Does SA need to sell rugby?

Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
“Our guys seem to be playing Vodacom Cup, while the Kiwis and Aussies are playing Super Rugby” came the cynical chirp on Twitter when I bemoaned the lack of attacking intent in the SA derbies.

In the Bulls v Lions game on Saturday evening, the Bulls made 81 passes and ran 241 metres, while the losing Lions made 96 passes and ran 218 metres. There were 35 and 27 kicks from hand from the respective teams.

In the Chiefs v Highlanders game on Saturday morning, the Chiefs made 144 passes and ran a whopping 603 metres, while the losing Highlanders made 129 passes while running 462 metres. There were 22 and 24 kicks from hand from the respective teams.

One game was a dour stop, start affair … One was an absolute cracker!

These stats according the new Vodacom Rugby Stats App, which seems to have altered the rugby watching landscape significantly, giving us fans access to stats normally reserved only for coaches and players.

Sure the Pretoria game was played on a muddy pitch in rainy conditions, while the Hamilton pitch was pretty close to perfect, but so were both Varsity Cup games on Monday night played in the wet conditions the Gauteng is experiencing right now, and while the Wits v NMMU game was a stop start mistake fest, the UCT v UJ game was a try fest with the Ikeys throwing the pill around with gay abandon!

It comes down to intent, and having the skills to bring that intent to fruition. The Kiwis have both in spades.

But it does seem to come at a cost … The Bulls only missed 5 tackles in Pretoria, while the Lions missed just one more … In Hamilton the Chiefs missed a monster 20 tackles, and the Highlanders 17! So with all-out attack, comes a frail defence, and with all-out defence, a frail attack? Clearly it is about finding that happy medium.

Asked about the differing styles between the two countries, former Crusaders and All Black hooker, and current Hurricanes coach, Mark Hammett, in “Africa” last week for his side’s two games against the Sharks and Stormers, said that while it is “bloody tough” to play against the physical SA sides who focus on defence, it is not the kind of “footy” that is going to attract youngsters to the sport.

He also gave that as a reason for playing junior rugby in weight grades rather than just according to age. So big are the young Polynesian lads, that playing against them actually scares off a few youngsters, but by playing in weight groups, it keeps the smaller guys interested in the game, and has a knock on effect of getting the bigger guys to improve their skills as they cannot get away with just bullying youngsters who are smaller than they are.

Hammett also suggested that most rugby players in New Zealand come from pretty humble backgrounds, with families much more worried about getting food on the table than what kind of car they drive. It’s the reason most them remain grounded and maintain a good work ethic.

It’s a completely different landscape, but one has to wonder if we are doing enough to sell the game to youngsters here in SA. Is pride in a watertight defence something that will make lighties want to play the game? And what about those contracted schoolboys who expect the earth the minute the step out of a televised “Classic Clash” in which they kicked their side to a 9-3 victory?

Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt

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