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Thursday, January 05, 2006


Super 14: South Africa - Super 14 under the spotlight: The Cats

For my second installment of putting South African Super 14 teams in the spotlight, I take a closer look at the Cats. For those of you wondering if there is a reason I look at teams in a certain order, there is.

I am never one to put money on anything, let alone sport, simply because I don’t like gambling, (although Ernie Els once made me R800.00 richer when he won the British Open) but if there is one team I would put money on to come out tops in 2006 out of all South African teams, and maybe even reach the semis, it is the Cats.

The reason for the order in which I post my views on the South African team’s chances in the Super 14, is because it is the logical order I believe they will finish on the log table from a South African point of view – please note, logical, not personal.

It is a toughie between the Cats and Bulls for me, and basically a 50/50 call as to who will finish top of all SA teams. But if you are a gambling man and want to chance your arm, look no further than the Cats for reaching the semis, and/or, to end up highest out of all SA teams on the log.

There I said it! My prediction for the Super 14 for 2006, Cats to end tops of all South African teams, the Bulls a close second, and the rest to follow. Come May, I might eat my words, especially if you look back at Super 12 history, but I believe 2006 will be the year of the Cat!

The reason I am so optimistic about the Cats chances, is because I believe that all the elements that contributed to their poor performance, has largely been eliminated.

It has become as old as Van Der Merwe jokes, you know, that fact the Cats/Lions has a great team on paper, but somehow, never delivers in big competitions. Yes we heard them all, Ellispark is going to replace the grass surface with newspaper, Rapport is to sponsor the Cats, yadda, yadda, yadda.

DavidS, our only current Cats/Lions supporter, asked me to do a piece last year as to why the Lions failed in the Currie Cup, the article can be found on for those interested in reading it. But the main reasons I highlighted was the lack of structures and a game plan whenever they play the big games.

Somehow, they always seem to loose their way during the 80 minutes on the park and change their game plan to adapt to that of the opposition’s. It is almost a case of not believing enough in themselves and their style of play. They allow teams to dictate the flow and the pace of the game, and they almost never play towards their own strengths. And when the crack, man do they crack. But this year, I believe it will be different.

The Cats almost always has the most balanced team in South Africa. The forwards and specifically the tight five are not as dominant as the Bulls, but they can mix it up with the best of them. The loosies have all the skills and speed in the world to compete with the Burger’s and McCaw’s of this world. Five out of seven backline players are either first choice Springboks or Springbok squad members, and in Wikus van Heerden, they got one hell of a leader.

So why in the hell can’t they put together a dominant display for 80 minutes? Well, in my view it is simple, confidence or self belief, and having suffered from rugby’s version of multiple personality disorder.

For the Cats to have a successful campaign in 2006, they only need to do one thing, develop a game plan to play to their strengths, and stick with it for 80 minutes. For this to happen, two guys need to come to the party this year, Frans Ludeke and Wikus van Heerden.

As explained in my Bulls article, for the team to buy into a style of play, they need to first believe it is the right style for the team, and for them as individuals, and secondly, they need to play according to this style/plan for 80 minutes.

It is the coach’s job, to develop a style of play and game plan – Frans Ludeke is no muck, apart from questionable positional selections at times, he is not a bad coach. He needs to identify the team’s strength, and develop a game plan or style of play to compliment the team. If it is a good style that compliments the team and each individual, he should have no problem coaching it.

The second part is the captain’s job. He needs to ensure that during each game, every single team member sticks to the game plan no matter what happens in the 80 minutes of play, whether they trail by 15 points in 10 minutes or whether they lead by 30 points after 40 minutes. If the Cats manage to do this, they will humiliate 80% of teams in the Super 14.

A bit optimistic you might say, but I don’t think so, there are a couple of things that we can look at that supports my view.

One of the main reasons the Cats have never done this before apart from their one semi final finish under Mains, is because of their ridiculous marriage to the boys from Bloem. First off, the Cats always looked a very confused bunch in the Super 12 in the last couple of years. I believe their union with the Cheetahs had a lot to do with this. Speak to any player from both sides and you will soon realize that they were not a happy bunch.

