WHEN renowned journalist Peter Malherbe joined the Sunday Times in the early 80′s – I can safely say before I was even born – he joined an elite group of Dale College old boys that ruled its newsroom.
Then editor Tertius Myburgh and managing editor Joe Sutton were the people in charge of this great establishment. Sutton – as he wrote in the PE Herald earlier this year and I’m purely rehashing his words here – was the old Dalian that had a profound influence on Peter.
Sutton died at the age of 85, in February this year.
Peter wrote after his mentor’s passing:
While the editor is responsible for the political stance of the newspaper and the overall direction it takes, it is the managing editor who is often in charge of the day-to-day running of the paper and putting it all together.
In Joe you got what you saw. He was a kind, friendly man, but determined and dedicated to a fault. If he wanted a particular story that Sunday, he would continue to goad and push reporters and news editors until it landed on his desk. He believed in the Sunday Times and it was during his watch that the newspaper published some of its more memorable stories.
Ironically, I was to follow in his footsteps and become managing editor of the newspaper many years later. One of the things that I tried to emulate was his calm, unflappable disposition – a real challenge on a big newspaper like the Sunday Times. When the going got tough I would think of Joe and his simple approach to most issues.
Peter went on to become exactly what he wanted to be. A journalist that influenced thought and influenced the times he was living in and when that hat fulfilled him, he moved to Thailand, to satisfy his insatiable appetite for travel and experiencing new things.
Peter was at the Durban office this week, apparently to give the bureau a pep talk, give them insight, enthuse them or spy on them or whatever.
But Peter was candid about the person that was the greatest influence in his life and his career. The person that gave him his first shot in the paper, the one that shaped his journalistic mind and I’m sure – although I was not there – the person that stood up for him when many in the newsroom would have doubted his ability.
Being a journalist is tough. You need to know enough about everything to write about it, while you beg for insight from the experts of every available field. Then you have to compile that information so that Joe Khumalo down the street may also gain a bit of understanding.
And, Lord forbid, please don’t bore Khumalo to death, he has a wife and two kids to provide for.
We all need a Joe Sutton in our lives.
The person that believes in you, not because they are your relative or they think you’ll pay them back one day. No.
That person who will say: “Kid go to Mauritius, find out who has been running the housing scam that has scavenged millions from South Africans”, even though you might not have a contact in Mauritius or even a passport.
The point is, they trusted you to do the job, and you delivered because you dare not let your mentor down. You’d die for him, if he sent you the brief. And he will trust you with even bigger assignments because you didn’t let him down the last time and on the cycle goes.
Rugby has plenty “Suttons” in the changing rooms.
These Suttons made sure that the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Pat Lambie and Siya Kolisi got their first shots at an early age. And guess what, they didn’t let their Suttons down.
They put their under-developed young bodies on the line, both appeasing the game plan and managing to add a bit of their flair and unique characteristics to their game.
I often wonder and worry about South African sport’s black sheep: soccer.
Soccer in South Africa is loved and enjoyed by many. Those who play it, do their best to make a decent spectacle out of it.
But I often worry that there aren’t enough Suttons in soccer. Guys that are there to mentor, groom and get the best from the player, not just on the field of play but off it.
Often budding soccer players need these mentors in their personal lives too, to get them away from the evils that come with fame and fortune. The good ol’ women and booze.
I was inspired to write this by two things (other than my yearning for the late Sutton): The cover of this month’s Kickoff magazine, which features renowned bad boys Jabu Pule and Steve Lekoelea; and Thulani “Tyson” Hlatshwayo’s impressive performances at the Cosafa Cup for Gordon Igesund’s watered down Bafana squad.
We all know about the famous bad boys so I’m going to head straight to Tyson.
Now, although I’m a firm believer that no single player should ever be praised in a losing cause (you win as a team, you lose as a team) the Ajax defender did his best to put up his hand for future selection. If the team loses, that means all the components that were designed to make it win failed, whether via penalty shoot-out or 90 minutes.
When a car crashes and kills everyone on board because the brakes failed, no one cares that the rear view mirror was positioned correctly. The same applies in team sports.
