‘Boots’ is getting better
Rob Houwing’s ‘Tops on the Telly’ column
Cape Town - I have mentioned on previous occasions in this slot how I felt - and I know many agreed - the New Zealand equivalent of Boots & All comfortably eclipsed SuperSport’s hour-long rugby discussion programme.
The Tony Johnson-hosted Re:Union show has sometimes been more keenly awaited than “Boots”, which is obviously hardly an ideal state of affairs in this similarly passionate, rival neck of the rugger woods.
But I sense an urgency in recent weeks to spice up the brew on a local show which has been going for some 15 years and, on Thursday, marked (with a cake plus the ubiquitous presence of some Varsity Cup cheerleaders) its 800th edition.
In short, Boots & All had gone broadly stale, and it wasn’t all the fault of very long-serving anchor Darren Scott, whose personal problems and flashpoints of late have been well documented.
But with new anchor Matthew Pearce vitally ensuring good flow in an unpretentious, no-fuss sort of way, you get the feeling that there’s been some fresh industry and investment in the programme - for one thing, the number of inserts and different angles to rugby topics has clearly been beefed up, so any risk of a boredom factor has been greatly reduced.
Roving reporters have been put to prolific use, bringing snap inserts from various “camps” ... either domestic ones on a regular basis or, for instance, visiting Super Rugby ones from Australia or New Zealand.
It may seem a slightly clichéd tactic to some, but I always reckon there’s no harm at all in whipping a cameraman and reporter to OR Tambo to film, say, Jake White and his Brumbies arriving for their short safari and catching a word with the former Bok coach about his plans to take them into the bushveld and so on.
There’s also been a broader selection of studio guests (either live in the Johannesburg studio or from regional ones), helping to dampen a perception previously that the programme was a little too Highveld-leaning, if you like.
Thursday’s “episode 800” largely maintained the upped standards this season, and included some discussion among Pearce and studio allies Bob Skinstad and Owen Nkumane around the hot potato of the Springbok captaincy against England in a few weeks.
Of course SuperSport’s own, new pundit Victor Matfield is very much part of the candidacy rumour-mill at present and Naas Botha, from his “analyst’s” desk, quipped that Big Vic making a dramatic return to the helm might help them get exclusive snap interviews with the rangy lock ahead of every scrum or lineout!
Still, a viewers’ poll they revealed showed firm public support for Schalk Burger to instead take up the reins.
Mind you, Skinstad made the relevant point that, with Super Rugby in fullest swing and various senior internationals “dropping like flies” right now, it’s a little hazardous nailing down too many key international names yet anyway.
He also noted that, far from making his comeback for the Stormers on their current tour as initially anticipated, Burger isn’t even running yet, which may well be regarded as a bit of a worry for Bok purposes.
Do any readers concur on the show heading a bit more northward again? I’m keen to hear ...
Rob’s Awesome Foursome
1. Sharks v Chiefs, Super Rugby
Durban, Saturday 17:05, M-Net, SS1, SHD
Sharks, I need you to do this for me! I have taken some stick (and yes, maybe it’s rightful) for tipping them to dispose of the log-leading and bang-in-form Chiefs at the “Tank”. I could muster little scientifically to justify my choice, especially given the Durban team’s own rank inconsistency this season. What I do know is that if – big if – the Sharks click, they are capable of beating anybody, and their own need for another win to keep in the hunt helps give me my gut feel on this one. But it will require a fiery effort from the Sharks pack, to starve the dangerous likes of Messrs Williams and Kahui of good front-foot ball and commit them to the less preferred role of back-pedalling.
2. Chennai Super Kings v Rajasthan Royals, IPL cricket
Chennai, Saturday 12:30, SS2, SH2
The IPL is not among my own favourite cricketing events, but out of respect to the many who do get their kicks from the OTT jamboree, I figured it was probably about time I drew attention to a game. This isn’t the worst from a South African point of interest: the log-leading Royals (their status at the time of writing, anyway) with trusty Johan Botha in their spinning arsenal come up against a Kings side with two wins from five and in need of a win to stay in the picture – they will bank on a continuation of dashing form from Faf du Plessis, especially as wow-factor compatriot Albie Morkel is coming home temporarily for the funeral, so regrettably, of Louis Vorster.
3. Bulls v Brumbies, Super Rugby
Pretoria, Saturday 19:10, M-Net, SS1, SHD
You have got to give Jake White credit for the way he has somehow guided the Brumbies to premier spot on the (unconvincing, it must be said) Aussie conference table thus far. Certainly if you look at their line-up on paper, it’s not the sort to strike fear into opposition hearts for deadly positional combinations or even really blue-chip individuals. I believe the Bulls will have to play notably badly to botch this one, despite White’s likely good knowledge of areas where he feels they may be a little vulnerable. The Brumbies’ better chance of a win on their SA trek probably comes against the Lions next Friday night ...
4. Barcelona v Real Madrid, Spanish La Liga soccer
Barcelona, Saturday 20:00, SS3, Maximo & SH2
The Spanish League’s one big drawback is that it is so obviously a two-team show these days: third-placed Valencia are a farcical 29 points adrift of Barcelona in second spot. But at least Barca still have a shot at eclipsing arch-rivals Real Madrid, the leaders – they are four points behind them and if they win this home “El Clasico” on Saturday, will have closed the gap to a solitary one with four rounds still to play. There’s an interesting backdrop to this enticing further meeting of “Messi v Ronaldo” and “Pep v Jose”: both teams come off narrow first-leg losses in the Champions League semis. But that hardly precludes a cracker, does it now?