Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’

On Monday (6th February) the sad news was announced that the great South African scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen (JVD) had died at the age of 45. In 2011 JVD was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Over the next few years he did much to raise awareness of and money to conduct research into this cruel disease; showing the same fighting spirit which led to his being one of the true greats of rugby of any era.


Joost van der Westhuizen was one of the greats of world rugby. In 2011 he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. He died on Monday (6th February) at the age of 45.


I heard it said this week that JVD was the first muscular scrum  half and the first large scrum half (a position traditionally played by smaller men). I would disagree with both of these statements. I grew up watching Gareth Edwards, often considered the greatest Welsh rugby player, who was a strong, muscular and dynamic scrum half. The only thing he lacked was height, but in the early 1980s Terry Holmes played for Wales, and he was 1m87, the same height as JVD. So, I would not agree that JVD was the first muscular scrum half or the first scrum half who was as large as a back-row forward.

It is sometimes easy when someone has died far too early to overstate their greatness. But, JVD was a great scrum half, there is no denying that. He was an inspiration to his team, and someone that other teams feared. In the 1995 World Cup, he was the first player to successfully tackle Jona Lomu, who had run rampant through every team against which the All Blacks had played.

But, JVD showed his true greatness in the way with which he dealt with his motor neurone disease (MND). He took it as an another challenge, and spent the rest of his life raising awareness of MND and raising money for researching in to it. In the video below is an excerpt from an interview which JVD did with the BBC in late 2014 or early 2015. It was replayed on Monday evening, the day of his death. Listen to his final words, when he is asked whether his MND may be considered a “blessing”

In a way I am glad I had MND. I now know what life is about

RIP Joost van der Westhuizen.

Read Full Post »

Wales beat South Africa 27-13 to finish their 2016 autumn test series with 3 wins from 4. This is Wales’ most successful autumn test series since 2002 if one goes by results alone. But, none of the wins has been particularly convincing, and I think most Welsh rugby fans are left with a feeling that we need to improve a lot to stand a chance of winning the upcoming 2017 6 Nations. 

Read Full Post »

Later today, at 17:30 GMT, Wales will take on South Africa in their fourth and final autumn test. Ironically, if we win today this 2016 autumn series will h ave been our most successful yet. And yet, few people have been impressed so far with Wales’ performances. We were thrashed by Australia in the opening test, in one of the worst displays I have seen by Welsh side in many years. Although we then beat Argentina and Japan, both were poor performances by Wales in my opinion. We only just won each of them. So, how well Wales play today will determine whether this 4-test campaign can be deemed a success or not.

South Africa are coming of two back-to-back defeats, to England a fortnight ago and to Italy last weekend. They have never lost to Italy before, and most experts are labelling this South African team as one of the worst ever. This, together with Wales’ stuttering performances, means the pressure is really on Rob Howley’s team to win, and to win well.

Although it is a loss to not have Sam Warburton leading the team, it is an area where we have a more than able replacement in Justin Tipuric. I am pleased to see that Holley is starting with Scott Williams at inside centre and not Jamie Roberts. I have never been a fan of Jamie Roberts, and if Wales are going to develop their attacking play beyond the “send a big man up the middle” approach I think we have to look beyond Jamie Roberts to someone like Scott Williams, who is more creative.

Whatever the outcome of today’s match, we then have a wait of just over two months before the 2017 6 Nations. I will blog more about the 6 Nations in the week before it starts, but Wales’ fixture list is

  • Sunday 5 February – Italy v Wales
  • Saturday 11 February – Wales v England
  • Saturday 25 February – Scotland v Wales
  • Saturday 11 March – Wales v Ireland
  • Saturday 18 March – France v Wales

Read Full Post »

In a few days’ time we shall hear the verdict in the 5-month murder trial of athlete Oscar Pistorius. As I have blogged about before, this iconic para-sportsman has been on trial in his native South Africa, accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Saint Valentine’s day 2013.

On Thursday (11th of September) Oscar Pistorius will hear the verdict of his 5-month murder trial

On Thursday (11th of September) Oscar Pistorius will hear the verdict of his 5-month murder trial

On Thursday the 3-person panel led by Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipawill give their verdict. Unlike in the Disunited Kingdom (and a lot of other countries I would imagine), in South Africa the guilt or innocence of an accused is not decided by a jury, but rather by the Judge and two assistants, all three of whom are legal experts. It is my understanding, from something I read several months ago, that each of the 3 carries equal weight in voting for his innocence or guilt. It is an interesting question as to whether this is a better system than a person’s guilt being decided by one’s peers, all of whom may not have any legal training.

