Bok '100' shows hit spot
Rob Houwing’s ‘Tops on the Telly’ column
Matthew Pearce and Hugh Bladen are familiar to English-language rugby viewers as SuperSport’s most prolific match-day lead commentators.
But we saw them - literally, especially as you far more often hear “Blades”! - in slightly altered roles recently when separate, 45-minute tribute programmes were aired to mark the 100th appearances in Springbok jerseys of John Smit and Victor Matfield.
Pearce provided the front-of-camera anchoring role in both, while long-serving Bladen also experienced some rare moments on the other side of the bright lights by providing good anecdotes on the players from his treasure trove of tour memories.
I tend to be the type rather more inclined toward the present than the past (I still scratch my head sometimes about my decision to choose ancient history as a failed university course once) but did enjoy the opportunity to relive their illustrious Bok careers right from debut appearances.
As core, senior internationals, these two have been more in the firing line than most team-mates over the Tri-Nations implosion this year, where a perception has existed that the various old-guarders have been out of puff.
Matfield was back much closer to his peak second-row game by the merciful end of the tournament, I thought, with captain and hooker Smit still looking vulnerable in his own position of hooker.
The latter, especially, has been pilloried in some circles of late, but the tribute shows did serve to remind us of their rich value to the cause in happier times for South Africa – and there have been enough of those during their lengthy careers.
Smit’s decency and decorum as an individual shone through in his sound-bite moments, and hopefully the now beefy customer would have reminded himself of how much more mobile he was in his earliest Bok days while examining the various clips from his internationals.
The veteran’s big challenge over the next few months is clearly to go at least some way to trimming down in pre-World Cup “conditioning” stints.
Ironically – and early footage gave some clues – Big Vic has actually “bulked down” over the years to maximise his athleticism for his beloved lineouts.
I personally remember setting eyes on him for the first time when he was a rookie member of the Andre Markgraaff-coached Cats side around 1998, and I was at one of their summer training camps in Vanderbijlpark to interview flanker Andre Venter.
Matfield looked like a genuinely “big unit” and probably tipped the scales around 118kg, whereas nowadays he tends to be listed at around 108kg in pen pictures and match programmes.
He must have been a new boy on the block because when I quietly asked Venter who he was, Andre replied that it was a promising fellow by the name of “Victor Mansfield”!
The Bulls favourite opted to give his answers in Afrikaans, despite the English format of his TV tribute, which was obviously quite his right although it may have alienated many fans not familiar with that language who would have liked to hear his thoughts.
Pearce came across as particularly relaxed and articulate as narrator in each show, which was apparently the brainchild of SuperSport producer Sean Everett.
All round, jobs well done …
Rob’s awesome foursome:
1. Warriors v Central Stags, Champions League T20 cricket
Port Elizabeth, Saturday 13:30, SS2, CSN & M-Net HD
The fired-up home side boast two wins from two tourney appearances at vibrant St George’s Park, and will be heavily fancied to also see off the ailing Kiwi side (nought from two) here. Of course it just takes one freak, tornado-knock in this brand of cricket to wreck the form book, but Davy Jacobs and company nevertheless seem well-oiled and wise to all scenarios at present. This is the first game on a double-header bill in PE, with another heavyweight side, Chennai Super Kings, later taking on the Victorian Bushrangers in the 17:30 slot.
2. Sharks v Cheetahs, Absa Currie Cup rugby
Durban, Saturday 15:00, M-Net, HD & SS1
Eight points clear, I can’t see the Sharks being elbowed out of top spot in the remaining round-robin phase of the Currie Cup unless complacency suddenly pays them a nasty visit. So there is probably more at stake here for the third-placed Cheetahs, and they may have a slight motivational edge. Mind you, this fixture is always a “grudge” affair (and there are some player-poaching issues bubbling right now) so don’t expect the hosts to be sleepy … they won 25-13 in Bloemfontein and should complete the double at Absa Stadium.
3. Blue Bulls v Lions, Absa Currie Cup rugby
Pretoria, Saturday 17:05, M-Net, HD & SS1
Is the Lions renaissance for real? I believe this beautifully-timed derby match will offer us some serious evidence, either way. It is a real pressure-cooker clash, with the visitors boasting five wins on the trot and perched in fourth spot, a point ahead of the Bulls. I still make the champions favourites to prevail, especially considering their 32-18 triumph in Johannesburg earlier in the competition. But the Lions’ new-found confidence and counter-attacking chutzpah under John Mitchell does make this fixture spicy … I can’t see a runaway Bulls win and it ought to be a real old bruiser!
4. Manchester United v Liverpool, English Premiership soccer
Manchester, Sunday 14:30, SS3, HD2 & Maximo
These giants – traditionally, at any rate – meet at an already difficult time for both clubs. Ever-ambitious United find themselves an ominous four points off Chelsea after just four rounds of matches, and their weakened selection against Rangers in the Champions League backfired on them in a laborious 0-0 home draw. As for ‘Pool, the glory days still seem a long way from any revisit: they are mired in 13th spot in early-season, seven points shy of the Blues. I tip a 2-0 Red Devils win. Locally, the PSL clash between leaders Mamelodi Sundowns and champions SuperSport United on Saturday night should be worth watching: it’s at 20:15 on SS4.