Springboks

Mark Andrews chats to Sport24

Mark Andrews (Gallo Images)
Mark Andrews (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, MARK ANDREWS shares the real reason why he left South African rugby, talks the fundamentals of effective second-row play and casts an eye over the November Tests.

Sport24 asked: In terms of epic Test matches against the All Blacks, where does Saturday’s rank?

Mark Andrews: That Ellis Park Test would absolutely be in my top 10. What most pleased me about the Springbok performance was the way we kept ball in hand, that we put the All Blacks under pressure and exposed them for not being as invincible as the whole rugby world seems to think they are. I was also impressed with the way in which the Boks produced a more educated kicking display.

Sport24 asked: The crowd is often referred to as the 16th player. Where they a decisive factor in referee Wayne Barnes reviewing the hit on Schalk Burger in the 77th minute of the match?

Mark Andrews: They were, but they should not have been, as the incident occurred right in front of the referee. It was a blatant shoulder charge to the head and should have resulted in a yellow card. While the Springboks were able to take advantage of the ensuing penalty, it was still a big error on the part of the referee and his two assistants. As far as the citing commission is concerned, which I was sadly exposed to during my career, I would just like to see common sense prevail. Rugby is a physical game by nature and big hits are a constant diet. However, when deciding if further punishment should be meted out, it should all come down to intent.

Sport24 asked: Victor Matfield will be 38 by the time the 2015 Rugby World Cup kicks off. Is good enough, old enough?

Mark Andrews:  The public have to remember that if said player is fulfilling the role the coach expects him to perform, well then he can play until he’s 40. While Victor has bossed the lineouts as expected on his return, I find it hard see him being physically effective at the age of 38 in a World Cup tournament. At that age you just can’t hit rucks, clean out and make offensive tackles as effectively as young players would do. The game today is just too physical, so he would be superhuman if he could. Victor’s lineout play and kick-off work is fantastic, but I do worry about his combination with Eben Etzebeth. Both players don’t make offensive tackles, hit rucks and neither of them are big ball-carriers. However, I believe our locks get away with it at the breakdown and on impact, as we possess highly-physical and hard-working back-rowers who perform the above duties.

Sport24 asked: Which you second-rower most excites you within South African rugby and why?

Mark Andrews: Pieter-Steph du Toit. The 22-year-old is fantastic at lineout time, kick-offs and carries the ball. He gets across the gain-line not only owing to his size but because he runs at spaces more than faces. When you weigh 116kg, you almost have a duty to make offensive tackles, carry the ball and clear rucks to get front-foot ball from which the backs can launch attacks. For me, Du Toit simply has to be included in the Springboks’ World Cup squad.

Sport24 asked: Please explain what the primary differences are between No 4 and No 5 locks.

Mark Andrews: The major difference between the loosehead lock (No 4) and tighthead lock (No 5) actually comes down to their position in the scrum. Your number as a lock doesn’t determine where you jump in the lineout but rather where you scrum. While there are no fixed rules, normally your five lock is weightier, because he scrums behind the tighthead prop. He’s also generally taller, which is why he jumps in the lineout. Whereas, your four lock is usually shorter and thus jumps at two.

Sport24 asked: You’ve been there and done it. Outline the fundamentals of effective lineout play.

Mark Andrews: The ability to read how the defenders set up in the lineout and then being able to manipulate the opposition into spaces in which you are not going to jump is the secret to success. Furthermore, if you are attacking in the right areas of the field, you want the ball to come from the middle or back of the lineout. However, if you want to drive or are experiencing rainy and windy conditions during a particular match, you want the ball from two and four as it’s lower risk. It’s imperative that the lineout caller understands the team plays. For instance, it’s no use taking a two-ball on the 10-yard attacking, because the ball has to travel so much further from the front of the lineout to the flyhalf. Therefore, calling the ball off four or seven, when you’re attacking is best, because the ball will be able travel to the ten quicker and the backline will then enjoy more space with ball in hand to execute their plays.

Sport24 asked: You played under seven Springbok coaches in your nine-year national career. Which coaches stand out and why?

Mark Andrews: The first coach I most enjoyed playing under was Ian McIntosh. He was a genius as far as getting players to understand a common strategy. In 1994, he was one of the first coaches to introduce the concept of momentum rugby, which he later shared during his coaching courses with the Investec International Rugby Academy. The principle rests on crossing the gain-line and using crash-ball runners to create momentum. The rugby we played in 1995 was basically inspired by Mac. The second was Nick Mallett. He was a breath of fresh air for the first 18 months of his tenure. He possessed an incredible rugby mind and was a man-motivator. However, the last part of Mallett’s reign was probably the worst I ever experienced as a player. He became incredibly arrogant and his ego walked into the room about two minutes before he did. I also enjoyed Harry Viljoen’s business approach. He introduced accountability and responsibility for your actions both on-field and off.

Sport24 asked: Tell us the real reason why you left SA to play for Newcastle Falcons in 2003.

Mark Andrews: Both the Sharks and Springboks told me that I had no more value to offer as a player. I was forced to further my career overseas and did not leave South African rugby out of my own free will. At that stage, Kevin Putt and Brian van Zyl believed that I had nothing left to offer the Sharks, and as far as the Springboks were concerned, Rudolf Straeuli felt the same way. It can be a ruthless environment. At the time, I was 29 years of age and told my days of adding value were over. But I came to accept it, as such is life and the nature of professional team sport. The reality is that players’ careers are often dependent upon the management and coaches in power at the time.

Sport24 asked: The contracted Springboks will play no part in the closing stages of the Currie Cup. In your opinion, does the oldest provincial rugby tournament still carry as much weight as before?

Mark Andrews: I think the Springboks’ absence does detract from the overall product. To offer an example, when the Sharks hosted the Lions at Kings Park only 12 000 people showed up. It was a match which pitted second versus third on the log and was also Jacques Botes’s final home match. At Kings Park, never once during my entire career did I play in front of such few spectators. I’ve heard supports in Durban say that they are not going to renew their season tickets for next year, because they are already paying for DSTV which, in turn, makes it very tough for the unions.

Sport24 asked: Share your impressions ahead of the Boks’ end-of-year tour and your most memorable sojourn.

Mark Andrews: It’s always a fine balancing act, as the fixtures in November represent the end of our year. In terms of selection, I believe we need to build some momentum yet blood some new players with the 2015 RWC in mind. On tour, you need to have a gold team and green team, as the late Kitch Christie termed it. As a coach, the key is to combine dirt-trackers and glory players effectively. The 1997 end-of-year-tour in which we trounced the French 52-10, sticks in my mind. We produced great performances and results, because we had fun and didn’t train like mad men ahead of the Tests.

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