I haven’t really followed the trial beyond what has been covered on BBC Radio 5, but from what I have heard I really don’t see how Pistorius is going to be found innocent. In fact, he has already admitted to shooting Reeva Steenkamp, but claims it was an accident as he mistook her for an intruder. To me, much of his account of what happened sounds implausible, but we shall have to wait and see what what Judge Masipawill and her assistants decide. I guess either way, Pistorius is going to jail, either for murder or for the South African equivalent of “manslaughter” (accidental homicide). And so, I assume, his glittering athletics career is essentially over.

Read Full Post »

On Saturday (21st of June), Wales came within three minutes of a remarkable first ever win over South Africa on South African soil. With the final whistle looming, Wales were leading South Africa by 30 points to 24; but one thing Wales have learnt about Southern Hemisphere teams is that they refuse to accept that they are beaten until the final whistle. In the dying moments of this game, in which Wales had never been behind, South Africa dramatically were awarded a penalty try when Wales’ full-back Liam Williams was judged to have illegally prevented South Africa wing Cornal Hendricks from scoring. It led to South Africa winning the game by the smallest of margins, clinching the match by 31 to 30 points.

Wales lost to South Africa in the dying moments of the 2nd Test with SA being awarded a penalty try to clinch the game by one point.

Wales lost to South Africa in the dying moments of the 2nd Test with SA being awarded a penalty try to clinch the game by one point, 31-30.

After the poor performance in the 1st Test, this match was a dramatic turn around in Wales’ fortunes. As my blog on Saturday suggested, I did not hold out much hope for anything but another heavy defeat. How wrong I was!

Again, like for the 1st Test, I was in Lusaka in Zambia, on the last day of my visit there. After following the first 20 or so minutes on Twitter I decided to see if I could listen to the Radio Cymru live commentary using the mobile phone network, and much to my surprise it worked! So, I was able to follow all but the first 20 minutes of this dramatic Test live, thanks to the Radio Cymru commentary. What a lovely surprise this was, and it meant that I really was able to be engaged in this dramatic match at it unfolded.

From everything I’ve read since getting back, the Wales team were as good in every department of play as they had been poor in the 1st Test. Gatland has said that this defeat is the most painful since he took over coaching Wales in January 2008, and I can believe him. All I can hope is that we learn from this latest agonising defeat, and it strengthens Wales’ resolve to start winning these close games.

This is the fifth or sixth time since about 2011 that Wales have been in a position to beat either South Africa or Australia, but each time Wales have not been able to clinch the match. This is where Southern Hemisphere teams excel over Wales; even when we are within a few points in the last few minutes, they always seem to find a way to clinch victory in the dying moments. It is a situation that Wales desperately need to change, we need to start learning to win these close contests otherwise we will forever be also-rans.

Wales now have a 5 month break before we take on the three Southern Hemisphere giants in Cardiff in November. Certainly the spirit of the Welsh camp will be more positive going into these Autumn games than had we been wiped off the field in the 2nd Test in the same way in which we were in the 1st Test, but it is imperative for our chances in the 2015 World Cup that we get some wins during these Autumn tests. In the meantime, the Welsh players will have a well earned break after a long season, with many of the Welsh players starting the next season playing their club rugby outside of Wales (particularly in France), another big problem facing Welsh rugby which I will discuss in a future blog.

Read Full Post »

I have managed to get on the internet via WiFi for the first time in over a week. I was in Lusaka for the 1st Test last Saturday, but unfortunately wasn’t able to get a decent internet connection so I had to follow Wales’ defeat via Twitter. Reading the comments on Twitter, I’m rather glad I didn’t see the 38-16 defeat that Wales suffered. Later today we have the 2nd Test, and quite frankly I don’t see anything but a second defeat on the cards.

Wales were thoroughly beaten by South Africa in the 1st Test in Durban last Saturday.

Wales were thoroughly beaten by South Africa in the 1st Test in Durban last Saturday.

