A bolt from the blue Bulls
The Bulls broke new ground this past weekend, and it went largely unnoticed. The Pretoria franchise has won Super Rugby, and are still the only local team to have done so, and have frequently had their name inscribed on that old domestic trophy first presented by Sir Donald Currie.
Now they have the South African conference title to boast
about after making sure of it by seeing off the Southern Kings on the
same day as the Stormers buried their nearest rivals for the
silverware, the Cheetahs.
The Stormers, still languishing on the log
even though they’ve started what for them this season amounts to a
winning habit, with three successive wins, are in fact the only other
team to have held the conference trophy. They won it in 2011 and 2012.
When the Stormers won it not much was made of the achievement
either. In 2011 Schalk Burger, when presented with the trophy at a
press-conference, dismissed it as an irrelevance in comparison with the
main prize that his team was chasing. As it turned out they fell well
short each time, with the Crusaders and Sharks choking their challenge
in respective semifinals.
But shouldn’t more be made of winning the conference, given
that it is the only competition we get to see the South African teams
compete against each other in a 100 per cent full-strength format?
Currie Cup has been watered down in recent years by the
non-availability for most of the way of the Springboks, and although
the television figures are up, the bums on seats aspect of the domestic
competition has hit the floor.
With the top teams playing each other in a competition that
encompasses 16 games and a double round of derbies, surely the South
African champion team is the one that holds up the SA Super Rugby
Conference trophy, and not the one that wins the Currie Cup?
Fortunately last year the same side won both, but the Stormers/WP
didn’t have to sweat nearly enough to win the Currie Cup – they
finished third on the final log table and effectively broke their
11-year trophy drought by winning just two matches in the playoff
So well done to the Bulls, who achieved something few would
have seen in the stars back in February, when the Sharks and Stormers,
and for good reason, were clear favourites.
Make no mistake, injuries
played a big part in the demise of the two coastal teams, and they are
still being plagued by disruptions even now, with Siya Kolisi the
latest player ruled out of Stormers action for the rest of the Super
Rugby season. Not that there’s much left of the season for the Cape
But the Bulls, lest it be forgotten, have lost a raft of
legendary players in the space of the last two seasons. Victor
Matfield, Fourie du Preez, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Gary
Botha…most franchises when they lose players of that calibre would take
years to recover from it.
There was reason to assume when the 2012
Super Rugby season started that it would be the start of a rebuilding
phase and the Bulls would just make up the numbers for a while.
It hasn’t turned out that way, with the Bulls making the top
six last year before being beaten in the effective quarterfinals by the
Crusaders, and now they’re the conference champions. That’s not
just foundations they’ve built, it’s an impressive stand-alone
But wait, there’s something wrong with those foundations, for
they keep creaking, and with each passing week it must feel to Bulls
fans that they are watching the balloon soaring impressively upward
while leaving the basket behind. For any stampede towards a trophy is
being matched by one in the opposite direction – towards the exit sign
of the Bulls corral.
Bulls CEO Barend van Graan says he is concerned about the
interest being shown by overseas teams towards players from his union.
He should also be concerned about what the person charged with the
contracting issues at the Bulls is up to. Is it just an impression or
is it a fact that since that astute master of everything, Ian Schwartz,
left the Bulls to join up with Heyneke Meyer, the contracting situation
in Pretoria has become a disaster zone?
It’s not just the many players who are leaving that is a
problem. There are also players leaving during the season. Juandre
Kruger’s departure could surely have been delayed until after Super
Rugby with just a bit of clever negotiation on the part of the Bulls.
We understand that there was opportunity to do that, but it was never
With Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht establishing themselves
as such a dynamic midfield combination, the in-season loss of Wynand
Olivier won’t be felt quite as much as that of Kruger. But it still
makes no sense. Did the contracting people at the Bulls not realise
Super Rugby extends until August? And why is it that so many players
from one union are suddenly so eager to head away?
And we know it’s not just the Bulls that we should be worried
about. A considerable proportion of the Springbok squad still hails
from the Sharks, even though that franchise has struggled this season.
What is the fall-out going to be of the off-field drama that has led to
the Sharks finishing the season with two co-coaches who were formerly
assistant coaches but who will be joining John Plumtree by being out of
a job at the end of this month?
Not everyone will agree, but the popular view after the Sharks
scraped to a narrow but deserved 22-20 win over the Blues was that the
team did it for the now ex-coach.
Certainly the awesome performance of
the pack looked like the Plumtree legacy. Brendan Venter is supposedly
coming in as the director of rugby, but we’re also hearing that he is
bemused by that title – he thought he was going to just be a
In the meantime the names that are being mentioned as
possible coaches to work under Venter going forward have no experience
to speak of. At least not at provincial or franchise level.
