Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

The rebirth of a Bok legend

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IT IS a career trajectory that would work in almost any profession. Start off with a full-time job where you can gain skills, experience and contacts.

And, important, become familiar with the ecosystem in your particular field. Then, when you tire of having your prospects determined by the whims of a boss, you develop your own vision for your career and set about making it happen.

In rugby, the process starts earlier and is more compressed.

Take Fourie du Preez, for instance. He was recruited by Heyneke Meyer while still at Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool and joined the Bulls as a contracted player as soon as he had matriculated.

Du Preez was a founding member of the killer squad, handpicked and moulded by Meyer, which went on to win the Currie Cup for three consecutive years and, in 2007, became the first South African team to bring home the Super Rugby trophy. Later that year, the same Bulls core helped the Springboks to their second Rugby World Cup victory under Jake White.

Two years later, Du Preez was key to one of the best ever years for a Springbok team. In 2009, they first beat the British and Irish Lions and, then the All Blacks. Not once but three times.

But, after a long golden run in terms of injuries, Du Preez finally succumbed. In 2010, he had surgery for a shoulder injury, followed by six months of rehab.

No sooner was he back on the field in 2011 than he injured his knee in a Super Rugby game.

And then, of course, he was part of the Springbok team which was ejected so ignominiously from the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

Despite the fact that he was only 30 and widely considered the best scrumhalf in the world, Du Preez turned his back on international rugby and settled for the relative obscurity of Japanese club rugby.

It was a bold move for a man who had never lived anywhere but Pretoria. But he was burnt out from the emotional and physical toll of having played 80 minutes in a pivotal position of almost every Currie Cup, Super Rugby and Springbok game for 10 years.

If it wasn’t for Japan, he says, he might have stopped playing rugby altogether after the 2011 World Cup.

Not only has his stint at Suntory Goliath taught him a new approach to the game, being immersed in a foreign culture has revitalised him.

Simple things, such as using public transport to get to training, delight him, as does the equilibrium he has managed to achieve between work and family.

Most of his teammates at Suntory Goliath have other jobs at the company so rugby is confined to half the day. Du Preez says he has learnt from this that it is entirely possible to balance professional rugby with study and family.

These days many players are taking a more entrepreneurial approach to their careers. They mix and match clubs and countries: they play Super Rugby but eschew Currie Cup, opting instead to spend the South African summer playing in Europe or Japan.

This means they are available for selection for some Springbok games.

Where Du Preez has broken the mould is that he won’t even play Super Rugby. He told me that one of his chief reasons for leaving SA was Super Rugby, with its punishing toll on players’ bodies and the endless travel. For most players, this would be a risky move — after all, Super Rugby is the parade ground where players hope to catch the eye of the Springbok coach. But Du Preez is experienced and confident enough to know he can get away with it and still make it into the Bok squad. In fact, judging by the injury list at the Springbok camp a few weeks ago, it is a wise move.

Anyone playing Super Rugby now could break down with a long term injury which could rule them out of the World Cup.

Luck is on his side in that no one has emerged to seriously challenge him for the scrumhalf berth. Even if there had, it is unlikely Meyer would have gone to the UK without one of his most trusted proteges.

The Japanese season runs from September to the end of February. Du Preez told me that, since 2013, he has been returning to SA for our winter months and following his own training and conditioning routine.

He has been doing rehab for an ankle injury and cross-training in a private gym three times a week. Soon his routine will include speed training and contact fitness and possibly a few games with the Bulls’ under-21s.

His regimen was worked out by specialists in Japan. He makes it clear that he has moved on from what he learnt at the Bulls. Du Preez is honing and refining his game. With the new nimbleness in his approach to life, we can expect Du Preez to add a layer of sophistication to the Springbok game.

Because there is no doubt that this is where he is headed. Heyneke Meyer has made it clear Du Preez is part of his plans for the World Cup. He will be integrated into the squad during the Rugby Championships and hopefully be at peak game fitness during the key World Cup games.

Unlike most of the rest of the team, who will be worn out by months of Super Rugby, Du Preez will be fresh and fit.

*This column first appeared in Business Day

 

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IT IS a career trajectory that would work in almost any profession. Start off with a full-time job where you can gain skills, experience and contacts. And, important, become familiar with the ecosystem in your particular field. Then, when you tire of having your prospects determined by the whims of a boss, you develop your […]

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A yen for Japan

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ONE wouldn’t automatically link Japan and SA in a single train of thought: there is limited cultural, tourist and economic exchange between the two countries. We are a young, diverse, developing nation. Japan has the third-biggest economy in the world, a 4.1% unemployment rate and an ageing, homogenous population right now shivering in below-zero temperatures.

