Lukhanyo Am of the Sharks celebrates with his team mates after scoring a try against the Stormers at Kings Park Stadium. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
Lukhanyo Am of the Sharks celebrates with his team mates after scoring a try against the Stormers at Kings Park Stadium. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
Zolani Tete during his fight against Omar Andres Narvaez  where he won the World Bantamweight Title. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters
Zolani Tete during his fight against Omar Andres Narvaez where he won the World Bantamweight Title. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters
Oom Boy Louw, the legendary Springbok, is fabled for having uttered the immortal line “looks at the scoreboard” to justify a miserable team performance.

For many years, his homespun philosophy was held up as the perfect riposte to criticism over a team’s aesthetic value.

It’s a cute line, but it was uttered almost 90 years ago when the world was a far different place.

We now have entertainment at our fingertips thanks to the genius of cellphones. Music concerts are di rigueur, multiple television channels are standard, YouTube is endless, shopping malls offer a world of choice and artificial intelligence is at our door.

You can bet that Boy Louw would be run out of town if he tried that line in 2018.

Two sport events in separate hemispheres last weekend, both involving South Africans, got me thinking about quality of performance.

The first was the Sharks versus Stormers match, specifically the dire first half. The other was in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where Zolani Tete produced one of the most soporific boxing displays in living memory.

The first 40 minutes of the match in Durban were dreadful, punctuated by errors, predictable hit-ups and aimless kicking. Rugby can never be thrill-a-minute, but this was bog standard. Picking up my knitting had more appeal.

Little wonder Richard Loe, the bad boy All Black of seasons past, rated SA derbies “as boring as goat sh*t” two years ago. He liked to lay it on thick, but he was spot-on last weekend.

Worryingly, the Sharks are past masters of the dull-a-thon. Their match against the Reds in 2004 is in the Hall of Shame, a 6-5 reverse that showed precisely what happens when neither team plays with ambition. Even BJ Botha’s try from a lineout lacked excitement.

Ten years ago, there was similar fare against the Brumbies, a snorefest that saw both teams endlessly thumping the ball downfield. Not forgetting last year’s fixture against the Rebels. I might have remembered the score, but I fell asleep.

Zolani Tete during his fight against Omar Andres Narvaez where he won the World Bantamweight Title. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

Several hours after the Sharks match, Tete defended his WBO bantamweight championship against a 42-year-old plodder in Omar Narvaez of Argentina. 

Every round was like Groundhog Day as the South African endlessly threw one-twos against an opponent afraid to engage. Narvaez was smaller, older and less athletic. He was asking to get knocked out, but instead Tete turned in a performance Ring Magazine’s correspondent reckoned was the worst world title fight of the past 10 years.

He won every round, but it was tame, timid stuff that did his reputation no good. At one point, the commentators said that an American crowd, unlike the easygoing Irish, would have booed them mercilessly.

In boxing, when you’re an elite fighter pitched against a bum, you get him out of there. It’s what made Mike Tyson so popular.

The point of these comparisons is that it isn’t always enough to win. In an age of competing interests, sportsmen are compelled to entertain. And if you are going to charge a fat entry fee, fans have every expectation to be entertained.

They aren’t looking for racy basketball scores, candy floss or WWE-style action, but spirit must underpin performance. There have been matches with an 8-5 scoreline that have been gripping from start to end. It’s all in the execution and the energy, the desire that manifests itself in how a team attacks. The ambition must be evident.

Thankfully, the Sharks turn­ed it on in the second half, a performance that amplified how poor the first was. Assistant coach Dick Muir ascribed the first half to the conditions, but it was all about attitude.

Quite. Earlier, the Crusaders played in torrential rain in New Zealand and produced five tries.

New Zealand teams have long blended entertainment with performance and latterly our own Lions have come to the party, partly because modern rugby demands imagination and derring-do. Safety-first teams don’t win trophies.

To borrow a line from Danny Blanchflower, the celebrated Spurs man, the great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning.

“It’s nothing of the kind,” he said. “The game is about glory.”

Hallelujah to that.


Sunday Tribune

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