Obviously, not having seen the game, I cannot comment too much on the manner of Wales’ defeat, but from what I can gather we were thoroughly outplayed in every department. It seems that Wales just do not have the physicality to compete with South Africa, who have inflicted the heaviest defeats of any team on Wales in the last few years. Apart from coming within one point of beating them in the opening match of the 2011 World Cup, we have not come close to beating South Africa during Gatland’s tenure as national coach.

Given that the match will be played at altitude, in Nelspruit, the result today could be even worse that last Saturday. I hope not, of course, but I fear the worst. I really don’t know what has happened to the Welsh team in the last 15 months. It is only in March of last year (2013) that we annihilated England in Cardiff to deny them a Grand Slam, but since then Wales seem to have gone decidedly backwards whilst England have made massive strides forward. Last Saturday, in contrast to Wales, England came within a point of New Zealand in their 2nd Test there.

I remember Stuart Lancaster, the England coach, saying after their heavy defeat to Wales in Cardiff that his side may learn more from the defeat than they might have from victory. And, had England won the Grand Slam in 2013 I suspect they would not be as good a team as they have become, because they may have thought that they were a “complete team”. By Wales tearing them apart, England realised they still had much work to do, and it seems to me that they have done this work and are now genuine contenders for next year’s World Cup which they will host.

Wales, on the other hand, look bereft of ideas. “Warren-ball” is predictable and only works when the Welsh forwards gain supremacy. When their pack do not gain this supremacy, the Welsh team do not appear to have a “plan B”. It is all very worrying for next year’s World Cup. It also occurred to me after Saturday’s heavy defeat to South Africa that two of Wales’ three Grand Slams in the last 10 years have come in 2008 and 2012, both in the 6 Nations immediately following a World Cup. Not to take anything away from Warren Gatland, but winning a Grand Slam immediately after a World Cup is probably the easiest time to do it because most teams are rebuilding after a World Cup. Wales seems to reach a peak between World Cups, but not in the year or so leading into one.

I do hope that the Welsh management learn from this South African tour, as in November we face not only South Africa but also New Zealand and Australia. Three heavy defeats in the Autumn will do nothing for our confidence, and Welsh rugby is very dependent on confidence, without it we play very poorly.

Fingers crossed for this afternoon. I would be delighted if the Welsh team surprise me!

Read Full Post »

Wales are about to embark on a two-test tour of South Africa, after a warm up game against Eastern Province today (the 10th of June). Our first Test is this Saturday (the 14th of June) in Durban on the East coast of the country. Then a week later on the 21st of June we have a second Test in Nelspruit, which is a place I’ve never heard of before. From looking at the map, it is to the East of Pretoria, not far from the border with Mozambique. I’m not sure why they’re holding the 2nd Test there rather than one of the better known rugby venues, but I’m sure the South African Rugby Union have a plan.

The full schedule of matches on this short three-match tour is

Wales have a warm-up match before they face two Tests against South Africa

Wales have a warm-up match before they face two Tests against South Africa

Wales have a severely depleted squad, and unfortunately I cannot see us even challenging the Springboks. In fact, I think we will get roundly beaten in both Tests, which is not going to help our confidence after a poor 6 Nations. The last time we played South Africa, during the Autumn Tests in Cardiff, they tore us apart with their physicality and we were a very distant second. With so many key players missing from this tour, I cannot realistically see any other outcome than two heavy defeats, but I guess we shall have to wait and see.

The tour party has been severely depleted by injury, even though coach Warren Gatland originally intended to take a full-strength squad

The tour party has been severely depleted by injury, even though coach Warren Gatland originally intended to take a full-strength squad

Meanwhile England go on a three Test tour of New Zealand, which should be interesting to see where England stand after being, to me, the most impressive team in the 2014 6 Nations. Strangely, the first test will see them without many of their first choice players as the Final of the English domestic Premiership means the players involved in that match will not be able to join the tour until the 2nd Test. Seems crazy to me that the RFU should arrange a tour so early that this should happen, and even NZ’s coach Steve Hansen has questioned why they are not coming in July rather than June. I am sure money is the reason……

Read Full Post »

It was a bruising encounter, and one in which Wales came off second best. Although Wales could have won this match, I think most Welsh supporters think had we done so it would not have been deserved. South Africa battered Wales into submission. There was a 20 minute period in the first half, from about 10 minutes to 30 minutes into the game, when Wales were being smashed in every collision, and were losing the ball just about every time.


