Absolutely. So another hot topic at the moment in the world of rugby, the Lions Squad for the Tour of New Zealand was announced this week…
Q: What do you think to the squad? Is this the strongest squad we have seen for a long time?
A: It’s a damn good squad but it must have been a nightmare selecting it! Lock and loose forward, for instance – no Gray brothers, no Launchbury, no Barclay or Watson from Scotland – but can you fault the players selected ahead of them? Hartley is the third England captain in a row to miss a Lions tour – joining Borthwick (2009) and Robshaw (2013) – and there’s just two Scottish players after their inspired Six Nations campaign… oh to have been a fly on the wall of that final selection meeting?! (For the record – imagine the bragging rights at UCT had Huw Jones not suffered his season-ending hamstring injury!?)
Q: That would’ve been special indeed! As for the captaincy, was Warburton the right choice?
A: Yes – absolutely… but I do find it amazing how much focus is placed on the appointment of a national team captain. A few months ago, Warburton was relieved of the Wales captaincy, yet now he will captain the Lions for the second time in his career – something only Martin Johnson has achieved in the history of the Lions.
Q: Do you think this team have what it takes to beat the All Blacks?
A: The All Blacks don’t often lose at home and I can see this series going down to the third Test… but I am tipping the ABs to take it – just – game-breakers like Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea and Ben Smith will be the difference.
Alrighty, so we have to talk about the Stormers. They are doing well in this year’s Super Rugby competition under Robbie Fleck…
Q: How far do you think they can go this season?
A: I have been very impressed with Fleckie since he took over last year. He is not scared to listen to those around him and his selections have been good. This year is still a season of learning for them, but they will be serious contenders come 2018 – the positive signs and squad depth are there. As far as I know, only Oli Kebble and Huw Jones won’t be in the mix next year, so continuity and the experience earned in 2017 will be a massive factor come next season.
Q: What about Ikeys in the Stormers Squad. Is the style of Ikey rugby synonymous with that of WP/Stormers?
A: I often think back to 2008, the first Varsity Cup… seeing the likes of Tim Whitehead go from a skinny student into a very, very good professional rugby player for WP, the Stormers and the Sharks; and Don Armand, who arrived at UCT as a prop and drove to the HPC every day in his rusty old Opel for nothing but petrol money, and is now a highly regarded flanker in the English Premiership. Guys like Nick Fenton-Wells, Nic Groom, Demetri Catrakilis… I could go on – all very good and positive (heads-up) rugby players, yes, but even better human beings. These guys all forced their way into the WP set-up by playing for UCT and that opened many people’s eyes.
Yes, I think between Fleckie and Dobbo there is definitely a UCT ‘vibe’ to WP and the Stormers at present. But when it comes to style of play, you still need to be pragmatic at the highest level and the players and coaches will know that. I do believe that too much fuss gets made about the style of rugby and being expansive and playing the New Zealand way. Yes, it’s an often-told story, but the All Blacks kick more than the Springboks do. A lot more. The key, of course, is accuracy. When you kick on your terms or run on your terms – that’s when, suddenly, this so-called ‘style’ looks amazing…
Looking at the Stormers and the Lions, yes SA teams can play a more open game but those teams are still very physical and they rely on dominance up front first for the rest to fall into place.