The magnificent Maritzburg College 1st XV of 1972

Legendary coach JM “Skonk” Nicholson’s 1972 Maritzburg College first XV is widely regarded as one of the half-dozen-or-so best rugby teams the school has produced in its ever-distinguished 159-year history.

I had just turned 8 at the start of the 1972 schools’ winter sports season and that year is my earliest – and most vivid – memory of watching College on Goldstones although my late dad, Roy (Maritzburg College Class of 1944) recalled taking me along in 1970 and 71.

Skonk’s 1972 team featured a remarkable 10 Natal Schools’ Craven Week players and, had it not been for untimely injuries, a few more names might have been added to that illustrious list.

And, as was Skonk’s wont, this Flagship Rugby Team of The Year 1972 epitomised what is a mastery of the game’s fundamental elements, the increasingly unfashionable but ever-necessary platform skills that lay down the framework for the eye-catching fancy stuff that captures the hearts and minds of the myriad schoolgirls (who are also catching the eye) in the precinct of Basher Ridge.

And to cap it all, the 1972 Boys in Red Black and White – astutely captained by the little general, scrumhalf Roy Davidson, enjoyed all the other hallmarks of the renowned Maritzburg College rugby sides from both earlier and, there after:

A rampaging machine-gun-efficient ruthless tight five who took no prisoners before or after the game – I spot the broadest shoulders in the team in prop forward Pip Anderson (second from left, back row) though for some reason I can’t recall right now whether Pip was the this celebrated team’s loosehead or tighthead(?). Peter Rodseth, Colin Heard, John Nolte et al perhaps you can enlighten me?

The trademark marauding Red Black White loose forwards fed a surfeit of quick, clean possession to a classically nimble of-thought-and-invention halfback combination in Messrs Davidson and his Perfect 10 – the most natural athlete of all natural athletes – one helluva flyhalf, Neville Daniels, whose tactical acumen with ball in-hand-and out- orchestrated the Grand Show that thrilled the Goldstones Faithful to the end.

And then came the Rolls Royce moments… what a joy it was to see the likes of Top Gun winger Laurie Sharp and Silky Smooth 15 Mark Hedley at their schoolboy peak; sublime skill-sets that were an ace-of-base MasterMix – a fabulous salad dressing of no-frills economy of movement sprinkled with the most sophisticated motor skills yet seen on the schoolboy stage.

Aaaaa-aaaaah it was good.

So good.

Rest in Peace, British Lion #506… My boyhood hero, Welsh wizard Phil Bennett

Surrounded by family, Welsh rugby legend Phil Bennett (73) passed away peacefully at his home last night, and with his departure from this earth, brings closure to the spark that ignited my love of rugby.

It was 1974. I was a tender 10. Main beach at Ballito; a balmy winter’s day, as only our KZN coastline can so effortlessly provide. On the back of a Peter Stuyvesant 30’s pack, my maternal uncle Graham was busy scribbling my dad Roy, and his, Springbok team for the third Test match against the British Lions…

“The Lions are already 2-0 up in the series; the series is just about lost, how are we going to stop Bennett?” said my Dad. “Damned if I know,” was uncle G’s forlorn response. “The way he ran rings around us with that second Test try was incredible. He is capable of scoring tries from deep inside his own half!”

 

 

“Uncle Graham, who is this guy?” was my enquiry, as the Ballito surf pounded in just metres away.

“My boy, Phil Bennett is the Welsh wizard, he’s a flyhalf, same position you play at Merchiston, and he’s just unstoppable.”

That was the magic moment.

We didn’t have TV in SA in 1974. I spent unforgettable time with my dad, Uncle G and my brothers at the Ballito cottage, glued to the radio, listening to the third and fourth Test commentaries.

We were already 3-0 down in the 4-Test series when we somehow managed to snatch a highly controversial 13-13 draw in the fourth Test to prevent a whitewash. The Cook/Dockray family were delighted. Me even more so: “At least we stopped Bennett from winning, Dad!” I shouted: “We did it!”

But Phil Bennett, aka “Benny”, was secretly “My” player.

Just 25 then, Benny possessed a blindingly deceptive, thrilling sidestep that was poetic in its execution, leaving seasoned tacklers grasping at thin air as he waltzed his way away.

Threading through despairing posses of defenders. I was mesmerised by the seemingly effortless (as is the wont of all great sportsmen) ease and grace of the man.

When television and TV sets arrived in 1976, I got my mom Alicia to take me to Dicks Radio in Longmarket Street in Pietermaritzburg, as they showed reels of the ’74 British Lions Boks series in the shop window.

Every day I was there, glued to the window. It got to the point where the manager told my mom that he would call the police unless she kept me away.

 

 

Aah, but Phil Bennett, what a player!

Bennett played his part (see video above), too, in what is widely considered “The Greatest Try Of All Time”, scored by the Barbarians against the All Blacks in 1973, collecting the ball in his own 25 (now 22) and producing a couple of astonishing sidesteps to start the move, which rooted defenders to the spot, and led to Gareth Edwards’ famous try.