South Africa ran in three tries, Wales didn’t score a try. Although we did have chances, possibly more try scoring chances than South Africa. But, we did not take them, and South Africa took their three chances. That is the difference between the best in the World (South Africa are currently ranked 2nd best in the World) and Wales, currently the best in Europe. South Africa were just more clinical, more precise, and incredibly physical. When South Africa scored their first try, two of Wales’ backs went off with injuries. Jonathan Davies, Wales’ increasingly impressive centre, went off with an injury which could keep him out for 5 months. Before half time, Wales had lost 3 players to injury, such was the physicality of the Springboks.

However, I do feel Wales had the ascendancy in the first 20 minutes of the 2nd half. Whatever was said at half time, Wales came out all guns blazing and dominated the South Africans up until the 64th minute. We brought the score back from 6-17 to 15-17, and with twenty minutes to go the game could have been Wales’ for the taking. But, unfortunately, South Africa scored a try in the 64th minute which sealed Wales’ fate. Replays showed that it probably should not have been a try, Jaque Fourie was in front of the kicker when the ball was kicked up field. But the try was given, and as I say there are not too many Welsh supporters who think that South Africa’s victory was undeserved.

Wales now face a tough match against Argentina this coming Saturday (16th), and really it is a must-win game if Wales are to come out of the Autumn Test series with a feeling that they have progressed since the 6 Nations earlier this year. Meanwhile, up in Twickenham, England looked impressive in demolishing Argentina for a convincing victory. Yes, they allowed Argentina back into the match in the 2nd half, but by then they had won the game. England face New Zealand next Saturday, and for a Welshman I am sorry to say they look disturbingly impressive at the moment. Even though we annihilated them in Cardiff back in March (30-3), I think we are going to have our work cut out to beat them in Twickenham in the upcoming 6 Nations match on the 9th of March.

Read Full Post »

This coming Saturday, the 9th of November, Wales will play the first of their four Autumn internationals. This has become an annual event in the rugby calendar, stretching back to at least 2002 or 2003, if not earlier. This year, Wales have three tough matches, plus hopefully an easier one, but for the first time since these Autumn internationals began we are not playing New Zealand (if I am wrong in saying this is the first time that we don’t play New Zealand then please someone correct me!).

The schedule of games we have are as follows

  • Saturday 9th of November – South Africa
  • Saturday 16th of November – Argentina
  • Friday the 22nd of November – Tonga
  • Saturday the 30th of November – Australia


Last year, Wales had a disasterous Autumn campaign, losing all four matches. But, then we went on to win the 6 Nations for the second year in a row, only missing out on a second successive Grand Slam by a poor first half performance against Ireland in our opening 6 Nations match. Since March, Wales formed the bulk of a victorious Lions team on the Lions’ tour of Australia, with ten of the starting fifteen in the third and deciding Test being from Wales. So, the big question is, can Wales build on the successes in 2013 and beat some Southern Hemisphere opposition this month?

It seems that every year, about this time, Welsh rugby fans hope for a good Autumn campaign. And yet, apart from the 2005 one, we are almost always disappointed. In 2005 we came close to beating both South Africa and New Zealand, but every other year we not only fail to beat the Southern Hemisphere’s “big three”, but we nearly always fail by quite a margin. Of course, in the last few years, Argentina have joined the Southern Hemisphere’s “big three” in “The Rugby Championship”, and so have themselves become an increasingly difficult opposition, a team to whom we lost last year.

Some people have been saying in the last few days on radio and TV that Warren Gatland’s focus is the 6 Nations, and then the 2015 World Cup, and that he does not really mind how well or not Wales play in the Autumn Internationals. I doubt this is true, Warren Gatland knows more than anyone that, for Wales to move on from being the best rugby side in Europe for most years of the last ten (3 Grand Slams, in 2005, 2008 and 2012 and one additional 6 Nations title in 2013) to being a side that can realistically challenge for the 2015 World Cup, Wales need to start beating the Southern Hemisphere sides. There is no better time to do that than this coming month. The Welsh boys should be full of confidence, having shown that they can beat Australia in Australia. Wales needs to now move up that one extra level and start beating South Africa, Australia and yes, even New Zealand (whom we haven’t beaten since 1953!), when we have them at home in front of our passionate supporters.