One of the stories that did make its way to the media was that during the build up to the Super 12 and matches played at home, (which was at Ellispark most of the time) all the Lions based players could go home after training and after matches and spend time with their families and friends, and the Bloem boys where stuck in hotels and left to look after themselves. How bloody ridiculous is that? You have to spend months on end away from home and even if you are ‘at home’ (meaning home games), you are still stuck in a hotel?

I believe for this reason there was no unity amongst the players, and looking at situations like that it is not really surprising. You can’t really blame anyone though, the pressures of Super 12 was bad enough for the guys, and to worry about entertaining their mates from Bloem once in Johannesburg, was a bit much to ask. All this showed on the field as well. They were disjointed at best, there was hardly any cohesion in the way they play, nobody stood up and took the bull by the horns when the chips were down. It was almost as if the guys just pitched up to earn their weekly wages. This now, is not the case anymore.

The same squad of players doing duty for the Lions every year, now forms the base of the Cats squad. To add to that, they have the same coach, they have one home (Ellispark), and they sure as hell have enough talent.

Another fact to consider was the logistical nightmare the old franchise was faced with. I already mentioned how this must have influenced the players, but imagine how it influenced the decision makers and management of both sides. Stories that filtered through suggested there was a lot of in-fighting amongst the management and coaches, but what do you expect when hundreds and thousands of rands are involved when it came to hosting matches in either Bloemfontein or Johannesburg. Basically, it was a marriage made in hell.

But all this is behind the scenes jargon, what do the Cats have in their arsenal to realistically qualify for a semi final spot?

I mentioned earlier that they are probably the most balanced team in South Africa, and I would split that balance 60/40, or maybe a bit closer, 55/45, between backs and forwards respectively as to where their strength lies.

The Cats, and Ludeke specifically, must realize that the Cats strength lies with their back division and not the forwards. I do buy into the old saying that games are won and lost in the forwards first and foremost, but in the Cats case, I will go as far as to say that they can only loose games with their forwards, but they won’t win games with their forwards.

Let me approach or explain this from a different angle. The Cats have the forwards to contain the best in the business in all aspects of forward play such as scrums, line outs, etc., but they don’t have the forwards to completely demolish other teams, like the Bulls have for instance.

Thus, part of their focus in the forwards should be to first and foremost make sure they secure at least 85% of their own ball in the tight phases such as scrums and line outs. They have the players to do this. With tight forward options that includes the likes of Lawrence Sephaka, Lukas van Biljon, Piet van Niekerk, Marius Hurter and Baksteen Nel in the front row, and Jannes Labuschagne, Trevor Hall, Willem Stoltz and Cobus Grobler in the lock department, there is no reason to believe other teams will dominate them in the tight phases. Hell these guys are good enough to successfully challenge 60% of teams in the Super 14 in these departments, but that should be considered a bonus and only entertained as a course of action to be taken when Wikus and the boys feel they got the oppositions number in the tight phases.

An area the Cats forwards should work very hard on is in the tight loose phases. With the speed and skill they possess in the loosies department they can kill any team on the day. This area of play is going to be vital for them if they are to be competitive especially against Australian and NZ teams. If they can secure 60% of ball in this department their backline will run riot, if they don’t, it might just be another long afternoon.

The Cats may not have a Schalk Burger, or Richie McCaw, but where they lack individualistic brilliance in the loose forward department, they make up for in the collective effectiveness their loose forwards have as a combination.

How many times has it been mentioned that a guy like Schalk fought a lone battle on the day? I think teams and coaches are slowly but surely realizing the importance of loose forwards playing well as a combination, not only as individuals. The Cats have proved, through some performances of the Lions in 2005 that they have a very talented pool of loosies they can field, the trick they missed so far in my opinion, is picking the right guys in the right positions. But with players such as Wikus, Baywatch, Russel Winter, Roland Bernard, Schalk van der Merwe and Gerhard Vosloo, they are defintaly spoiled for choice. Actually, if they get the combinations spot on, they should dominate almost every team they play in this department.

If the forwards are able to provide the backs with this type of platform, there is no reason they should not reach the semis, because on ‘paper’, their backline can rip any team in the Super 14 apart. And this year I think they will – there seems to be a sense of quiet confidence surrounding this squad.

Although the Cats always had a decent backline, they performed below par more often than not. In my view, apart from the forwards providing you with decent ball, everything in the backline starts with your numbers 9 and 10.