As quoted here from The Telegraph, Phil’s motivational speech to his Welsh teammates ahead of a Five Nations game against England in 1977 is considered one of the “fire-and-brimstone” greatest.

Ordinarily a man of great warmth and generosity, this was fiery Phil at his best: “Look what these bastards have done to Wales! They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel! They buy our homes and live in them for a fortnight every year! What have they given us? Absolutely nothing! We’ve been exploited, controlled and punished by the English! And that’s who you are playing this afternoon!”

Bennett, along with his halfback partner, the legendary scrumhalf Gareth Edwards were pivotal in Wales’s dominance of the Five Nations in the 1970s. Phil Bennet made his first foray into Welsh folklore at the age of 20, yet he might have had to wait years longer had arguably the greatest Welsh flyhalf of them all, Barry John, not retired at the young age of 27 while at the peak of his powers, citing the unwelcome media attention of “living in a goldfish bowl”.

One can only wonder what Barry John would have made of the media attention today. I actually met Barry in the early 2000’s when I was working at the Western Mail in Cardiff, for whom he wrote a weekly rugby column. A good bloke, Barry John.

1974 British Lions captain Willie John McBride once described his key teammate Phil Bennett thus: “He was to rugby what Ian Botham was to cricket, Johan Cruyff to football and Ilie Nastase to tennis. He had a certain magic, an undefinable quality. He had the audacity to attempt the unusual and to lift spectators out of their seats.”

 

 

 

Go well, Phil Bennett. Thank you for inspiring a wide-eyed 10-year-old Natal boy’s love of rugby.

Some Phil Bennett Facts

Played 413 times for his beloved Llanelli Scarlets (the Welsh valley where he was accorded an almost messianic status)

Phil scored 131 tries and 2 535 points overall, and was in the famous Llanelli team that beat the 1972 All Blacks

He captain the 1977 British Lions to New Zealand

There is a statue of Phil Bennett in Felinfoel, his home village

In the 1979 Queen’s Honours List, Phil was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE)

In 2005 Phil was accorded a place in the World Rugby Hall of Fame

* What a man! What a player!

 

 

 

Cash-strapped Glasgow Rangers rise from the ashes

In 2012 I was in Glasgow with the SA women’s hockey team and on an off day I fulfilled a vague childhood dream. I went to the home of Rangers, Ibrox Stadium, and was confronted with a sign at the main entrance that said Ibrox was closed, the club bankrupt and in administration. I knew this beforehand, but that pre-knowledge did nothing to prevent the feeling of loss.

It was quite a jolt, as when a young boy I was fascinated by the fierce rivalry that existed between the two Glasgow and Scottish giants, the Catholic-supported Glasgow Celtic and the Protestant-supported Glasgow Rangers, who would play before massive crowds at the national football stadium, Hampden Park.

Feature image: Photo of an Old Firm clash on 27 April 2008. Rangers in blue.
Credit By Excalibur1953 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3952810

The “Old Firm” as Celtic and Rangers are known, played one Cup final before a crowd of 131 000. In 1937 a crowd of 150 000 crammed into Hampden Park to watch the Scotland team play against England.

Emerging from bankruptcy, Rangers the club resurrected from the ashes of gloom and doom and were forced to start in the fourth division of Scottish football. They began to pick up the pieces and thrive once more., getting back into the Scottish Premier League in 4 seasons. The structure of the club was changed, its focus was refined.

Rangers formulated a key policy that relates to recruiting players with the right “fit” for the club.

The most important consideration is, can the club afford the player. With an annual revenue in the region of £50 million compared to the big European clubs £500 million or so, you can see the constraints.

To put it into perspective, Manchester City bought Jack Grealish in August last year for £100 million, that’s twice the annual income of the Rangers club. Just one player.

So, Rangers focus their minds on seeking out bargains, players who have somehow slipped out of interest from the rich clubs. They also seek players who are comfortable playing in front of 50 000 expectant fans at their stadium, Ibrox.

The players also needed to be mentally tough, technically skilled enough to play in a team who seeks to aggressively dominate possession.

Coming back to the present, Rangers found what they were looking for in players like Leicester City academy boy Calvin Bassey, ex-Premier League midfielder in John Lundstram and others.

Crucially, Rangers also identified the right fit in a manager. Liverpool and England legend Steven Gerrard taking the Glasgow club to great heights before the distinguished Dutchman Giovanni van Bronckhorst took over just 6 months ago and continued the evolution of a club that was doomed to disappear as recently as 2012.

And with these considerations in order, Rangers started winning. Last night, in Seville, they played in the Europa League final against favourites Frankfurt of Germany. It was touch-and-go all the way, Rangers eventually losing on penalties on an emotion-charged evening in Spain.

Just getting to the final was a massive achievement for a club that was dead and almost buried just 10 years ago. The one and only time Rangers had previously won a European competition was 50 years ago.

Last year Rangers won their 55th Scottish Premier League title. The club is celebrating the 150th year of its existence. This Saturday, Rangers play Hearts in the final of the Scottish Cup.