Well you may well ask how you get experience if you don’t get
a chance to coach, but surely the answer is an obvious one – you get
your chance by being brought into an experienced management team. At
this stage it looks likely the Sharks are destined to go from having
the most experienced coaching staff to the most inexperienced,
depending on how much commitment Venter gives them.
Hopefully it will all be sorted out in time for a strong
Sharks challenge in the next Super Rugby season as South African rugby
needs the Sharks to be strong, just as it needs the Bulls to be strong.
Experience, both playing and coaching, remains a vital ingredient of
success. Let's hope both franchises come out the other side stronger
from these lessons.
Right, back to the past weekend's action.
Here are our teams of the week:
Note: our weekly teams are selected on the past weekend's
only, so overall season form is not a factor. Players in teams with a
bye are then obviously not considered.
Super XV for week 17:
15. Ben Smith (Highlanders), 14. Frank Halai (Blues), 13. Conrad Smith
(Hurricanes), 12. Bundee Aki (Chiefs), 11. Julian Savea (Hurricanes),
10. Dan Carter (Crusaders), 9. Francois Hougaard (Bulls), 8. Peter
Saili (Blues), 7. Jacques Potgieter (Bulls), 6. Siya Kolisi (Stormers),
5. Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), 4. Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), 3. Ben
Tameifuna (Chiefs), 2. Scarra Ntubeni (Stormers), 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Bok Barometer for week 17:
15. Joe Pietersen (Stormers), 14. Akhona Ndungane (Bulls), 13. Jan
Serfontein (Bulls), 12. Butch James (Sharks), 11. Bryan Habana
(Stormers), 10. Morne Steyn (Bulls), 9. Francois Hougaard (Bulls), 8.
Jacques Engelbrecht (Kings), 7. Jacques Potgieter (Bulls), 6. Siya
Kolis (Stormers), 5. Franco van der Merwe (Sharks), 4. Eben Etzebeth
(Stormers), 3. Jannie du Plessis (Sharks), 2. Scarra Ntubeni
(Stormers), 1. Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks)
MATCH OF THE WEEK
Form is temporary, class is permanent. Dan Carter's
performance alone is enough for our Match of the Week title as the
Crusaders downed a rejuvenated but in the end hopelessly
outclassed Highlanders outfit.
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TRIES OF THE WEEK
We're going with a try tie this week, as both are incredible in their own jaw-dropping way. In the first one, the Crusaders' Telusa Veainu scores from the back garden of the end of the world, and in the second one Ben Smith gets the tick, but Tamati Ellison wins the Pass of the Season award.
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Here is this week's look at what players got up to on Twitter:
'Got a few aches and pains Butch? Nothing a little acupuncture can't
sort out. I'm an expert," said Craig
Davidson to Sharks centre Butch James.
Jacques Potgieter is known to be
very close to his mate
and namesake Dewald. But when he put up a pic from the game - a TV grab
this on twitter - confirming the Bromance we were a bit worried.
Nothing like a couple of Pots, as they say...
Sharks captain Keegan Daniel
believes he has found the new six-minute abs. The only thing that's
lean here though is the one against the fence (place your own defence
rather b-eer than there
Joe Pietersen was looking for direction, and he seems to have
found it here in Cape Town.
Won't be Russian
We know it isn’t Super Rugby, but it would hard to ignore the disaster
that the Moscow Sevens World Cup was last weekend. Supposedly the
showpiece tournament, the IRB delivered a tournament on a sub-standard
pitch in front of virtually no fans, and with a farcical disciplinary
process that would make even the most partisan fans blush.
Kyle Brown’s treatment at the hands of the officials was just
the long line of judicial disasters for the IRB. Think James Horwill,
or James So’oialo of Samoa getting off scott free because of
inconsistencies. Sanzar have done a lot of work to try and standardise
the judiciary but it remains country-biased, and often ridiculous in
Surely IRB there is something to sort out? That and choosing a
city that can give crowds for a showpiece event?
burger up again
We wouldn’t call it definite, but Robbie Deans’s warning to the
late night take-away burger hunters James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale is
a warning the two definitely need to heed unless they want to become
toxic like Quade Cooper.
The infamous incident, of course overblown by the British
press, is the perfect example of what a team doesn’t need before any
See if you can read between the lines on Deans’s admonishment.
“'You know the industry, who knows? But the critical thing is
how you respond,'' Deans said.
''It's like the game, things are never totally as you
anticipate or as you hope but you have to adapt and push on. I'd be
reasonably confident it won't happen again. It wouldn't be a good scene
for these blokes if it did, or the team, because that's the nature of
the team game - you're only as good as your weakest link.''