retained Foster. Whatever happens this weekend, there will be another review.
When it came to an internal review of their Mbombela performance, which Foster described as a “step-up in performance”, the main theme, it appears, was that the Boks’ kicking game is not on.
It certainly carries an element of risk. Bok wing Kurt-Lee Arendse was red-carded and later suspended for four ...

‘It gives you the idea it doesn’t want to be climbed’ — SA mountaineers conquer the formidable K2

In what is reported as a first for the country, South African mountaineers John Black and Warren Eva reached the perilous 8,611m summit of Pakistan’s K2 — dubbed ‘the savage peak’ — on 22 July.
In mid-June, South Africans John Black, Warren Eva, Robby Kojetin and Allan Dickinson set out on a mission to climb K2 — the world’s second-highest peak and one of the deadliest.
However, only Eva and Black made it to the top. Kojetin was struck by altitude sickness and was airlifted from Base Camp early in the expedition and Dickinson decided to remain at Base Camp in a support capacity.
Eva and Black’s expedition has been hailed after the pair became the first South Africans to summit K2, according to a website owned by mountaineer Alan Arnette, which is regarded as a reliable source of information among mountaineers. Their achievement has been widely reported in the media, but it is tricky to verify due to a lack of comprehensive records.
K2 lies about 1,300km north of Mount Everest, in Pakistan’s Karakoram Range, and closer to the polar region.
At 8,611m, K2 is about 238m lower than Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak at 8,849m. But while perilous Everest treks continue to be written about in books and made into movies, the lesser-known K2 has retained a sense of mystery. It’s also way more dangerous.
Among hard-core mountaineers, its climb is considered far more treacherous and technical.
“As a mountaineer, K2 is considered the ultimate — the mountain of mountains,” said Kojetin.
Describing K2 as very remote and situated in the belly of the wild, Kojetin said: “The base camp trek to get to K2 was over 100km. it’s fierce terrain, over glacial rock, and barren. It’s tough to just get to the mountain.
“It gives you the idea that it doesn’t want to be climbed.”
The mountain’s main climbing season is between July and August. But most summit bids, Black said, have been between mid-July and early August.
“It’s about a three-week window.”
This year, the first K2 summits were on 22 July. CNN reported that the mountain saw a record-breaking number of climbers, with officials saying 207 permits had been issued this season, amid a post-pandemic surge.
High-altitude mountaineering
Climbing K2 — as with climbing Everest and other high-altitude peaks above the 8,000m mark — is not a bottom-to-top journey, but a series of ascents and descents done in rotations.
“We needed to take equipment up the mountain, and we ...

Proteas Test captain Dean Elgar unfazed by England’s ‘Bazball’

The Proteas take on England in a three-match Test series from 17 August at ‘The Home of Cricket’, Lord’s.
England have been in remarkable form in the longest format since Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes took the reins as coach and captain, respectively. The team has played four Tests under their tutelage and have won all of them.
The new, aggressive style of Test cricket introduced by the pair has produced the term “Bazball” – to describe England’s approach to batting – adapted from McCullum’s nickname, “Baz”.
England’s four Test victories since June came against formidable opposition in world Test champions New Zealand (three) and No 2-ranked India (one).
Despite England’s recent Test success at home, South Africa’s Test skipper, Dean Elgar, is not worried about Bazball.
“Good for them. They’ve obviously taken a few risks along the way and it’s paid off. I think conditions had a massive role to play with regards to that kind of style of cricket. I’m not too concerned about the way they’ve gone about their things of late,” he said.
“It’s been an interesting style and caused a few conversations around the world around the way they’ve been playing [but] I’m not too concerned about that,” he reiterated.
Starting slowly
The Proteas started their Test summer with a three-match series against visiting India. They started the series awfully, with a hollow performance in the first Test and losing by 113 runs.
South Africa won the next two Tests by seven wickets and took the series 2-1 after showing grit and determination to fight back.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Proteas and England share ODI spoils in the rain, despite De Kock blitz”
But a month later they toured New Zealand for a two-match series and succumbed to a humbling innings and 276-run defeat in the first Test, although they fought back once again to win the next Test by 198 runs and draw the series.
Next up, a rudderless Bangladesh side toured South Africa in March and April when the Proteas handed the subcontinental side humbling 220-run and 332-run defeats to take the series 2-0 and nip the trend of starting slowly in the bud.
Slow starts ‘not an option’
Captain Elgar is fully aware of his side’s tendency to start slowly in series, but with two warm-up matches against the England Lions, as well as “tough conversations”, he is assured the trend won’t continue.
“It’s not our intention to start slowly but it’s my job and responsibility ...

CAF president Patrice Motsepe reveals more details of Africa Super League

The Africa Super League is expected to launch in August 2023, hailed as the competition that will take African football to the next level.
After initially sending out tentative details around a potential African Super League, which would feature some of the best football clubs on the continent, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has officially announced that plans are in motion for the launch of the audacious project.
The formal announcement of the tournament was made by CAF president Patrice Motsepe from Arusha, Tanzania, on Wednesday following a general assembly by the guardian of African football.
One of the objectives of the proposed Super League, according to Motsepe, is to position the continent’s football in the global upper echelons by ensuring Africa’s best clubs can compete financially with the rest of the world.
“African clubs have never had a good foundation, financially, to be able to keep some of the best players in Africa, from an income perspective. Because they [the players] love the continent, they want to be in Africa,” explained Motsepe.
“So, the financial part of club football is a critical issue and what we’re hoping to do is improve the quality of football. We need to get the spectators excited to watch local football, because it is as good as watching the best football in the world,” the 60-year-old South African businessman continued.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Super League could be a double-edged sword for African football progression”
Motsepe said with continental club football in its current guise, the financial means do not justify the end product for club owners – hinting that the Super League will be vastly different.
“One of the biggest problems of the top clubs in the current CAF Champions League is they pay a lot of money on transport, on accommodation, and when they win the money they get does not justify or compensate for the huge expenses they’ve undertaken,” Motsepe added while seated next to Fifa president Gianni Infantino.
A matter of money
Club owners have long bemoaned the costs of competing in the current CAF headline competition, the Champions League. The winners of the 2022 edition of Africa’s premier club showpiece pocketed $2.5-million (R41.5-million).
In contrast, Motsepe said the winner of the inaugural edition of the Super League may well walk away with a purse of $11.5-million (R189-million).
With the tournament touted to take off in August 2023, details around participating teams and where the exuberant prize money will be ...

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