 

Joe Miller of Glasgow Celtic scores the only goal of this 20 May 1989 Scottish Cup final match against Glasgow Rangers before a huge crowd at Hampden Park in Glasgow. Photo: Daily Record

 

The Rangers tale is one of punching way above their weight. Given their financial limitations, it is an incredible achievement. Deloitte, the global giant financial services firm, has a money table that lists the top 30 highest earning football clubs in the world. Rangers, notwithstanding their 50 000 fans at each home game, are nowhere.

Rangers’ financially far better off rivals in the recently completed Europa League were top 30 money league clubs Napoli, Leicester City, West Ham , Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Seville.

Topping the money league are the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germaine, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Juventus.

To sum it up, the Rangers executives have recruited personnel quite brilliantly, players and coaching staff who behave properly off the pitch, who don’t court night-time controversy. Rangers’ success is a story about attracting players of good character, players who realise they are part of the whole and not bigger than the club or their teammates.

Rangers’ legions of fans, however, are a somewhat different kettle of fish. Wednesday night’s Europa League final in Seville, Spain was an accident waiting to happen.

100 000 Rangers fans descended on Seville with 50 000 Frankfurt fans joining them. The stadium capacity is 42 000 fans. And this was the outcome.

Absolute chaos!!! Changing the ways of their fans may be Rangers’ toughest battle yet.

https://twitter.com/i/status/1526971757760065541

https://twitter.com/i/status/1526988021450645505


Wikipedia:
Celtic and Rangers have played each other 430 times in major competitions: Rangers have won 168 matches, Celtic 161 matches, and 101 ended in a draw.  The biggest attendance at a Rangers Celtic match is 118 000.

The clubs have large fan bases around Glasgow and Scotland and have supporters clubs in most towns throughout Scotland and Northern Ireland and in many cities around the world. In 2005 the presence of Rangers and Celtic was estimated to be worth £120 million to the Scottish economy each year.

The flame that fires superstar Ronaldo

It is a personal interest of mine; trying to get inside the head of a sporting superstar… What makes them tick? In this case, Cristiano Ronaldo, who has returned to Manchester United. Ronaldo was signed by Man U from Juventus late last week after initial interest was shown by Manchester City, and is due to make his English Premier League (EPL) return in September, after the international matches break.

A five-time winner of the Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball) regarded as one of the most sought-after individual awards in football, I discovered that Ronaldo possesses certain characteristics which, allied with natural talent, set him on the path to greatness from an early age.

Feature caption AP: Ronaldo could well be donning the famous number 7 shirt again in his return to Manchester United and Old Trafford.

Ronaldo first signed for Man U at the age of 18, moving from Sporting CP in his native Portugal, and 18 years later he is back. The teenager’s initial move to United’s Old Trafford was his springboard to greatness.

 

The familiar look of the ultra-competitor that is Cristiano Ronaldo… during his most recent tenure… 3 years at Juventus. Reuters

 

Long-time friend Luis Lourenco says the mindset of the now 36-year-old Ronaldo remains as hungry for success as the self-confident teenager he once was. This is a now super-fit mature footballing superstar whose remarkable work ethic and single-minded pursuit of trophies remains undiminished. Ronaldo’s physical attributes, goalscoring skills, leadership and big match temperament have been recognised financially, too.

These stats below should give an idea as to why Ronaldo, at 36, could be forgiven for wanting to take it easy, rather than strive for more.

Apart from the World Cup, Ronaldo has won everything that he has set his sights on in football. He has more money than he knows what to do with. His new wages at Man U have been estimated to be in the region of £600 000 pound (12,1 million South African rand) a week (about R50 million a month), making him the highest paid player in the history of the EPL.

As of 6 April 2021, the respected Forbes magazine ranked Ronaldo third* on its list of the highest paid athletes in the world, with annual earnings of £87 million in 2020 of which £36m came from commercial ventures. Ronaldo’s net worth is £363m or R7,325 billion.

He is, with good reason, considered by many to be the most influential athlete of all time: Six months ago, Ronaldo became the first person in the world to reach 500 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

 

Man U fans in the crowd at Wolves on Sunday post their desire to see Ronaldo back in harness. Rex

 

Among a raft of major awards and career milestones, five months ago Ronaldo passed all-time great Pele’s tally, to reach 770 goals in all competitions. He is a five-time winner of the Fifa World Player of the Year title, three times an EPL winner and five times a European Champions League winner. And a Euro 2016 winner, in masterminding Portugal to their only major title.

Last year, Ronaldo became the first active team-sport athlete to top $1 billion in career earnings. Apart from a lucrative lifetime deal with Nike, Ronaldo the business also has major income streams from his CR7 branded clothing, accessories, hotels and gyms. News today indicates that Ronaldo will be given special dispensation to don the fabled Man U number 7 jersey again – previously worn by legends George Best (who said Ronaldo was the most exciting player he had ever seen) and David Beckham.

I mean, what more could this guy want? What is it inside the mind of this once-boy from Madeira** in Portugal that continues to drive the adult Ronaldo ever onward and upward?

