So it didn’t quite end in jubilation, but the Lions’ SuperRugby campaign still brought enormous pride and good feeling over their rags-to-riches story, and the public will carry many of those emotions into the Rugby Championship that starts next weekend.
But it is vital to realise that the Springboks and the Test arena are entirely different environments to the Lions and SuperRugby, and comments calling for the whole of Johan Ackermann’s team to be promoted to the national side or for coach Allister Coetzee to simply copy the game plan are ill-informed, ill-judged and have the potential to be divisive.
The health of any rugby team has a lot to do with its unity of purpose and their togetherness as people, and one could sense some frustration this week when the Springbok management and some of the players were constantly asked questions that referred back to the Lions.
Hopefully Lions captain Warren Whiteley, whose hard work on the field and wise words off it are nothing short of inspirational, put that all to bed this week when he highlighted in no uncertain terms that the Springboks are different.
“There’s no debate about using the same playing style, these are two different sides and we are not talking about unions any more. You’re talking about a team at provincial level against a national side. Sure, we as Lions players can bring confidence to the Springboks and there are similarities in the way we are trying to play. But there’s a step up when you come to the Springboks and the intensity and speed with which we’ve been training is at another level to the Lions,” Whiteley said this week.
Last weekend’s column bemoaned the parlous state of the Currie Cup, South Africa’s flagship rugby competition, but the performance of the Lions is one of the reasons for optimism when it comes to South African rugby.
Amidst the ritz and glitz of the Olympics there was another reason for cheer, even if the Blitzbokke flattered to deceive and had to settle for a bronze medal (still a notable achievement and more than New Zealand or Australia could manage). I’m talking about Rasta Rashivenge being given the honour of refereeing the Sevens final, an appointment that continues a long line of excellence when it comes to South African officials.
They receive way more criticism than plaudits simply because of human nature, but our referees and the high standards they maintain is one of the best stories in South African rugby.
Some of the media were privileged this week to be able to sit down with leading referee Jaco Peyper for an information session just to help us scribes better understand why certain decisions are made on the field and how the officials are interpreting the details of the laws these days.
Peyper said a referee makes about 400 decisions in every game and there will always be little mistakes, but the important thing is to ensure these do not have a major impact on the game.
He also said it is important to note that the key focus areas that referees are blowing these days have been decided in consultation with the coaches and other stakeholders, notably medical staff. They have had their say on what the shape of the game should look like and how to make it safer, and the referee’s job is to facilitate that.
Interestingly, there are some well-known phrases in our rugby lexicon, like “downward pressure”, “the direction of the hands when passing” and “bringing the catcher of the ball down safely” that don’t appear anywhere in the laws of the game.
This has led to some confusion amongst the public when watching games and the referees and TMOs don’t take any of those polluting myths into account, most often leading to filthy language in the lounge. For a clear and thorough view of the laws, including the opportunity to discuss issues with leading referees, I would recommend going to http://www.sareferees.com/