Stormers get the ball rolling

2012-01-20 07:56

Rob Houwing’s ‘Tops on the Telly’ column

Ah, remember the days when the rugby season began in the autumnal first weekend of April or thereabouts and people flocked eagerly to see the first round of club matches?

The landscape has altered rather violently since that “pre-pro” era in the 1980s, of course, as reflected in the fact that in the midst of a blistering Western Cape heatwave comes ... voila, SuperSport’s first live transmission of the 2012 season on January 21, no less!

Yes, the outside broadcast trucks rumble to Wellington for coverage on SS6 and CSN of the friendly derby between Boland Cavaliers and the Stormers (15:45).
I can’t imagine these are cheap little exercises, especially when you consider that SuperSport will have a full booth of commentators across three languages – Hugh Bladen and Robbie Kempson (English), John van Rensburg and Toks van der Linde (Afrikaans) and the old Xhosa firm of Kaunda Ntunja and Makhaya Jack.

They will even do the whole “on field” thing, featuring Toks, Owen Nkumane and Breyton Paulse, presumably with the unenviable task of wearing suits beneath the Boland sun as they perform their duties.

I can’t help wondering whether SuperSport might have been less inclined to launch their season so early, had they known a couple of weeks ago that this is really going to be a training exercise disguised as an opportunity to make some sneaky gate revenue.

The Stormers hadn’t even named a starting XV at the time of writing, having announced instead a swollen party of 28 with just about all of them expected to get a “trot”.
Few of their most seasoned personnel will turn out, although in this more murderous season schedule-wise than any before, perhaps there will be some interest in just how much true depth last season’s SA conference winners will boast in 2012.

Good luck to the various commentators in their quest to identify some of the players on view, especially with substitutions likely to come dime-a-dozen and such first-class novices as Adrian Kritzinger, Ederies Arendse, Gerbrandt Grobler and Don Armand among the visitors’ generous ranks.

The game is to be played, understandably, over four chukkas. Who knows, maybe for the second half they’ll put the sprinklers on and switch to waterpolo? Or play “shirts on versus shirts off”?

Perhaps one shouldn’t sound too cynical: if SuperSport didn’t cover the game, whatever its dubious gravitas, I bet they’d cop some abuse from a DStv subs-paying public ...

 Rob’s Awesome Foursome:
1 South Africa v Sri Lanka, 4th & 5th ODIs
Kimberley, Friday 14:30 & Johannesburg, Sunday 10:00, SABC3, SS2, CSN & SH2

Did Sri Lanka heartbreakingly botch at Bloemfontein, under the Duckworth/Lewis method, their best chance of winning a game in the five-match ODI series against South Africa? We will certainly find out on Friday and Sunday as the curtain comes down on the contests and the Proteas seemingly retain a great chance of a clean sweep. And that would be an achievement of great merit against the World Cup 2011 losing finalists, especially with some very senior SA personnel pulled out of combat after game two. The Big Hole could be the Lankans’ best chance of tasting victory, on a pitch probably to their liking, before battle switches to the testosterone environment of the Bullring so often enjoyed by South Africa.

2 Boland Cavaliers v Stormers, rugby pre-season friendly
Wellington, Saturday  15:45, SS6 & CSN

Further to my thoughts on this fixture expressed above, I was saddened to read that the Cavaliers side, hosts for this largely “experimental” derby, probably won’t be the surprise package this year that they were in 2011. Let’s not forget that they thumped the much-touted EP Kings a couple of times en route to the Currie Cup first division title, but have had some stalwarts of that success pilfered by richer unions, while a couple have been roped into the early-season Stormers fold. Still, the rugby-mad winelands public are likely to pitch up in good numbers in the hope that they can catch the weakened Super Rugby franchise cold ...

3 European Tour Volvo Golf Champions
George, to Sunday  13:00, SS5/SS6 (some SH2)

It’s a treat for local golf fans to be getting to see some of our own biggest names gracing South African courses rather more often these days. And the Fancourt Links is a fitting setting in the glorious Cape mid-summer, with home knowledge and the likely punishing heat probably favouring the charge of people like Ernie Els (sweating over Masters qualification!), Retief Goosen and Charl Schwartzel over a decent overseas contingent featuring such names as British Open winner Darren Clarke – always a popular presence in southern Africa -- and Thomas Aiken.

4 Manchester City v Tottenham, English Premiership soccer
Manchester, Sunday 15:30, SS3 & SHD3

It was a toss-up as to which of two huge Premiership games on a veritable “Super Sunday” to punt in this spot: it doesn’t get too much better than Arsenal v Manchester United (18:00, same channels) and Man City v Spurs. In the end I went for the earlier-timed “curtain-raiser”, featuring as it does the top-placed team against the side in third, with the Londoners beginning to be taken much more seriously as genuine contenders. Can they get something at Eastlands, though? I tip City for a clear-cut 2-0 win. The other game is all about traditional rivalry and animosity, with the Gunners hardly title material this season but obviously deeply hurt by that 8-2 stuffing in August in the Old Trafford first meeting. Still too porous in defence, more suffering for the Arse? I back a 1-2 score-line, despite Arsenal’s eternal commitment to watchable football.