The answer is simple, says his childhood mentor Leonel Pontes: “Ronaldo is different. He has never been a lamb that follows others. It is not life that sets challenges for Ronaldo; he sets his own challenges.”

 

ALREADY GOT ‘THAT LOOK’: A young Ronaldo with early mentor Lionel Pontes in Portugal.

 

That, clearly, is the flame that keeps this now-father-of-four going, always striving for more.

Born in humble conditions to a mother who was a cook and a father who was a gardener, Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro nearly didn’t make it into this world. With an alcoholic father and a mother achingly aware of their poverty-stricken life, mom Maria, already a mother of three, was only prevented from aborting Ronaldo by a doctor.

Fiercely proud and full of self-belief at a very young age, Ronaldo was once expelled from a school for throwing a chair at a teacher who he claimed was disrespecting him. He gave up formal schooling when barely a teenager to pursue a career in professional football.

“He was just 12 when he came to Sporting,” says Pontes, “and obviously he missed his family a lot. But he had this love for training, for the game, for competing. Deep inside, this is what moves him. He always knew what he wanted – and that made things easier.”

 

Ronaldo in his youthful previous days at Manchester United, here against major rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Reuters

 

But, for the second time, it was almost all over before it had even begun when, at the age of 15, Ronaldo had to undergo major heart surgery. The surgery was a success and the rest is history.

Luis Martins, who worked with Ronaldo the youth at Sporting, says Ronaldo’s decision to return to Man U was not a romantic one based on the nostalgia of past glories.

Martins: “Going back to England, more specifically to the club where he felt so good in the past and grew up a lot as a player and a person, will always feel like a return home.

“It would have been much trickier had he joined Man City due to the rivalry with United. But it’s important to bear in mind that Ronaldo doesn’t pay much attention to these things – above anything else, he’s a player more focused on his performance and the performance of the team. Any way you look at it, it made sense for him to choose United.”

 

A Juventus moment for Cristiano Ronaldo.

 

It is understood that a call from one of his great mentors, Sir Alex Ferguson, was a key factor in Ronaldo opting for Man United rather than Manchester City. Ronaldo sees Sir Alex as a father figure and probably the biggest influence on his life.

Ronaldo is a renowned scorer of goals, but he is also a leader. Look no further than how he has inspired the Portuguese national team. Rather than be burdened by leadership, the extra responsibility made Ronaldo an even better player. Leading by example, Ronaldo has been able to pull his team-mates together when they have wilted, as well as stick up for them with management.

Martins says the razor-sharp Ronaldo, who at 36 would put most of his peers to shame in the conditioning stakes, has always believed in hard work as the key to his success. And he listens: “If you tell Ronaldo something, if he feels it will be beneficial, he will add it to his life straight away.

“What motivates him is being able to perform. He won’t change that now.”

xxxxx

*Another football megastar, Argentina’s Lionel Messi, was estimated by Forbes to have a net worth of £94,1 million. Forbes listed Messi as the world’s second highest-paid athlete in 2021. Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer was listed by Forbes as being the world’s highest-paid athlete. Federer moved just a touch ahead of the football superstars in 2020.

**Ronaldo’s childhood home was in Madeira (population 260 000), a four-island archipelago and autonomous region of Portugal off the northwest coast of Africa.

 

A sporting phenomenon… Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, previously of Juventus, now once again of Manchester United.

 

Lions have shown that Bok physicality will not be enough

I am not going anywhere near contentious first Test decisions; the video questioning of match officials etcetera. It has been done by dozens already. When all is said and done, what happened cannot be changed. The Lions won.

There is a new referee for this match. What damage has been done by all the commenting by team officials and pundits, we don’t know.

The Lions’ first Test starting pack was heavier than the Bok eight; the Springboks don’t have the monopoly on “massive” forwards. The Lions gave away nothing in terms of fronting up to the physical challenge, despite an overall lacklustre first half from the tourists.

A game of two halves it was, and the crux was that the Lions were able to adapt and improve whereas the Boks weren’t. The Lions were able to right their wrongs of the first half in convincing fashion.

The Boks were neither able to take their world-renowned intensity to a new level nor were they able to sustain the intensity that they had managed to build in the first half. The Lions are fitter.

There are Covid-related reasons, yes, matches played and matches cancelled, yes, the worst possible Bok build-up to a Lions series ever, yes, but it doesn’t change the reality facing the Boks in this Saturday’s second Test.

An enduring mystery is how little an impact the Boks’ much-vaunted bomb squad front-row had when they entered the fray immediately after half-time. They could not reverse the gathering Lions momentum.

The Boks’ starting front-row, in contrast, were outstanding – and that dominance played a significant role in the momentum that generated a 12-3 half-time lead. We can only hope there will be a sustained effort over the full spectrum of the second Test match.

The bottom line is, the team that is better able to limit its penalties conceded (especially the unforced penalties in goal-kicking areas) will likely win a close Test match. And that is very closely linked to who dominates at scrum time, and therefore who is able to establish momentum.

The first-half penalty count belonged to the Boks. The second-half penalty count was a Lions landslide. The penalty count was determined by who was in control of the game. The team that is most disciplined, in not giving away soft penalties; this will be key.

