Mallett in mix for grudge game

2012-02-03 11:12

Rob Houwing’s ‘Tops on the Telly’ column

Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett’s studio insight will be an additional reason to tune into SuperSport’s coverage of the opening round of Six Nations rugby matches this weekend.

It’s a promising weekend for broad fans of the oval-ball game (starved of routinely attractive fare for two or three months now) as the premier northern hemisphere tournament kicks in, the Sevens World Series resumes in the rugby heartland of New Zealand, and then on Monday the local Varsity Cup makes its first appearance of 2012.

The latter will be worth monitoring because of its exclusive, IRB-permitted experiment with new points breakdowns: three points for conversions, and only two for penalties or dropped goals.

Mallett’s visit to Randburg for the weekend’s Six Nations activity - he will provide comment on the particularly mouth-watering Scotland v England and Ireland v Wales games - is timely.

Of course he remains strongly tipped to be appointed to the England job after this year’s tournament, so he’ll relish a chance to make some mental notes about the traditional grudge game in Edinburgh.

But he’s also - appealingly - not shy to candidly share his sentiments with the public and press and is thus a great fit for SuperSport’s weekend offerings: it seems the two matches mentioned will be anchored by the versatile, articulate Gerald de Kock.

Whenever Mallett aided their coverage of the last World Cup from New Zealand, he enhanced the product with his acumen and passion.

I hope De Kock will ask him, as a bit of an aside, for his own thoughts on the appointment of Heyneke Meyer as Bok coach.

Mutual respect exists between these rugby men, and when I managed to get five minutes alone with Meyer shortly after his “crowning” a week ago, he specifically made fond, appreciative mention of Mallett and Alan Solomons as mentors in his formative years as a first-class coach.

Malmesbury-born former French tighthead prop Pieter de Villiers will provide some studio soundbites to the game between France and (now Mallett-less!) Italy.

Rob’s Awesome Foursome

1. Sevens World Series rugby
Wellington, Friday and Saturday 02:00, SS1 & CSN

This is always one of the most vibey legs of the Sevens circuit, especially if the notorious Wellington wind stays away to a good degree and fans are fully able to get into the retro spirit from a fancy-dress point of view. By the time you read this, the Blitzbokke – who started the event in handy third spot overall – will probably have completed their first-day obligations, and hopefully still be well in contention for the Cup final, which takes place at 10:30 on Saturday – perfect time for that slothful coffee and croissant in front of the box. South Africa haven’t won the NZ leg for a decade, so a change to that trend would be really welcome. 

2. Scotland v England, Six Nations rugby
Edinburgh, Saturday 19:00, SS1, CSN & SHD

England are rather unloved at the moment, aren’t they? Graham Henry has had a pop at them, several of their squad members keep falling prey to off-field “indiscipline” and their backline has been compared to brontosauruses for verve and sparkle. Under such circumstances the Auld Enemy to the north have a scent of blood - quite a few neutrals have installed the Scots as favourites for the Calcutta Cup battle, which will presumably be played out at an especially frigid, hostile Murrayfield. A gut feel tells me England will just about rise to the occasion and sneak in ... even if is mostly via the kicking tee! Ireland’s home tussle with Wales on Sunday (17:00) could similarly go either way.

3. Chelsea v Manchester United, English Premiership soccer
London, Sunday 18:00, SS3 & SHD3

Midweek events have persuaded me to swing toward the crafty old Red Devils - primarily on the been-there-done-that basis - as favourites for the title now. With arch-rivals Manchester City losing at Everton, as a worryingly iffy run continues for them, and United earning a routine home win against Stoke, only goal difference separates them. Of course this is a tricky fixture for Sir Alex Ferguson’s charges, given that Chelsea still have “top-four finish” aspirations to consider. They’re a shadow of the Mourinho-era outfit, and this game has lost a bit of its spice, but I fancy that pride will drive the Blues to a share of the spoils. 

4. UCT v Shimlas, Varsity Cup rugby
Cape Town, Monday 17:00, SS1 & CSN

It’s the first round of the increasingly popular Varsity Cup for 2012, with champions UCT first up on the telly, fittingly, with their fixture at the claustrophobic but usually well populated “Green Mile” against Shimlas. This is basically a repeat of the semi-final at the same venue last season, when the blue-and-whites rather blew away the Free Staters 57-20. The visitors will be hoping to run UCT rather closer this time, I’m sure. There is a later televised game: an all-Highveld affair as 2011 runners-up Tukkies host University of Johannesburg at 19:00. The same SuperSport channels apply.