Luckily for Frans Ludeke and the Cats, Ricky January and Andre Pretorius established themselves as the best combination in South Africa in 2005. If they carry over their form to 2006, we could see the best backline in the 2006 Super 14 being that of the Cats.

What sets Ricky apart in my view is his speed. He is damn quick around the park and has a no frills attitude when it comes to clearing out the ball quickly and effectively in most aspects of his play, but especially at ruck time where the Cats should focus most of their attention on this year in my view.

In the modern game it is almost impossible to score from first phase play these days, thus, if you want to create scoring opportunities, you would have to do that from 3rd and 4th phases. In order to do that, you need to put your opponents under pressure in broken play by not giving them time re-organize their defensive structures when you create multiple phases, and its for that reason that you need your loosies to work very hard in this area of play, and equally important, for your scrumhalf to clear his lines as quickly as possible so you rush the opposing team and upset their structures.

With the explosive attacking players the Cats have like Julies, Fourie, Jantjes, Pretorius and Willemse, the Cats just might embarrass a couple of big names and big teams.

It always amazed me that even the poorest NZ or Aussie teams somehow still manages to perform well in the Super 12, but our South African teams do not. I take a team like the Hurricanes for instance. Apart from Collins they almost always had no real forward presence or dominance to speak off, yet they are always very competitive. Why? Because although their forwards cannot compete with the big guns, they do just enough to contain them, and concentrate on moving the game to their strengths, their backs.

There are two areas that concern me about the Cats setup, and that is their defensive capabilities, and injuries to key players. If they have to loose players such as Wikus, Andre, Ricky, Fourie or Jantjes, they could find themselves in real trouble.

So, in conclusion, the Cats is my pick as the South African team you can put money on to deliver in 2006. Given the forwards can secure 85% of their own ball, the loosies dominate, or at least share the spoils 50/50 with the opposing team in broken play, and Ricky January and Andre Pretorius keep their current form and stay injury free. The most important player for them in 2006 however, will be Wikus van Heerden.

Players to watch

This guy is a complete footballer, but he did have a disappointing end of the year tour with the Boks. In my view it is not because he is not good enough for the Boks, it is simply because Conrad Jantjes is a fullback, not a wing. We all know he attacking capabilities, but I think he will be tested extensively on defense, and especially the high ball. If I was the coach of any team taking on the Cats, the first area I would identify as a potential weakness, is the back three. Although Conrad is an accomplished player, he will need his two wings to support him when the Cats are on the defensive, otherwise they might find themselves wanting.

Jacques Fourie is such a versatile player he could almost fit in anywhere. In fact, if the Cats had an outside center in the same class as Joubert, JP Nel, De Villiers and the likes, I would have played him fullback. He is incredibly strong and does an enormous amount of work around the park. What impressed me most about Fourie in 2005 was his vision he displayed, his ability to run off players and run into a gap makes him extremely dangerous if he gets good ball on the front foot with a little space.

As a combination, Wayne Julies and Jacques Fourie have the opportunity to establish themselves as the first choice center combination in South Africa. Having been a huge critic of Wayne, I had to eat my words in 2005 when he displayed his class and talent by hitting gaps in the midfield, showing us his superior distribution skills and showing what it means to put guys into space outside him. If these two fire on the day, their opposing numbers, no matter who they are, might as well pack up and go home for the rest of the afternoon to save them the embarrassment of being handed their asses.

Andre Pretorius has been branded for so long as vulnerable player when the pressure is on. But in my view, he is the most complete flyhalf I have seen in South Africa for a long time. He is definitely a confidence player, and he showed in 2005 just what he can do when he is full of confidence and brings his “A” game to the park. If he stays injury free he could prove to be the difference between a successful, or dreadful Cats 2006 season. Here is to hoping the confidence stays.

Ricky January, together with Andre Pretorius will carry a huge responsibility in 2006 if the Cats are to be successful. I believe that their backline is their area of strength, and if these two manage to successfully get the outside backs away and into space, the Cats will have a memorable season.

It is difficult to single out specific individuals in the forward pack, mainly because I believe that for them to be effective, they will need to operate as a unit to be successful. They will need to feed of each others strengths and eliminate individual weaknesses if they are to be successful.