But there is one connection between us with immediate consequences for an activity close to many South African hearts. In a Tokyo stadium on Saturday a whisky producer takes on a speed merchant and, once the dust has settled, our Super Rugby campaign should get an additional charge with the return of some of our star players.

The final of Japan’s Top League sees Suntory Sungoliath and Yamaha Jubilo battling it out for the privilege of carrying off the 2014-15 trophy.

Fourie du Preez and Schalk Burger play for Suntory. The Bulls’ Dewald Potgieter turns out for Yamaha. Du Preez, in particular, seems to have been a hit in Japan. And, judging from a recent interview on a Japanese website, he has comfortably adjusted to a more philosophical turn of questioning from reporters than he would be likely to encounter here. Fourie explained that, crucial to his performance, was to “see a picture in my head of how I want to play”.

“Is this picture like a third person seeing from above?” probes the reporter. “I just see good images from my previous experiences,” replies Du Preez.

He should be back here shortly. Ryan Kankowski and Jean Deysel have just returned from Japan to the Sharks. JP Pietersen and Frans Steyn are also due home soon. Jaque Fourie, currently contracted to the Kobelco Steelers, is rumoured to be negotiating a berth at the Sharks.

Japanese steel giant Kobe Steel, owner of the Steelers, has a soft spot for South Africans: they have just waved goodbye to head coach Gary Gold, who takes over as head coach of the Sharks, and will welcome in his stead Stormers coach Allister Coetzee later this year.

Former Springbok lock Andries Bekker still runs their lineouts.

Japan’s top corporations have become sugar daddies for South African rugby, providing temporary respite from the rigours of the professional game here. They not only pay huge salaries, bumping up players’ post-retirement funds, but they also provide a much more holistic, family-friendly playing environment.

All the big rugby clubs in Japan are owned and run by corporations. Most of their players are amateurs. They are company employees who work full-time and practice after hours. During the season they work in the mornings — in marketing, management or production — and practice in the afternoons. Once their rugby playing days are over, these players will remain with the company. There is still a jobs-for-life culture and a steady salary and job security is what counts. Rugby is an extracurricular activity.

Fewer than 10% of players are professionals — and most of those are foreigners. There are limits: there can be only two foreign players on each side on the field at one time. This means that, for the professionals, there is ample family time. Both Du Preez and Schalk Burger have recently added to their families and will have been at home for every developmental milestone. If they had remained tied to the relentless South African rugby schedule they would barely have seen their kids.

A Japanese stint is becoming a favoured option, even for some union administrators, because it means they can cottonwool some star players and are relieved of some of the financial responsibility for those players.

But what is in it for the Japanese? Unlike here, rugby barely causes a flicker on the national radar. Walk into any sports bar in Tokyo and a punter will be able to rattle off the names of 40 baseball or soccer players, even sumo wrestlers, but you’d get a blank stare when it came to rugby players. Someone like Schalk Burger might be noticed in the street for his size and blondness, not for his prowess on the rugby field.

Rugby is shown only on pay-to-air TV, and then fleetingly. It barely features on terrestrial television, which attracts the vast majority of viewers.

Most Japanese rugby players emerge through the universities, but it is the soccer J-League which commands the greatest attention.

Japan is hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup. It must be a worry to the Japanese Rugby Football Union: how are they going to drum up sufficient support in the next four years? Do they have any hope of filling their stadiums?

Presumably it will help that Tokyo is hosting the 2020 Olympic Games. Nationalistic pride in showcasing the country for major international sporting events will already be swelling by the autumn of 2019, when Japan plays host to the world’s top rugby players.

And, from 2016, Japan will have a team in Super Rugby. Bizarrely, it will be part of the South African conference.

*This column first appeared in Business Day

 

 

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ONE wouldn’t automatically link Japan and SA in a single train of thought: there is limited cultural, tourist and economic exchange between the two countries. We are a young, diverse, developing nation. Japan has the third-biggest economy in the world, a 4.1% unemployment rate and an ageing, homogenous population right now shivering in below-zero temperatures. […]

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All Bok games for 2015 RWC are sold out

News | Non Fiction | South Africa | Uncategorized Comments Off

TICKETS for the 2015 Rugby World Cup will go on general sale tomorrow, but the bad news for South Africans is that every Springbok game is already sold out.

