We might have beaten them at Ellis Park in the last match of this year’s Rugby Championship, but who will forget that moment in the previous test between the two sides in New Zealand when the scales of fortune tilted and broke millions of South African hearts yet again? With the Bok defence spread wide, All Black fly-half Aaron Cruden lifted a high kick and Kieran Read leapt into the air above the defenders to catch the ball two-handed and pass to Richie McCaw to score in the corner. Those five points secured the victory in the match as well as the Rugby Championship for New Zealand. Can we learn anything from that pivotal moment prior to the World Cup next year?
Three nations – New Zealand, Australia and South Africa – have won the World Cup twice, but no country has ever achieved a hat-trick of victories. In the 2015 Rugby World Cup to be held in England and Wales, the early rounds should provide no real scares for the Boks, although regard should be given to the game against Samoa on September 26 at Villa Park in Birmingham. The prospects for the semifinal, if all goes according to plan, would see a match against England (The Boks opponents this weekend), and a chance for our team, largely composed of Afrikaans speakers, to get one over on their old foes. If form persists and we do well, the final at Twickenham on October 31 should see the Boks pitted against the All Blacks.
How can we learn from Read’s heroics and secure a record third World Cup? Most rugby fans believe today’s game is akin to trench warfare, last seen in World War I where armies hurled themselves at each other while newly invented machine guns massacred a generation. The rugby played by most international sides has become boring and predictable: the players lined up and play short passes with heads-lowered charges, seeking a few yards each time. The real profit, if there is any from that ludicrous style of play, will come in later years to the coffers of brain and orthopaedic surgeons.
The great novelist George Orwell had something to say about that when he described serious sport as having nothing to do with fair play. “It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words, it is war minus the shooting.” Satirist Jonathan Swift seemed to agree when he said, “Most sorts of diversion in men, children and other animals are an imitation of fighting.”
So what can we do to change the patterns of the game so that we can win the Holy Grail of rugby? If you cannot break down a wall, it has been said, you have to soar over it. That was certainly the theory of those who play war games. Before 1939, all sides operated under largely theoretical models of air warfare. Many said strategic bombing alone could win wars, as the bomber always gets through and you can’t stop a bomb from landing.
And so sport must borrow new techniques from the killing game. If we are to learn from what Read achieved, we must analyse the move. It was not very complicated and involved kicking the ball over the defensive line and following it up, leaping high into the air, and with a two-handed catch distributing the ball to runners following up. Why can our Boks not practise this move until they can do it better than Cruden and Read? If it needs a code, we could call it the “giraffe move”. Apart from Read, there was previous precedent for the move. To a limited extent, the Australian centre Tim Horan, who was named player of the 1991 World Cup in England, carried out the strategy from high kicks from fly-half Michael Lynagh
It may be a wise move to include Victor Matfield in any future training, as he has had years of experience catching in line-outs. He surely has some good advice about following up and securing a high kick – you have to run at full pace and leap high. No basket catching into the chest, beloved of full-backs hitherto; you must use the hands, stretched up high, with fingers splayed, for maximum purchase on the falling oval.
There will be complaints about how difficult it is, but it’s their job to practise for hours on end. They are professionals, and this would make a welcome break from the gym. And a dancing coach might help with the leap and the development of the calves and other muscles, so vital to obtaining maximum height. Then we might see a new sporting Bolshoi Ballet, spring-heeled as they run full pelt and leap high to clasp the ball. If it is reckoned that the best violinists practise more than 50 hours a week, there can be no cause for complaint if the sporting titans are required to put more time into a strategy that might ensure victory.
From that vantage point they can throw pin point passes to the charging players, as Read did to McCaw. Once victory has been secured, the only ceremony that will remain will be for our victorious captain to accept the World Cup from Her Majesty. With both hands held high above his head.