The Lions also redirected their kicking game in the second half, punting the ball higher and a little shorter, distance-wise, which enabled more hanging time and hence more competitive kick-chases.

In the first half, the Lions were generally awkward and the composed Boks looked to be cruising to victory, but critically the men in green and gold didn’t punch home that advantage with a try or two. Marginal decisions in this match played a role, but however you look at it, the Boks need to create more try-scoring chances.

It was only in the second half that a put-upon South Africa seriously looked like scoring – and that came from situations where they were improvising in the moment. The Boks were forced by game situations to step out of their comfort zone and improvise. More of this is needed… this is an instinctively, naturally, talented Bok back three. Use them more.

As mentioned, match fitness was a key factor; the Lions are definitely in better physical condition than the Boks. The Covid problems in the Bok camp leading into the Test severely impacted their ability to last the pace in the second half, whereas the Lions just seemed to be getting stronger and stronger.

I fear that, with just 7 days between Tests it leaves no time to close this gap sufficiently enough to nullify the marked advantage that the tourists have in this facet.

Granted, and as mentioned, there were the tiniest of margins in several potentially match-altering moments but my prevailing feeling is that the Lions ultimately deserved the first Test win.

A critical factor, alluded to above, is that, between them, our match-winning wings hardly got the ball; barely a handful of times; in 80 minutes. There have to be ways found to include them more. They are major weapons in the Bok armoury.

And there is no superstar in number 8 Duane Vermeulen to give us renewed hope. His injury-enforced absence was never more evident than in the first Test.

My feeling on the second Test is that it is for the Lions to lose. They are in the pound seats right now.

A solid physical and tactical performance should be enough for the Lions this Saturday (and I hope I am wrong) whereas the Boks have a number of gears to change in order to get things right and level the series.

The first half will be crucial. The Lions will not give an inch physically. Somehow, the Boks will have to impose themselves on this match. It is going to take intelligence and power. Our men in green and gold must find a way. Key moments must be won.

It is a tantalising prospect. Bok win please.

The perils of press interviews on the young

Grand Slam-winning tennis star Andy Murray’s mother, Judy, makes some telling points in reflecting on how it feels as a parent when watching your child going through a difficult interview with media.

Feature photo: The then 19-year-old Andy Murray a picture of despair during a press interview, having lost at the 2006 French Open. AP

Most young sportspeople of exceptional talent are not necessarily prepared for the spotlight that comes outside the confines – or relative freedom – of the playing field. It is easy to be caught off-guard by an unexpected enquiry.

After all, as a child you first want to play, actually compete, and – hopefully – win. That is your focus; not being asked questions that can be tricky to answer.

And with the overwhelming focus of social media, those unexpected questions can lead to a long tail of comments by persons who (i) may not even know you and/or the circumstances, and/or (ii) do not have sufficient grasp of the issue to be in a position to comment with authority. But comment… some certainly will.

 

KZN10.com website and social media thanks the outstanding #HalfwayToyota Howick dealership and its general manager, Maritzburg College Old Boy Brandon Brokensha, for their support. I cannot do this alone. Contact me at joncookroy@gmail.com for info on the various advertising options and more. #TogetherWeAreOne. www.halfwaytoyota.com.

 

Of the pressures on a young athlete, there is also the age-gap. Often those persons asking the questions or commenting on the responses are considerably older than the person in question (no pun intended). This can also lead to misunderstandings in what the young person being interviewed actually meant.

This Judy Murray passage from her article in this morning’s Telegraph warrants being stated in full:

“When you step into an interview room, there are so many potential pitfalls. If you’ve won, you’re excited and in danger of feeling so relaxed and happy that something slips out and gets you into trouble.

“It’s tougher, though, when you’ve lost. You’re much more likely to become upset or to bristle at a provocative question – and we all know that anger, tears, feuds and gossip make for good stories.

“The whole situation takes me back to when Andy was young and really struggled with the press-conference environment. He wanted to compete in big stadiums in front of huge crowds, not to be asked about whether his shorts were too big, or whether he should get a haircut, have a shave or smile more often.”

Remember, he was still a teenager; he just wanted to win matches. End of.

 

Jonathan Cook of KZN10.com website and social media thanks Hilton College Old Boy Rory Smith of Absolute Containers for sponsoring these 2 wonderful Powerbanks to ensure that Jono and his smartphone remain fully charged when it really matters!!! A heartfelt thank you, dear Absolute Containers! No wonder you are the trendsetters in customised containers and modular solutions! Take a look https://absolutecontainers.co.za/

 

Judy, who has a lot of experience in tennis as a player and coach herself, arranged for the then 19-year-old Andy to undergo a course in media training

“The idea was to help Andy deal with the attention, the adverse comments, and know which subjects to avoid. You’ve got a coach at that age, teaching you how to hit your shots and plan a match strategy, but few young players can afford a PR consultant as well.”

English media professional Jonathan Overend gave the young Andy (then 19) the best advice, whilst sharing a taxi, says Judy.

