Old Boys vs. Young Blood

Posted: October 28, 2010 in Sport
Tags: , ,

By Riaan Marais



Old Boys: The 1995 World Cup winning team.


Were the rugby boys of old really that hard? How do the younger generations match up to their predecessors? Times have changed, and so has the game.

Francois Pienaar: Lifting the Webb Ellis trophy after winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

We look back at the 1995 Rugby World Cup and see Francois Pienaar lift the trophy. “I bet he could teach these new boys a thing or two”, would be a typical remark from the older rugby fans.

Many people like to believe that the guys that represented South Africa back in the good old days are much tougher than the current players, that somehow they were harder men. However, there are increasing factors that argue against that point of view.

Prior to 1995, rugby was a sport, not a profession, and players had jobs outside their rugby careers. Francois Pienaar himself studied law at the Rand Afrikaans University, and worked while playing for the Springboks and Transvaal. Today, he is the provincial executive for First National Bank in the Western Cape. The point being that rugby players back then couldn’t afford to be professional rugby players like the guys today.

Nowadays, rugby players earn substantial salaries, and during international off-seasons, they have the opportunity to play abroad and earn obscene amounts of money. It has become more than just sport to them, which means they have to be good at it to earn a living. And to be really good at rugby, you must have skills, brains and, above all, you have to be as tough as nails.

John Smit: The second South African captain to lift the Rugby World Cup trophy, twelve years later.

Just like the reasons for playing rugby have changed, so too has the game itself changed over the last fifteen years. Simple rules like picking players up in line-outs, or the four-step scrum initiation (crouch, touch, pause, engage), are small things that have changed the game. Some other rules are put in place just to help with the flow of the match, increasing the tempo of the game. This quickened pace requires players to be much more alert and aware of everything round them. “The game probably needs to recalibrate slightly and look at how we can put more emphasis on skills rather than power”, says Damian Hopley, CEO of the Rugby Players Association and former England international player in an interview with artslondonnews.co.uk .

Don Shaw, team manager of the Harlequins Rugby Union Team in the United Kingdom, raises the issue of physicality caused by the new rules. “The game has become a lot faster, and more competitive. Players have become a lot more athletic, much stronger, more muscular, and leaner”, says Shaw. Hopley confirms these views: “Inevitably, players are getting stronger, faster, bigger and more powerful”.

Pierre Spies: A fine example of international rugby’s evolution in recent years.

There are many international rugby players that can attest to Shaw and Hopley’s point of view. But there is one player that definitely stands out from a South African perspective, and that is Pierre Spies. This 194cm, 107kg Springbok and Blue Bull lose forward started his international test début in 2006, and has only improved since then. Due to health complications (a blood clot in his lung), Spies’s rugby career was almost cut short in 2007, but since his recovery he has gone from strength to strength. “When it comes to training, I never take shortcuts. I always train really hard”, says Spies about his sessions in the gym. It’s clear that the hard work pays off by looking at Spies manhandling Australian hooker Saia Faingaa in a recent Tri-Nations clash.     



Pierre Spies manhandling Faingaa

Young Blood: 2007 World Cup winning team.

Even though the rugby legends of fifteen years ago deserve praise for the way they played and what they achieved, things have changed. It’s not the same game they played back in the day, and match physicality is at an all-time high. The young bloods exercise differently, train with more intensity and treat what used to be a pastime as a career. Give them fifteen years and they will be the legends of 2025.  

Mini interview with Pierre Spies


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