I feel like I’ve been going on forever. But the point is, Hlatshwayo (23) has entered the Bafana newsroom, it is really up to Gordon Igesund to decide whether he will be Hlatshwayo’s Sutton and include him in the final World Cup qualifier against Botswana or do the other thing that the editors we don’t know did, that Peter didn’t write about.
As Sonny Bill Williams celebrated his try by jumping into the crowd in his last Super Rugby game during the Chiefs’ demolition of the Sharks in the final, it got me thinking: What legacy has he left behind, especially in the mind of the South African schoolboy rugby player?
The New Zealand inside centre said his good-byes to his country and the competition last month, much to fans’ dismay and rage, for the financially luscious pastures of Japan before returning to Rugby League – NRL – in Australia next year.
But what is the offload king leaving behind?
It was perhaps fitting that on the same day I watched the Chiefs gut the Sharks, I went to Pietermaritzburg to watch the old KZN school rugby derby between Maritzburg College and Glenwood High School – which ended in a thrilling 27-all draw.
I got some perspective.
On Saturday morning I watched Sonny Bill Williams create havoc in the middle of a Sharks defence that was valiant at first but started disintegrating pretty quickly. SBW, as he has been nicknamed, broke two tackles in the move that created the Chiefs first try – scored by Tim Nanai-Williams – before offloading, of course, to Robbie Robinson.
The Sharks, it became obvious, had thrown all their punches during the Stormers game and were smashed to all parts of Waikato Stadium. SBW, Aaron Cruden and Sona Taumalolo (also playing his last game for the Chiefs) the chief culprits.
SBW wrapped up his enthralling contribution to the match, Chiefs and indeed SANZAR rugby, by diving through untouched and throwing himself to the fans, who hugged him and thanked him for his contribution.
But that contribution came under heavy scrutiny last year when one man called Peter de Villiers was Springbok coach. De Villiers was quoted as saying, about SBW’s show-offy and outrageous ball releases during tackles:
“He’s doing everything wrong what rugby principles require of you in the game.”
“Backhand passes shouldn’t be the norm… it has become the norm, now everyone wants to do that kind of nonsense.”
“This kind of non-rugby stuff he’s doing, if it comes off it’s brilliant, but do you have control over these kind of things? If you get to the international level where people work you out, then you have to be in control of what you’re doing.”
Div said a youngster watching SBW in Super Rugby would get the wrong impression of the core skills needed. That’s Div for you, never one to nurse people’s feelings.
“I’ve got a simple reply for him [Div]. I am flattered that he would go to the lengths he did in dissecting my game. If I can change the face of rugby with the way I play, then so be it,” SBW apparently replied.
But was Div right? Or did he just want to ruin the fun for everyone?
To get the answer, you have to go to a school rugby game. As so I did.
I was lucky to catch the Maritzburg College 3rds vs. Glenwood High School 3rds and then the 2nd teams faced each other before the grand finale.
If one could have picked up anything from the fixtures, it was that the boys love throwing the ball around. Which of course they must. They are young, restless, fearless and careless. There were about as many knock-ons and turnovers from spilt ball as a result of failed offloads as there were spectators at the school. The referee’s whistle can get nauseating sometimes, so I was all too happy when the 1st XV’s ran onto Goldstone field.
The first teams promised more structured play.
I decided to be daring and count how many attempts at releasing the ball while caught in a tackle the lads made and how many they actually pulled off.
As if the Glenwood boys heard the voices in my head, they scored a 2nd minute opening try that was sparked by two brilliantly executed offloads and caught the home side sleeping.
Glenwood boasted generally bigger players – and I pray that they are all within the school rugby age limit – and therefore bossed the contact situations. Their players were taller, leaner and thus tried offloading more often than the College boys did.
The way I remember College, from my high school days, was that they never had the biggest nor the most talented rugby players but they played with a lot of heart and played until the final whistle.
College came back from 22-6 down midway through the second period to lead 27-22 before a late unconverted Glenwood try made sure that the boys shared the spoils.
My offload tally told an interesting story at the end. College attempted 12 offloads the entire game, ten of which went safely into hand while two went astray – one even created a gap from which a try was scored. Glenwood attempted 18 offloads and managed to safely secure half of them, the other half went the way of handling errors.