“Jonathan… made some great suggestions on how to handle press conferences and interviews,” says Judy.

“Speak about your tactics, how the weather was affecting play, and what the momentum switches were. Do the press conference on your terms. It was common sense but a real light-bulb moment.

“If you don’t want to bring emotions into the picture; then you can be more analytical. Instead of saying, ‘I’m upset because I lost’, say ‘I missed a chance at this moment’, or ‘I need to go away and work on such-and-such.’

“The other thing we [Judy and Andy] did was to watch press conferences of players who handle them really well.

“Andy Roddick and Roger Federer were two of them. They were so good at taking an awkward question and turning it around so that they could get their message across. They also used humour brilliantly. Yes, they were older, but that’s the best way to learn. Study those who do it well.”

Judy goes on to say that more attention should be focused on this aspect of the recognition that comes with sporting success.

“Being comfortable and confident in front of a microphone is so important. It’s just not the sort of thing that a young athlete is thinking about when they’re trying to establish themselves…”

*****

I didn’t realise quite how distinguished a career and life Sir Andy Murray’s mom has had. Google “Judy Murray tennis” and you will see in Wikipedia that she has done quite a bit. Judy actually wrote the article. Her piece was prompted by the decision of the world’s highest-paid female athlete, Naomi Osaka of tennis fame, to boycott press conferences. If needs be, Google and you will be up-to-speed with this ongoing saga.

When angry buffalo memories scatter your thoughts

It is amazing how you chance upon a random Facebook feed and find yourself spending a good couple of hours happily lost down Memory Lane.

Thanks Anthony Hall, your post sparked all sorts of happy reminiscences – although I must hasten to add an especially (unfond) uncomfortable afternoon memory too…

See if you recognise these players and the coach/manager etc. If so, please point out who is who amongst this quality group of KZN10 schoolboy cricketers from that early eighties era who as far as I can recall were outstanding as a team at that 1983 Nuffield Week.

 

A heartfelt thank you to Maritzburg College Old Boy and general manager of the outstanding Halfway Howick Toyota dealership, Brandon Brokensha, for being the first supporter of KZN10.com after the nightmare of the last 14 months. Please join Brandon and back me. I can be contacted at joncookroy@gmail.com

 

I do recall some of the guys almost immediately, although my facts and so on may be more than a little hazy here and there.

I notice the 1983 Maritzburg College and Natal Schools captain, the wicketkeeper/batsman Andrew Brown (front row, third from left); his school teammate, the left-arm seamer and right-hand bat Greg Walsh (back row, third from the right).

And on the far right in the front row, fellow Maritzburg College batsman Richard Delvin, who I think made 2 centuries at the 1983 Nuffield Week but missed out on SA Schools selection – there must have been some seriously in-form batsman at that Nuffield Week.

I think Greg Walsh, who was an outstanding fielder into the bargain, also hit a century at that Nuffield Week.

Not sure who took the bulk of the wickets.

Durban High School’s Robbie May (back row, fourth from the right) was an effective quick bowler so I am not surprised he is in this outstanding team, which I think (as I said) had a superb Nuffield Week.

I think that fifth from the left in the back row is Kearsney College paceman Anthony Hall, who made SA Schools that year as far as I can recall. Ant was seriously quick and uber-aggressive, and had the ability to cut the ball viciously off a reasonably responsive pitch.

 

Anthony Hall and his outstanding son James, the former Junior Springbok scrumhalf whose skill at Stade Francais is making serious waves in French Top 14 Rugby. Ant and James are two of Kearsney College’s finest. I am pleased, too, that Ant’s dad went to Maritzburg College.

 

I was last at school in 1982 and as I type this I vividly recall facing Ant’s right-arm pace and fire – a charging buffalo had nothing on a suitably riled-up Ant Hall – from one end on Kearsney’s splendid AH Smith Oval while the ultra-talented Natal Schools (and further) flyhalf Cameron Oliver (RIP), who was a left-arm quick capable of weaving red-ball magic when the mood took him, was at full-throttle from the other end.

Just to get bat on ball – at all – on that testing fourth term 1982 Saturday afternoon felt like a triumph in itself.

I think that second from the right in the back row is Michaelhouse’s hard-hitting all-rounder Dave Burger, who later finished his schooling at Maritzburg College.

I think that’s Beachwood’s Craig Small in the front row – while I think Craig Beart of Hilton is there as well, alongside Rich Delvin. And the teacher coach in the front row has to be Hilton’s Ant Lovell.

And Dean van der Walt of DHS is there, it might have been Dean’s second year in the side.

Help me out guys.

When the ticks on a ruffled buffalo are biting in all the wrong places it’s no place to be.

 

 

England rugby team fix what was broken

A key factor in the England rugby team’s thriller 23-20 Six Nations win over France at Twickenham on Saturday was the marked change in captain Owen Farrell’s attitude towards the referee. It is a lesson for our schoolboys – and perhaps all (or at least many?) of us.

My experience is that it appears to take a lot for South African rugby fans to even grudgingly accept and respect “anything England national rugby team”, and Farrell in particular has not endeared himself to South Africans with what has too often come across as an irritating, arrogant, “bad sport” manner.

