I had a laughing – then coughing – fit when fellow scribe and soccer analyst Tso joked that Mamelodi Sundowns were “Dikhothane tsa Pitori”.
Now if you have just landed from Mars, let me explain: Izikhothane is a group of youths practising a vile trend of buying expensive material – clothes, food, anything you can think of- mostly with money given to them by their parents and they go about destroying it as if it were worthless. The other day they were tearing R100 bank notes for kicks.
Well, the Motsepe Foundation (I guess not content with spending millions on under-performing players) hosted a concert in East London a day after Sundowns’ 1-0 Telkom Knockout final defeat to Bloemfontein Celtic. Now I’m sure that the concert was organised months before the final but why does it appear like the Sundowns family are more adept at organising lavish parties [insert Miss Mamelodi Sundowns pageant here] than they are getting the bloody team to play good football?
I understand the need to grow the brand but what good will it do if the team is 15th on the Absa Premiership log?
Coach Johan Neeskens has put Elias Pelembe, who is rumoured to be among the highest earners in the league at over R300,000 a month, in the stands. If that’s not Izikhothane behaviour, I really don’t know what is.
Neeskens is reviled by the Sundowns fans. Though they’ve suspended their violent streak, thank God, they have no say in the club anymore. They are expected to buy their match tickets, go to the stadium, sit down and shut the f**k up – and then watch this bunch soiling the Sundowns jersey once worn by Roger Feutmba, Raphael Chukwu and Zane Moosa.
British football writer Henry Winter, of the Telegraph, wrote about Chelsea after their 3-1 defeat to West Ham on Saturday:
Their confidence is brittle, their second-half collapse at a crowing, bubble-filled Upton Park raising legitimate questions about their character as well as Rafa Benítez’s ability to motivate them.
Winter could have been talking about Sundowns and Neeskens during the Telkom KO at Moses Mabhida.
A friend of mine and staunch Downs supporter BBM’d me saying: “I feel like a housewife in abusive marriage. I keep hoping the situation will change but I get more beatings in return.” Sorry skat, I understand *bbm hug face**.
Here’s what I don’t get about Neeskens, which a number of tense conferences has failed to clear up. He doesn’t want to be challenged and he has no sense of consistency in selection. Holding mid Thamsanqa Sangweni went to Chloorkop will to fight for his place in the star studded team but was shafted after two brilliant performances in the 4-1 win over Kaizer Chiefs and 1-0 win over Chippa United beginning of the season.
It was the same with Edward Manqele. Why?
Elias Pelembe, one of Sundowns’ most gifted players, watches the games on television, like you and I. One week Richard Henyekane has been banished to Robben Island, the next he’s starting in the cup final.
Samuel Julies, no offense kid, is talented but too inexperienced for such a crucial midfield position in a cup final. Why couldn’t he have played Hlompo Kekana in a more advanced role in midfield? Was Kekana not the flavour of the month a few months ago, what has he done to warrant a permanent spot on the bench?
The first thing Neeskens did when appointed as Downs coach last year was get rid of the team’s best performer from the previous season, Matthew Pattison. That was the first sign of diabolical decision-making and egotism.
These are talented players, whose careers are wasting away on the sidelines whilst the man in charge berates his critics because they’ve “never kicked a soccer ball”. I’ll tell you what, Zane Moosa has kicked plenty a soccer ball but was not any less critical on television of the pathetic performance in Durban.
Neeskens is holding Sundowns at ransom; he knows that if the suits want to fire him, they’ll have to pay him out for the remaining three years of his five-year contract.
If Sundowns pick up some form, win the Nedbank Cup and finish in the top four at the end of the season I will eat these words along with humble pie and maybe also wear a hat written “Dunce of the season” for an entire day. If not, then Neeskens would have torn up more R100 bank notes than any of the Izikhothane delinquents can ever get their hands on.
Super Rugby finals have, over the years, delivered scintillating spectacles. But one man uses the fixture for a place on the legend’s table and wins the trophy for his team.
The Sharks could do with a match-winner when they face the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday morning. Below is what you might call, the memo:
1. Bryan Habana – Bulls 20 Sharks 19, 2007
This encounter will always be remembered by the Sharks fans as the day Habana stole the Super 14 title for the Bulls. Substitute lock Albert van den Berg scored a try for the hosts with two minutes left of the game, ‘the fat lady’ has cleared her throat. However a young François Steyn missed an easy conversion, which would’ve put the Sharks eight points clear. After the restart, and across the final hooter, the Bulls mounted an attack that seemed to go on forever, until, to the delight of the away fans, Habana weaved his way through the Sharks defence to dive over for the score that took them to within a point. Derrick Hougaard slotted the conversion for the historic win.
2. Mark Gerrard – Brumbies 47 Crusaders 38, 2004
The Brumbies were explosive in this final and the fourth minute try by Mark Gerrard signalled their intent. 19 minutes into the encounter and the hosts were 33-0 up with Gerrard scoring his second of the match after winning a chase from a George Smith chip-kick. Two minutes into the second half Gerrard out-ran Crusaders Ben Blair from a Stephen Larkham kick though. “Big games are about taking your chances. We took everything,” Brumbies coach David Nucifora said after the game.
3. Daniel Carter – Crusaders 20 Waratahs 12, 2008
It was Robbie Deans’ last game in charge of the Crusaders as he was bound for the Wallabies top job. The Crusaders were out-scored two Lachie Turner tries to one and were 12-11 behind at halftime. But the boot of Daniel Carter shone through in a game that was a defence spectacle. Carter painstakingly slotted four penalties and a drop goal that took the game away from the Waratahs, who failed to trouble the scoreboard in the second half.