As mentioned above, they have the guys to do this. They have a strong and mobile tight 5, and a bucket full of talented loosies to choose from, and if I had one wish as coach, it would be that after every single game when we hand out our man of the match in the change room, I could give it to all eight forwards for their contribution as a unit in the match.

There is one guy though that a lot will depend on, Wikus van Heerden. It won’t be enough for him to deliver the stand out performances we got used to in the last couple of years, he has a much more important function this year. Wikus will need to lead this new Cats team not only by example, but by instilling a believe in his team mates that they are good enough to be the best, and to stick to a damn game plan for a change!

If the Cats play to their own strengths, they will do very well this year. Wikus’ biggest tests as captain will come when the team finds itself in a sticky situation and the chips are down. If he passes the test and gets this team to gel, he will confirm what most of us believe already, that he is a dead certainty for Paris 2007, and I will even go as far as saying, the perfect guy to lead the Boks should anything happen to John Smit.

Logical Prediction

On paper…………………………………………………………

The Cats should be the second best team in South Africa. In fact, it is a very close call between them and the Bulls if you compare them man for man. They should finish in the middle or more towards the top half of the table. A semi final spot is unlikely but not impossible.

Lowest possible log position: 9
Highest possible log position: 5

Personal Prediction

Forget paper, this team has got too much talent to fail yet again. Everything that conspired towards their poor performances in the past has been largely eliminated. They have one brand under which to unite, the same coach that has been there for a couple of years, the same captain that has lead them before, the same players, one home ground and a host of Springbok players with a lot of experience. Failing again in 2006 will be nothing short of a tragedy, but I cannot see that happen.

The year 2006 will be remembered as: “The Year of the Cat”

Lowest possible log position: 7
Highest Possible log position: 3

yoh big respect for predicting the cats to reach the semis, but i cant see it happening.

As you indicate too many good teams in the past on paper without performing. Perhaps it is the Cheethas/lions clash. Anyway agree that they tend to be a confidenmce team and are most impressive when they imprint their style of play and not allow the oppo to dictate.

The other big concern is perneial poor defense from their backline. An attacking team is a wonderful thing, but just look to the current boks to see the importance of defence. Ideally a balance needs to be struck. Tim Lane said it when he coached them and simply asked for players that could tackle. The combo of AP and WJ last year was totally porous. Jacuqes Fourie boulstered the midfield somewhat upon his return, but for me a big question mark remains over WJ's defense.

Other concerns are the front row and wings.

Marius Hurter and Larry S are ok, but nothing special and after them, the lions are struggling. The loss of Schalk Brits was a big one. Hopefully Lukas van Biljoen can recapture some of the potential shown in his youth.

Hard to think of a better wing combo than Habana and Willemse, pace and power. Unfortunately, the one moved to the Bulls and the other has been injured for ages. Human, Booi, Muller are ordinary to poor. The acqusition of a genuine speedster like Nokwe would have made a huge difference to the Cats, but alas it was not to be.

In short, i think the Cats lack the depth to make a semifinal spot, but if all their players are fit they certainly have the talent to mix it with most.

1. Larry
2. van Biltong
3. The Hurter
4. Willy Stoltz
5. Trevor Hall
6. Baywatch
7. Wickus
8. Van Der Merwe/Vosloo (missing a no 8)

9. Ricky
10. AP
11. Ash
12. WJ (weak on defense)
13. JF (only decent defender)
14. Human (nice step, lost a yard)
15. Jantjies

i hear you, and i mentioned as much too, the two major concerns for me is injuries and defence.

i think your front row is not bad at all. look they are not star players but they do the hard yards, you can go to to have a look at the full squad.

you are well covered in the loosie department too.

the thing the forwards will have to do well because of their lack of geniune impact players like a schalk, is to combine as a unit, forget trying to shine as an individual, combine as a unit and you will be fine.

i read today kleinjan is out injured for the S14, which is a big blow, but i do believe these guys are good enough, and tough enough, to mix it up with the 'big names' in the game.

the forwards should not go out and try and dominate opposition, they should simply make sure they are not dominated, and try and get as much ball to the backs and AP.

if AP is on song, you guys are good for about 10 points in my view in every game, whether it is looking at his ability to slot penalties or to tactically dictate the game.