England’s defeat by Wales had been punctuated by what Saffas have come to love to hate about the England skipper; a “whinging” Farrell questioning the match official seemingly at every opportunity. It did nothing positive for his side; indeed it just created a frustrated, negative outcome.

 

 

As a player (and spectator) we should surely come to realise over time that remonstrating with the ref does near-nothing to engender a change in decision. Farrell has now shown to himself in the high-quality France match that a change in his approach brings reward. Not once did the England number 12 challenge referee Andrew Brace.

Head coach Eddie Jones revealed after the match that his leading man, who also enjoyed an outstanding personal performance, was under orders not to confront the ref – and Farrell stuck to that game plan.

I like how Jones puts it: “The way Owen (Farrell) has responded to the criticism that he has received has been absolutely outstanding. He hasn’t whinged, he hasn’t complained, he took it on the chin, got on with it and fixed his game.

“… we basically made the decision on the referee that we were going to let him do whatever he wanted. No queries, no questions. He had a game plan about how he wanted to referee and we followed and adapted. Owen had a great balance and I thought he was at his aggressive best (as a player).”

 

 

England management had earlier in the week invited noted refs Andrew Barnes and Matthew Carley to advise Farrell and the team on how to cope better.

One player who clearly benefited was key England lock Maro Itoje, who gave away 5 penalties against Wales. This time round, it was one.

To top it all, Itoje impressed with his known ability to disrupt the opposition and also scored the nail-biting winning try (4 minutes from time). The lock forward’s remarks afterwards also spoke volumes for the thought he had put into fixing the mistakes he had made against Wales, which had drawn much criticism his way.

 

 

And Jones said not much input had come from the coaching staff. “Sometimes you can see it in a player; when they have their head around it and their eyes in it. To play that sort of game, on the back of what Maro (Itoje) has had to suffer, is a great testament to his character and his desire to be a good teammate. That is what stood out for me – his desire to be a good teammate.”

The talismanic lock revealed how he had successfully got the balance right. “Obviously I never want to lose my bite. I never want to lose my edge. I believe my mentality makes me the player I am. My attitude makes me the player I am. At the same time, I have to thread that needle more effectively.”

And the eloquent Maro, who is a fascinating personality with many fine attributes, certainly threaded that needle properly on Saturday – he negotiated the fine line, that narrow margin of playing on the edge without incurring damaging sanction.

 

 

England did concede 12 penalties, just 2 less than against Wales, but encouragingly it was the manner in which those penalties were incurred that marked the difference. Too many against Wales were of the sort that are the bane of every fan’s life. You know, when a player in “your” team does something that leaves you in What the … was he thinking!? mode.

This time they weren’t of the “just-plain-dumb” variety.

As Jones puts is so well: “When you start moving the ball at pace it puts more pressure on your support play, and our support play just wasn’t good enough (on the occasion of the penalty transgressions). It’s not a discipline issue, it’s a playing issue.”

Now that kind of penalty conceded is of the sort that most fans can live with – the type where admirable attacking intent is only undone when the ball-carrier gets isolated. That shows a team is on the right path. It is an error that can be improved on.

All in all, well done England on taking positive action on stuff that needed to be fixed.

 

 

 

Source info: The Telegraph
Images: Getty

 

 

 

Klopp, the Kop and Liverpool’s multi-faceted fall

The alarming drop in form of reigning England Premier League (EPL) champions Liverpool is one of the talking points of the moment in football. It can happen to all teams, even the "best" teams, not least our schoolboy sides, so it is informative to take a look-see.

Even on a normal, ho-hum day there is so much being written about Liverpool it is virtually a full-time job (seriously, you will know what I mean if you tried) trying to keep up with all of it, particularly as there are so many divergent but valid viewpoints being bandied about.

So, I’ve tried to cobble together at least some of it, but by no means have I captured it all.

"Anfield, with people and without, is completely different," is how Man City boss Pep Guardiola termed it last month, echoing a sentiment that has been publicly and privately expressed by Liverpool's players. The famous Kop stand at Anfield is a formidable opponent on its own. It could be argued that the Kop bereft of Kopites is akin to a 1- or 2-0 lead for a visiting team.

 

 

The 1-0 loss to relegation-threatened Fulham at Anfield on Sunday was the team's 6th successive home defeat. No other title-defending EPL team has ever suffered such a large fall-off in points at this stage of the season.

A major factor has been the number of injuries to important personnel, predominantly in key positions, which has seen the club featuring 19 different centre-back combinations during this campaign. Midfielders have been shifted out of their usual slots to fill the void at the back, which in turn has exacerbated the pressure in the more attacking zones of the field.

With the pressure, other cracks are also becoming prominent, including the players' mentality and attitude as well as questions surrounding the decisions made by manager Jurgen Klopp.

The chances of retaining the EPL title are almost gone and even a top-four Champions League berth next season appears to be fading fast for Liverpool, who now lie in 8th place on the log.