However, some of these tickets will have been block-booked by travel agents for hospitality packages and those that remain unsold will come back onto the market next autumn.

If you want to be guaranteed a ticket, you could opt for one of these packages now, but they are not cheap. SA Rugby Travel, for instance, are still offering packages to pool games and the knockout games.

But just going to the Springboks’ first pool game against Japan in Brighton on September 19 will cost almost R20,000 and to that you have to add airport taxes, which will probably bring it to about R26,000. That covers only the flight and ticket. You still have to fork out for accommodation and travel within the UK.

Packages include tickets to the “bronze final” (the match between the runners-up) and the final, which are going for about R40,000, including airport tax. Again, that is just for a match ticket and a flight.

Meanwhile, the team that will carry our hopes and dreams in September and October next year is being crystallised. This Saturday’s game against Wales will be Heyneke Meyer’s last chance to assess individual players’ capacity to adapt to playing in northern conditions. The contenders for several Rugby World Cup positions look pretty settled but, in others, the competition is still fierce.

Some World Cup veterans currently playing in Japan — including JP Pietersen and Fourie du Preez  — are expected to return to SA next year, which will guarantee them selection.

European-based players such as Francois Louw and Schalk Britz have an edge because they will be familiar with northern playing conditions and the way the laws are applied.

Next year, for the first time, Rugby World Cup squads have been expanded from 30 to 31 to include an extra prop. Judging on previous selections, this is likely to boil down to a 17/14 split between forwards and backs.

The squad will probably include two each in the loosehead and tighthead positions and three hookers. Five players are likely to be chosen to cover the three loose-forward positions.

There are several old-timers and newcomers who could do the numbers six, seven and eight jerseys proud and Meyer will find it hard to choose between them. These positions tend to carry a high attrition rate in terms of injury, so a player’s ability to switch between them would come in useful. Versatility is also important in the back line, which means utility backs are favoured.

Another position that requires plenty of back-up is scrum-half, and usually three are included in the squad.

If the 2015 Rugby World Cup 31 were to be chosen now, this is what it would probably look like:

Loosehead props: Tendai Mtawarira and Trevor Nyakane, the latter having earmarked a place after his performance against Italy’s Martin Castrogiovanni.

Hookers: Bismarck du Plessis; Adriaan Strauss and Schalk Britz, largely because of the latter’s experience in playing in the north.

Tighthead props: Jannie du Plessis and Coenie Oosthuizen, with Frans Malherbe as an outside contender.

Locks: Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager and Flip van der Merwe and/or Pieter-Steph du Toit.

Loose-forwards:Incumbents are Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen. But Schalk Burger, Marcell Coetzee, Teboho Mohoje, Nizaam Carr and Siya Kolisi are all serious contenders. Mohoje can also cover lock.

Scrumhalves: Fourie du Preez, Cobus Reinach and Francois Hougaard.

Flyhalves: Pat Lambie and Handre Pollard.

Left wings: Bryan Habana, Lwazi Mvovo/Seabelo Senatla.

Inside centres: Jean de Villiers, who has also proved himself over the past three years to be the best man to lead the team through the World Cup; and Damian de Allende.

Outside centres: Jaque Fourie and Jan Serfontein.

Right wing: JP Pietersen, and Cornal Hendricks.

Fullback: Willie le Roux and Johan Goosen.

Several of the back line players can cover a number of positions, which increases their value. For instance, JP Pietersen is both wing and centre. Lambie can cover both fly-half and fullback, as can Johan Goosen. Lwazi Mvovo can cover both No 11 and No 15.

Our four pool games are fairly easy. Japan first, which should be a doddle.

Then Samoa in Birmingham, which is dangerous in terms of brutal play. Scotland comes next and a passionate home crowd in the gutsy northern city of Newcastle could spur the Scots on.

And, finally, the US — mighty in the real world but a pushover on the rugby field.

On October 17 come the quarterfinals, when everything could change.

 

*This column first appeared in Business Day

 

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TICKETS for the 2015 Rugby World Cup will go on general sale tomorrow, but the bad news for South Africans is that every Springbok game is already sold out. However, some of these tickets will have been block-booked by travel agents for hospitality packages and those that remain unsold will come back onto the market […]

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