Read Full Post »

This coming Saturday (1st of June) the British and Irish Lions will play a warm-up match against the invitational Barbarians team in Hong Kong, before they head to Australia for their 2013 tour. The Lions, who tour every 4 years, have not won a tour since their tour of South Africa in 1997, which they won 2-1. Their 2001 tour of Australia resulted in a 2-1 loss, with the final test deciding the series. In 2005 the Lions suffered a “black wash” in New Zealand, losing the series 3-0. And, most recently, in 2009 they lost their tour in South Africa 2-1, only winning the final game of an already lost series.

Warren Gatland has chosen Sam Warburton to captain the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.

Warren Gatland has chosen Sam Warburton of Wales to captain the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.

A brief history of the British and Irish Lions

The first rugby tour of the Southern Hemisphere by a team from Great Britain was in 1888. A 21-man squad from England, Scotland and Wales went on a 35-match (yes, thirty five!) tour of Australia and New Zealand. No matches were played against any “national” sides, but the tour established the idea of a touring party going to play against Southern Hemisphere opposition.

A complete list of all Lions’ tours can be found here. As you can see from this table, the current format of a tour every 4 years, alternating between New Zealand, South Africa and Australia did not begin until 1993. Prior to that the tours tended to be every 3 years, and because of the sporting boycott against the apartheid South Africa, no Lions tours of South Africa took place between the tour of 1980 and the one of 1997.

In total, the Lions have toured South Africa 13 times, winning 4 series, losing 8 and drawing 1. They have toured Australia 8 times, winning 6 series and losing 2. Finally, they have toured New Zealand 11 times, winning only 1 series (in 1971), and losing the other 10.

The 2013 tour of Australia

Since the advent of the professional era in 1995, Lions tours have become shorter. Also, the number of test matches was cut from 4 to 3 on each tour back in 1980. This obviously reduces the likely hood of a drawn series, as a drawn match in rugby is much less likely than in e.g. football.

The 2013 tour is longer than some recent ones, with several games against “provincial” and Super-15 sides. The full list of matches, including this Saturday’s warm-up match against the Barbarians, is shown below.

The schedule of matches for the 2013 Lions tour of Australia.

The schedule of matches for the 2013 Lions tour of Australia.

As I mentioned above, the last time the Lions toured Australia was 12 years ago, in 2001. On that occasion, the Lions easily won the opening test in Brisbane, 29-13. However, they lost the second test in Melbourne by 35-14. The outcome of the series came down to the third and final test. With minutes to go and the score at 29-23 to Australia, the Lions had a line-out near the Australian line, providing a superb scoring opportunity to win the Test and the series. But, the ball was famously won by the Australian second-row Justin Harrison, denying the Lions the victory.

The 37-man squad for the 2013 tour is dominated by players from Wales. The coach is Warren Gatland, who is on sabbatical from his position as Wales’ coach. This, combined with Wales having won the 6 Nations for the last two seasons, means the Welsh contingent was always likely to be the largest. There are 15 players from Wales, 10 from England, 9 from Ireland and 3 from Scotland. The squad captain is also Welsh, Sam Warburton, who becomes the first Welsh captain of the Lions since the 1977 tour of New Zealand when Phil Bennet was captain.

The only member of the Wales starting line-up in the 30-3 annihilation of England back in March who has been left out of the Lions squad is the outside half Dan Biggar. Speculation is rife as to how many of the players picked to play the Barbarians in Saturday’s warm up match will be Welsh. We will find out soon enough, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is as many as 12 or 13! This is partly because many of the English and Irish players have been involved in club-level matches right up to this last weekend (hardly any of the Welsh and Scottish players have been); but also because Warren Gatland has shown before that he likes to initially select from an already established group of players. In his first match as Wales coach (the opening match of the 2008 6 Nations), fully 13 (thirteen) of the starting line up were from the same club side, the Ospreys!

The biggest challenge facing Gatland is the challenge faced by any Lions coach, to bring players from four separate countries together into a cohesive squad of players. He may be helped in this by having coached in Wales (he has been Wales’ national coach since December 2008), England (he coached the London Wasps club side for 3 seasons, 2002-2005) and Ireland (he was Ireland’s national coach from 1998-2001). So he can justifiably say that he is familiar with the rugby culture in three of the four countries which make up the Lions. We should know long before the first test on the 22nd of June how well he is succeeding in this task.

Read Full Post »