Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

01st October 2012 12:21

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Rugby Championship South Africa v Australia Duane Vermeulen and Pat McCabe

Back in business: SA transformed?

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the evolution of teams, toothless Sharks and playboy mercenaries...

The way international tournaments unfold is fascinating these days. Some teams start conservative and then begin to cut loose. Some start full of dazzle and end up playing only to the narrowest of visions. Some just keep flogging the same horses regardless of the need for fresh power, others baffle with scattergun selections, only settling on a 'strongest team' right at the business end. Some continue to experiment even then.

For all the recipes, there's a successful precedent somewhere, with the first of those being the most-generally accepted recipe for success: master the basics, then add to it.

Perhaps this is South Africa? Or perhaps it was just the long, long-overdue addition of an angle-running fly-half to the mix, but either way, the Springbok side that obliterated Australia on Saturday looks to have transformed.

Jean de Villiers vehemently denied there had been a change in tactics, a denial for the large part confirmed by watching a re-run of the match. There was not a lot less kick and chase. The difference was in the ability to recognise the existence of a chance and take it. Blessed with a fly-half of pace, skill and vision - and in Francois Louw, a flanker with the same - the Springboks looked remarkably like a really good rugby team.

New Zealand may have won all their games prior to Saturday's display in la Plata, but they had been perhaps a little greyer than normal. Not any more. Suddenly, we had all the tricks: innovative new moves, initiatives to try and score with every instance of ball in hand, extraordinary pace all over the pitch. Theirs also has been an evolution from the tighter to the more expansive this tournament.

Regardless of the fact the All Blacks now have the trophy on the shelf, Saturday's clash with the Springboks should be regarded as an individual final, the two best teams in the world head-to-head, both now looking complete in their togetherness and preparation, both well up to speed and with the right men in the right places in their teams. We can't wait!


Away from the south, the Northern hemisphere is in full swing, although that particular phrase might not be appropriately applied to Sale at the moment.

The Sharks are in turmoil. The forwards coach has been unceremoniously dumped, the players are voicing concerns in public - some about each other. Bryan Redpath re-iterates his fury each week, but there just doesn't seem to be much reaction.

From upstairs there's been a bit, with Steve Diamond said to be talking to Brian Ashton about some consultancy work, also deciding that if the forwards coaching job were to be done properly it should be done by himself.

It's not healthy to have a CEO manning that station as well, particularly not one as strong-willed as Diamond. Lest we forget, it was Diamond who orchestrated - more or less - an unpleasant poaching of Redpath from Gloucester, not to mention the unsavoury scenes in the coaching boxes when the Sharks played Northampton a couple of seasons ago.

Currently, the Sale culture has all the hallmarks of Diamond's style. It's old school, at times almost bullyish. An open, brutal search for accountability, an emotionless wielding of the axe, a high-pressure emphasis on not being so bad.

What goes on behind the scenes we can only guess at. But looking through the window there seems only to be this pressure on the players rather than any sort of development or evolution such as discussed above.

That's unhealthy for players, a negative atmosphere, one that inhibits and stresses rather than encourages and fosters. It helps some, but for many - we'd argue, the majority - it often leads to stress fractures, particularly in terms of discipline, such as Andy Powell's flicked V-sign at Bath's fans as he left the pitch on Saturday.

Ashton, a much quieter and more man-managing type, would be just the man to change that culture. With Leicester next up, Sale have to hope he arrives in time.


Sometimes star signings help smaller clubs. Others are just bad news, unnecessary drains on a club's financial resources, talented men coining it on past reputations but all the while setting bad precedents for the club's youngsters they ought to be setting examples to.

Which category Mike Phillips slots into we'll leave to you to decide, but was it coincidence that after he was suspended indefinitely for getting into a scrap while out on the sauce after Bayonne were hammered by Toulouse last week, Bayonne bounced back to nick the Basque derby in Biarritz and gain their second win of the season?

We don't think so. He's had a lot of chances, this might be one silly night out too many.

Loose pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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