Would Mercedes Benz survive if they just produced S-Class models? Aren’t their well being and fortunes necessitated by producing and selling C and E class models? If South African rugby were Mercedes Benz, the Cell C Sharks would be the S-Class model, but after that there is not much to talk or get excited about if you are a South African rugby supporter.
Out of the 15 teams South Africa has the dubious honor of the Toyota Cheetahs in 14th spot, the Lions in 12th, DHL Stormers at 11th and Vodacom Bulls at 9th position on the Combined Log.
In fact, barring the Sharks, reading the Log reminds one of a Stephen King novel. Even the Shark supporters must get a tinge of horror when seeing that they ended third, where only a short while ago they were still sitting at Number 1 and destined for a week off before the Semi-Finals. A brief lapse of concentration against the teams that finished 14th and 11th and all of a sudden they have to play one extra week and then in all probability travel from Durban, to Christchurch, to Sydney in three successive weeks if they want to win the tournament. Lest we forget, they have to beat the Highlanders then the Crusaders and then the Waratahs while they are there.
Although it will be a tough ask, it’s not outside of the realms of reality for them. They slipped up against the Highlanders in Durban during the league phase, but Bismarck was absent for them that day. They beat the Crusaders in Christchurch during their overseas leg and what made the victory even more remarkable was they did it with 14 men, and at a stage with 13 men. They beat the Waratahs with ease in Durban earlier the season, but the Waratahs were without their talisman, Israel Folau, for that match.
In the Sharks, South African rugby has their S-Class, albeit a S-Class with a slow puncture at times. The other four franchises are a problem at the moment.
The Bulls managed to reiterate what a fortress Loftus is for them, being unbeaten at home with 7 victories and 1 draw. They couldn’t manage even 1 away win though.
The Stormers were dismal, right from the outset when the Lions, in only their second game back in Super Rugby, absolutely smashed them at Ellis Park. It didn’t get better after that, sneaking a 1 point win over a Hurricane side that only started hitting their straps a few weeks later and onto a tour from hell, from which they never recovered. A brief respite late in the season with an away victory over the Sharks and 2 wins where they recorded blank slates against the Cheetahs and the Bulls.
The Lions, back into Super Rugby after a year on the sidelines, recorded their best season ever, but still ended 12th out of 15. Yet they are considered the second best story to come out of this years campaign, the Sharks game obviously being the highlight. They played above themselves and with no big name stars, they still managed to keep their supporters happy. Their downfall was facing the New Zealand and Australian sides. Against opposition they knew, they didn’t take a backward step, beating the Bulls, Stormers and absolutely smashing the Cheetahs at Ellis Park.
After making the play-offs in 2013, the Cheetahs had a horrible year, ending 14th on the Combined Log. They did however manage to produce a crop of new Springboks, the stand out being young Lood de Jager.
In contrast, the New Zealand franchises ended 2nd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 10th on the combined log. The Hurricanes just missing out in 7th spot and the Blues being their “lemon”, still ending above three of the five South African sides.
The Australians managed top spot with their Waratahs, the Brumbies joined in the Top 6 play-off spots at 4th position, the Western Force almost completed their fairy tale year, just missing out by 3 Log Points to end 8th. The Reds and Rebels ended very South African-like at 13th and 15th. We should however not be comparing and measuring South African sides to the Australian franchises, as South Africa has far superior player numbers to the Australians and many of their franchises even employ South African players.
Compared to the New Zealand franchises, the South African franchises have come a distant second. The Sharks were the only South African team to win in New Zealand (and Australia), yet the New Zealand franchises didn’t find winning or drawing in South Africa so difficult.
If one must look for mitigating factors to try and explain why South African sides were so poor this year, the first excuse will be that they regularly lose too many of their players to the overseas market. The New Zealand policy of only selecting players for the All Blacks from those who partake in Super Rugby, works for them. So too does their central contracting system. If South Africa were to employ the same principles now, would a Springbok team selected only from players who ended 3rd and then from 9th on the Log down to 14th instill any confidence?
Is it all doom and gloom for South African rugby? There are some pros to counter all the cons. The Springbok players not in the Sharks team, now get at least three weeks extra rest and recuperation time.
What are your thoughts on the 2014 Super Rugby campaign and your team’s showing?