4. Carlos Spencer – Blues 21 Crusaders 17, 2003
He dropped a pass in the Blues’ in-goal area that resulted in a try by Crusaders hooker Mark Hammett. Other than that unfortunate moment he was sublime. This was his breakthrough season where he top scored 143 points throughout the whole Super 12 competition. It was his flair however that earned him hero status in this final. He matched Andrew Mehrtens for tactical kicking and distributed like a machine. He contributed four penalties and a conversion to the score line but was majestic in open play.
5. Andrew Mehrtens – Crusaders 20 Brumbies 19, 2000
The Brumbies were in front by two points with three minutes remaining on the clock. Then referee Andre Watson awarded the Crusaders a penalty from 40 metres out. A composed Mehrtens duly slotted the penalty, handing the Crusaders their third Super 12 title in the process.
6. Will Genia – Reds 18 Crusaders 13, 2011
At 13-13 with just over ten minutes of the final remaining, you’re thinking a penalty will break the deadlock. But Will Genia produces a bit of magic. Crusaders spill their own ball, inches inside the Reds half. Genia, the opportunist extrodinaire, recieves a pass at first receiver, darts past a few Cursaders defenders and runs and runs and runs for 50 metres for the decisive touch-down. Cooper was there, obviously, to be the first one to embrace him.
7. Who can do it for the Sharks?
a. JP Pietersen – He’s turned on the style in recent weeks with damn good performances
b. Freddie Michalak – Destroyed the Stormers last weekend and it’s his last game for the Sharks, you can bet he wants to steal the show
c. Bismarck du Plessis – He’s Bismarck du Plessis
d. Willem Alberts – If the Chiefs can stop him, they’ll get close to winning, if not, someone if going to get hurt
Don’t walk into a pub in East London and scream the Sharks have the best balance of skills, game plan and talent of all the South African teams or you might meet hardcore Stormers fans ready to shut you up, Bheki Cele style.
Of course I’m speaking from experience.
My argument was that, although the Sharks have lost six matches to the Stormers’ two this season and have practically lived on the brink of elimination for second half of the season, coach John Plumtree’s men have the tools to beat anyone, anywhere.
I made sure that I was at a safe enough distance to duck any beer that may be flung my way, of course, when I first presented my argument at the pub last Saturday morning. It didn’t help that the five passionate Stormers fans had already had more than six rounds each by the time the Super Rugby quarterfinal between the Reds and Sharks had even started. I suspect that the depressing Bulls performance against the Crusaders had a lot to do with that.
Nonetheless I proceeded to providing evidence for my assertion, while in my mind engineering a safe exit in case I failed to win them over to my school of thought.
I started with the guys that do the heavy duty work, the forward pack. The Sharks front row of Beast Mtawarira and Du Plessis brothers Bismarck and Jannie has been together since 2007 and established themselves as a fearsome trio this year following hooker John Smit’s departure. Beast was absent at the start of the season and it showed.
The Sharks form record, while Beast was out injured, read much like Liverpool FC’s last season form record: L-L-W-W-L-W-L-W-L. Such deep levels of inconsistency took the team to the brink of elimination.
Enter the Beast and suddenly the scrums were not longer going backwards resulting in the transformation of the form book: W-W-W-W-L-W-W-W (including last weekend’s win over the Reds). This may all seem coincidental but as any rugby coach will tell you, combinations are everything in this game therefore having an all Springbok front row would have had Plumtree jumping on his bed in delight.
I received a few disapproving grunts and moans and one oke used the time while I was speaking to order a refill and another dashed to take a leak.
I continued to the lock position, an area where the Sharks have traditionally been criticised, ridiculed and targeted by opposition teams after the retirement of the great mark Andrews and rightly so. But Steven Sykes and Anton Bresler have been steady for the Durban outfit. Throw in the ever-improving 20-year-old Pieter-Steph du Toit and you’ve got, well, locks that can get the job done.
The loose trio of Keegan Daniel, Marcell Coetzee and Willem Alberts has been nothing but sensational. And they’re been boosted by Ryan Kankowski’s recent return to form. By this point the passionate opinionists had stopped interrupting me and, I’d like to believe, were listening to me.
The backline has also been solid. Charl McLeod has distributed well, Michalak has been uncharacteristically consistent of late and JP Pietersen has been sensational.
All in all, the Sharks scored as many tries as the Chiefs and the Crusaders, 47, and gathered the most attacking bonus-points of the South African teams. Their defence has not been shabby either, having conceded only 31 tries. Only the Stormers (21) and the (30) have conceded less.
My point was made but the opinionists began pointing out that the Stormers had topped the log through the sheer determination of some capable back up players.
Flanker Siya Kolisi was supposed to play a cameo role this season, shadowing the talismanic Stormers captain Schalk Burger. But when Burger got injured in the first game, Kolisi blossomed into the find of the season, the patrons pointed out.
Joe Pietersen’s reliability at fullback, Gio Aplon’s enjoyable running and Peter Grant’s pivotal role at No 10, they pointed out. Not forgetting SA under-20 prop sensation Steven Kitschoff. The Stormers weren’t pretty to watch, they admitted with slight disapproving scowls on their faces, but they had topped the overall conference and gave themselves a chance at a home final.
More slurry-worded evidence was presented. Eben Etzebeth, the 19-year-old boy thrown into a man’s job and excelling. Bryan Habana’s return to form. All this evidence indeed pointed to a very talented and effective team. One thing lacked: a balanced game plan. The Stormers have a defence that would have rivalled the walls of Troy but they don’t offer a dime on attack.
We agreed to disagree and shook hands. Someone suggested we meet at the same pub to watch the semifinal between the two sides on Saturday. A loud “heck yeah!” erupted. I made a note in my mind at that moment to make sure I didn’t miss my bus back to Durban on Monday.