It seems that the most telling thing is that the “Sonny Bills” help the kids create gaps in midfield and if they succeed more than half the time then where’s the harm in trying one?
I saw more pick and go’s, something that Div considers “rugby stuff” than I did offloads. So let the kids be kids, I say. And if in the process we produce an attacking genius like Sonny Bill Williams, we would have done exceedingly well. But don’t dismiss Div as a grumpy old man, he’s got the interests of the SA rugby future at heart.
One final thought, when SBW first started playing Rugby Union, who decided to put him at inside centre? Was it Tana Umaga? That man is a genius.
Farewell SBW – current World Cup and Super Rugby title holder.
Catch my thoughts on rugby and other sports matters on twitter @Sbu_Fundraiser
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
If newly signed Cheetahs centre Johann Sadie continues to believe his own hype, he will forever live in that precarious and ever contracting space between potential and greatness. A second chance awaits him in Bloemfontein but, like with most things in life, there is no guarantee of first team action.
How did a talented SA under-20 player, who had featured in all provincial and national age-group teams since under-12, end up clubless and so desperate that he was willing to settle for a pay cut at a union that battles to finish in the top half of the Super Rugby table?
Many would have thought by now that Sadie would be basking in the delight of being the first Springbok cap recipients under the Heyneke Meyer era with the likes of Marcell Coetzee, Eben Etzebeth, Juandre Kruger and Jacques Potgieter.
Why did he suddenly leave the Bulls, a hugely successful union domestically and internationally, barely six months into (what was supposed to be) a lucrative contract.
To understand Sadie’s conundrum, you must first understand his time at Western Province and by extension, the Stormers.
At Newlands he was the brightest young spark waiting in the wings of the one of the greatest Springbok centre pairings – that of Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie. His first team game time was therefore limited in Super Rugby but during the Vodacom and Currie Cups he was often the star of the show.
I remember a game between the Stormers and the Blues in Auckland in which the 23-year-old, alongside Juan de Jongh, starred in a brilliant display to dispose of the then title challengers. If there is one game that can show you what Sadie can do, what the Stormers had been nesting him for, it is this one.
De Jongh, to make an example, waited patiently for the chance to establish himself at any of the two centre positions even when he had had a brilliant season standing in for De Villiers, who was playing overseas, in 2010. When De Villiers returned last year to partner with old pal Fourie, De Jongh was relegated to the cold bench. This year De Jongh picks himself onto the team.
But things didn’t go as planned for Sadie or moved as quickly for him as he would have liked. First team action at the Stormers seemed a distant pipe dream. It is rumoured that through the sheer ridiculousness of the nature of his demands when negotiation a new Western Province contract, including of course the guarantee of first team action, the union begrudgingly, yet necessarily, had to let him go. Someone even suggested he demanded that he not share a hotel room with a team-mate on tour.
And well, believing his own hype, he took a contract with the Bulls, which to be fair were in desperate need of a quality outside centre last year. Instead of blossoming, he has lived in the shadow of the lanky frame of JJ Engelbrecht, also a former Stormer.
Sadie claims the structures at the Bulls didn’t suit him therefore he had to force an early release on his two-year contract. If I was him, I’d have gone back to Allister Coetzee, apologised and asked for my old job back.
Few players who have ever really been something on the rugby field have never had to wait for their turn to own a position in the starting fifteen every week and as talented as Sadie is, he’s just going to bounce from one union to the next looking for “guaranteed game time”.
It will be interesting to see if Cheetahs fans will value the potential in Sadie over the commitment of local hero Robert Ebersohn (a player that plays his nads off every week on the grassless Bloemfontein Stadium pitch without expecting much in return but to put smiles on the rugby mad oupa’s)
Now we wait to see if Sadie’s expectations from the Cheetahs will be met or if he’ll meet theirs.
I say this almost like a friend from varsity who has just walked in on you while you’re lying face first on the concrete floor of your dorm after yet another night of binge drinking: Get your ish together man!
Or you’ll always be one of those kids we pub critics speak about that could have been Springbok greats but fizzled into nothing in the end. The country is crawling with those kids (and those pub critics by the way), we don’t need another one.
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.