 

 

The Telegraph's football journalists have delved into the topic with the thoroughness that one has come to expect of this prominent UK news website. Chris Bascombe, for example, reports of the criticism levelled by the club's former player Jamie Carragher, ex-Liverpool captain and manager Graeme Souness, as well as fiery ex-Man United skipper Roy Keane.

Carragher said the club as a whole had not dealt well with adversity, Keane described it as crisis time and Sky pundit Souness called the decline unfathomable and that Liverpool had not shown Fulham the respect they deserved.

“It beggars belief how a team can go from being so good, to [being] so average,” Souness expounded. “People talk about the manager, but Jurgen Klopp has learned a lot about his dressing room. It's about players. Some of them have not stood up to the challenge.”

Klopp has, to his credit, not harped on using the injury situation as a handy scapegoat for the club's plight yet one cannot help but feel for the manager in this respect. On a family level, too, Klopp has suffered much; the death of his mom perhaps even more deeply felt by his being unable to attend her funeral.

 

The 53-year-old Jurgen Klopp throws his hands up in disgust at yet another Liverpool hiccup.

 

If one looks at just a few aspects of the slippery slope Liverpool find themselves on, the numbers are startling:

* 8 home games without a win; on just 1 occasion (the 1951/52 season) have they ever had an even longer winless streak at Anfield

* the 6 home losses equals the same number of consecutive home defeats suffered in the '53/54 season. Four home losses in a row is the next-highest

* 8 defeats in their last 12 EPL games; as many defeats as in their previous 121 EPL matches

* 115 goalshots at Anfield (not including penalties) with zero actual goals to show for it; which leads to a truly remarkable statistic: the longest drought for a home side on record

* Fulham's win on Sunday is the first time since October 2010 (Blackpool on that occasion) that a newly-promoted team has won at Anfield

 

 

Given the situation, perhaps the best chance left to retain Champions League football at Anfield will be for Liverpool to win the current competition - and that journey continues today when they take a 2-0 first-leg lead into their meeting with RB Leipzig in Budapest in the round-of-16 return match, both sides intent on earning a berth in the quarter-finals.

Apparently FSG (Fenway Sports Group) the owners of Liverpool still back manager Klopp, the man who as recently as 45 days ago, was closing in on an unbeaten home run spanning 4 years and who as recently as Boxing Day 2020 was at the helm of the EPL log-leaders.

 

 

One wonders how Klopp would be feeling if Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was his boss. The man who holds the purse strings at Stamford Bridge fired Carlos Ancelotti a year after his Chelsea side had won the Double.

Jose Mourinho was hired, sacked, re-employed and then fired again by the Russian despite not losing a home league match for more than 3 years. And it's not just a Chelsea trait.

Claudio Ranieri was ejected by Leicester City a bare 9 months after piloting them to a storybook English Premier League title.

 

 

If one looks at his managerial career, Klopp has found it difficult in previous times of adversity. Of course, that has been the plight faced by many a manager who has tried and failed to stop the rot.

The German was the darling of the Rhineland around 2004 when he engineered Mainz to promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time ever. He was in charge three years later when they were relegated and was further unsuccessful in getting them back to the top-flight of German club football.

At Borussia Dortmund, Klopp took the club to the Champions League final 8 years ago and just 18 months or so later the German side were relegation-threatened in the Bundesliga.

 

Klopp emotional as Mainz are relegated from the Bundesliga in 2007.

 

Another source of concern is that it has not so much been the defeats themselves, but the nature of those defeats that have caught the attention of many.

Outplayed is an unequivocal word, but one cannot prevent that adjective entering one’s thought process when applying one’s mind to the manner in which they were (well-) beaten by Burnley and Brighton. Not very long ago, it might be fair to say that the 2 B’s would barely have measured up to once-mighty Liverpool.

What this turnaround in fortunes has clearly shown is that a hiccup or series of hiccups is quickly grasped and exploited by those who appear hungrier on any given day, particularly against a team that is driven by Klopp’s attack-minded philosophy.

Let’s hope the house of cards does not descend from collapsed mode into complete disintegration.

Time will tell.

 

Images Rex PA AP

Two remarkable school sports records

Over the course of recent times I have heard two stories that have stuck in my mind. I might have the wrong names and perhaps my recollections on the stats are inaccurate, and if so it is no reflection on any persons mentioned; it is merely a case of a well-intentioned effort on my part to raise an interesting topic of conversation. And I hope some of you might have knowledge of other noteworthy records or suchlike – they don’t have to be as impressive, just noteworthy; be it a remarkable season or whatever.

Story 1: If I am more or less correct, Arve Arntzen did not lose a single rugby match he played in while in the colours of Merchiston and then Maritzburg College. So that, one can surmise, covers 9 or 10 years of school rugby seasons.

Story 2: Again, if I am more or less correct, Willie Williams did not lose in a single rugby or cricket match he played in for Maritzburg College. That spans a period of 5 years.

If I am correct, those are truly remarkable, and interesting, bits of info.

As I said earlier, maybe you know of something along these lines, that makes one really sit up and take notice. Or perhaps it might have been just one or two years of not losing a match when playing for your school teams.