on the defence, there are ways to assist the backs that are suspect. for this, your loosies will be extremely important. only SA teams seem dead set on attacking channel 1 these days as a means of attack, most other teams love spreading it wide, so a simple drift defense will be sufficient. what does worry me is your cover on the wing, ashwin, even if available, has not played for a long time, who knows in what form he will be in, in wylie you at least have some experience, but yes, conrad might be made to look the fool on defense because he has no-one in my view to effectively support him. jorrie is off course and option on wing, look the guy is an idiot but he is no slouch.

that is why i say, another option, and a prefered one for me would have been to play fourie fullback, with julies and another quality center in the midfield, i just dont know if esterhuizen will be able to cut it, but the there is doppies as well and he is not half bad....

for me it is all going to be about selecting the right guys in the right positions, and give your backs enough opportunity to win you the game.

like i said, i might be made to eat my words in may, but i get the feeling there is something special brewing in cats country.
I also have some sort of feeling today, it's called babelas. Might be why the Cats look to have a chance! Just kidding (not about the babelas part though).

I think the Cats are gonna surprise friend and foe. They have the team to do it and there only downfall in the past was the Cheetahs/ Lions thing. I believe all other problems were caused by that. I hear you people on defense, but I don't think it will be a problem. I'm pretty sure that JF will make up for what WJ lacks. They are a good pair.

Now I hope that Davids doesn't want to donner me anymore.
Board members you've got mail.

PA - your articles are awesome and I used parts of your Bulls article on my radio show this morning (hope you dont mind - promoting Rugga World though) and I had quite a lot of reaction from it.
Interesting Article PA

I will read all five installments and then comment.

Who is next? Cheetahs?

Thanks for that website link, looks like an excellent site.

yeah the front row is ok, but Larry S needs to improve his technique and aggression to become a real powerhouse. Marius H was an excellent buy, but getting on a bit and i doubt he will last the season. Kleinjan is a blow and makes a difference in clearing out the rucks/mauls.

Ideally, i think a pack should have one enforcer, not sure the Cats really have that. Hall and Stoltz are both skillful locks.

Similarly, i think this is the problem with the loose combo balance. Baywatch is for me the best specialist fetcher in SA and should not be moved from 6. Wickus is a great flanker, anticipates well, brilliant in support and gives 100%. However, neither are big ball carriers. Hence to balance the combo, i think a strong ball carrier at 8 would be ideal (a bit like Lyons or Corrie), not sure Van der Merwe and Vosloo meet this requirement, in fact it is rare in SA these days. Schalk and Juan are ok in this regard, but don't have the impact of Andre Venter. Still young tho. The kiwis have heaps in Collins, Kaino, etc.

As for AP, agree, when on song, he is glorious, but can be erratic. Think he could make the 10 position his own for the boks. Must work on defense with WJ tho.

Not sure i agree that its only SA teams that attack channel 1. Think its a crucial area of breakdown for all modern teams. The aussies, which in my view are the most adept and creative at unlocking defences, target channel 1. Look to the inside offloads to Gerrard and co in the 3N this year, wonderful tries.

It is a very important area and often attacked repeatedly in early phases before getting to a phase when enough players have been drawn in to create enough space outwide for the try.

Tho the loosies can cover channel 1, it thins out the defences and other areas are given more freedom. Look to the damging fringe breaks by Weapu against SA. Think Jake gives up some of this ground to protect channel 1, but surely its not an optimal solution.

agree about Doppies, very good centre, there is also Esterhuizen, but i would like to see the young bok U21 centre Molefe being nurtured. As for JF, would prefer to keep him at 13, apart from being inavluable to the cats midfield defence, he has all the attributes to go on to be the best in the world in this position. He runs beautful angles and straight lines. Some of his recent tries for the boks (that were disallowed as fowards passed from JdV) when he cut straight through, provide glimpses of whats to come when the boks get their timing right.
Kandas, allways excuses. You steal something and then try to defend it by saying it was advertising for ruggaworld! You digust me! I can't believe I'm still here. Just kidding, what radio show do you have or host and on what station, Oudtshoorn FM maybe?  
:) Thanks Aldo for your encouragement... :)

The breakfast show on our local community station serving the whole of the Southern Cape. Just a sideline. Call it a hobby. Difficult to get up in the mornings though - especially after Brannasnacht! :)

not a problem whatsoever, use and abuse all you want.


i knew you were going to ask me that!!!! and to answer your question, yes they are.


the difference between SA and overseas teams attacking channel 1 is we look to attack it to set up the next phase, the other teams do it to score points!!!

i think wayne and AP faced with backs in this regard is not such a huge problem, they just need to make sure that it is weel organised. defense has become an art in rugby, and the sooner teams spend more time on this the better.

thinking about it, the cats might want to employ a rush defense tactic to protect their aparent vulnerability out wide. they have 5 springboks in that backline so it should not be anything new to them. also, the rush defense relies a lot on smothering the opposition rather than the big hits.

so you dont need the big defenders in the backline. once you put the oppo under pressure mistakes are bound to acrue, then the speedsters can come into play and basically employ the same tactics the boks did, living off scraps until good attacking opportunities arrives.

dont get me wrong, all things equal i would keep JF in the 13 possie, but in the context of the cats and strengthning what i perceive as weaknesses, JF would be a huge asset at fullback, but like i said, there is no-one to fill his boots at 13 for them.

it will be interesting to see if ludeke is going to use rose, very versataile and could also possibly slot in on the wing.

i dont think there are many teams good enough to specifically target channel 1. With the rush defenses and the quick flankers it has become a very congested area of play where alot of plays breakdown (presuming of course you have adequate defences). If however the defenses are adequate, very few teams are able to breach this channel, which should be the case.

Yes, Rose will be interesting. Perhaps they'll try Rose at 15 and Jantjies on the wing where he played well for the Cats last year. The cats do need a specialist winger with pace to burn. AS a stormers man its a pity you cant lend us one of Rhylands, Chavnaga or Nokwe.

If I was the Cats management looking to make a serious challenge for the S14, i would buy: 1. Cobus Visagie 8. Danie Rossouw 12. De Wet Barry and 14. Nokwe. Not that these players are necessarily the best in their positions, but IMO they are the sort that would complement the team as a whole in the best way. It is this balance which has also perhaps been lacking in the past.

Anyway, good discussion. Cant wait for the S14.
for sure, i like your choices to buy too, and i think it is pisspoor from SARU not to employ the pool scenario in SA rugby where when a team has an abundance of players in certain positions they must select their first choices and make the others available for other franchises.

a lot of teams can benefit with the abundance of backs province has and ditto for the bulls in the forward department.

i still have this funny silly idea Wikus would be a great number 8.....
yes, totally agree with your thoughts on the pool system. I understood thats what NZ did. Big problem for SA where none of the teams are particularly well balanced, not just in terms of forwards and backs, but also the right kind of players to complement the abilities of others. The team which does it best presently (the bulls) are our strongest.

For example, WP have a glut of centers and wings. The Bulls have a tight 5 factory. The sharks are solid in most areas, but perhaps lose out in the loose-forward department. The cheetahs backline is ordinary, although some very good buys this year by Rassie. Gaf and Louw were good acquisitions, no fool that Rassie.

Also would like to see Wickus given a run at 8 with a strong ball carrier developed at 7. Of course, there is also Mokeana from the Leopards who sounds very useful, but he seems more in the mould of a mobile JvN as oposed to a battering ram like Collins, Corrie or Lyons. Balance.
i think that will be davids' favourite coach, ludicrous' most difficult dilema this year. balance. and picking the right guys in the right positions.

but as you mentioned, you have a lot of youngsters that will only get better as time goes on.

I have been away for a while. WElcome to Rugga World from my side.
yes, and hopefully the other SA teams can put in a better effort in the S14 this year too, including the stormers and sharks, who in seasons past have been our best. They play the most confident expansive football and hence are the best of the SA teams away from home.

Stormers look to have come on leaps and bounds at scrum time.

Interesting to see how the CU go. I think Rassie gets back to basics and it could be a breath of fresh air. They have De Waal, Gaffie and young Bosman all in the same side, will be intersting to see where they are selected. Some very understated players who do the hard yards, including the red-haired no 8 (is it Ryno Gerber?), was superb in the CC, gets stuck in like a more traditional 8.

Howzit going boet? Ya, also been hard at work for a change. Its just not right. Decided vacation time today.
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