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New rugby Kingdom here to stay?


If there is one thing to be learned from the history of South African rugby it is this: our teams need to have their backs against the wall before they start performing.

In fact, the closest you can come to guaranteeing that one of our teams will succeed is to write them off beforehand. If you want to eat your words, just tell any one of them that they have no chance.

Isn’t that what we all did back in ’95? And who could blame us? There was nothing in the three years before that World Cup kicked off that gave us any indication that the Springboks would be world beaters. Yet, fuelled by our nay-saying, the men in Green and Gold went on to achieve the impossible.

The same is true of our provincial teams. The old Northern Transvaal is perhaps the best example. Formed in 1938, when they separated from Transvaal, they were no-hopers in an era completely dominated by Western Province and their former teammates across the Jukskei. Yet, in only their second go at it, they lifted their first of 23 Cups. They’ve been wanting us to write them off ever since.

There are of course more recent examples of this as well. We’re thinking in particular about a team that in years gone by was quite comfortable at top level and produced some of Springbok rugby’s biggest legends. But then they lost their way and got relegated to the B-section of Currie Cup and for a long time it looked like they would stay there forever. And if it was up to them they probably would have.

Year after year they promised their fans that this would be the year they would fight their way back, but time and again they stumbled over the final promotion hurdle.

Then the suit-and-tie brigade at SA Rugby’s HQ decided to step in. It didn’t matter to them that these guys couldn’t earn themselves a spot in top-flight rugby, they wanted them there and that was that. Up they went, despite the public outcry.

The team themselves were written off. No one gave them a chance. Yet, a mere three years after that controversial board decision, that team was able to hang a banner at the bottom of Van Reenen’s pass saying “Welcome to Currie Cup country!”

Yes, that phoenix rising from the ashes story is about South Africa’s current Super Rugby conference leaders the Sharks.

And it’s pertinent, because if you haven’t realised it by now, we may very well be watching a Hollywood-style re-make out of Port Elizabeth. It’s essentially the same backstory, but with different actors, a different setting and with things generally happening at a much quicker pace.

Much quicker than even the most optimistic among us expected. When the Kings scored a converted try three minutes after the hooter to draw 28-28 with the Brumbies, it was only the sixth time ever that a South African team left Canberra without an L behind their names. But for them it happened on their first-ever overseas tour.

Clearly they are quick learners, but the question is, how long will this upwards curve of theirs continue?

Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to go back to the original story, and see if the re-make has all the important elements in place.

The first thing the Sharks had in place was a newly revamped stadium filled with passionate support. So far so good for the Kings.

The Sharks also had a very astute coach in Ian McIntosh, who almost single-handedly dragged South African rugby into the modern era with what he called his ‘direct rugby’ approach. Alan 'Kings' Solomons doesn’t need to re-invent the wheel this time round, but he’s been around the block a couple of times and he knows what he is doing.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Sharks made and kept themselves competitive by acquiring the players to help them reach that goal. In this department – and despite all the off-season signings performing so far – the Kings still lag behind their coastal neighbours. But don’t be too surprised if this changes too. Unlike the Sharks, the Kings won’t need to continually raid SA’s talent factories, they simply need to convince their players to come home.

We know that the boardroom politics that got the Eastern Cape back into top-flight rugby was not universally popular, and as such they will always have a fair amount of criticism thrown their way. But we also know that that could very well work in their advantage.

Imagine trying to tell the Sharks and their fans that they have no right to play top-flight rugby. You’ll be laughed off. The time is fast approaching where the same will be said of the Kings.

You can continue to write them off, but if history has anything to do with it we have one bit of advice: have a beer in hand when you do so. You’re going to need it to wash down the words you’re about to eat.

Let’s move on to our teams of the week:

Note: our weekly teams are selected on the past weekend's action only, so overall season form is not a factor. Players in teams with a bye are then obviously not considered.

Super XV for week eight:
15 Ben Smith (Highlanders), 14 Jason Woodward (Rebels), 13 Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), 12 Robert Ebersohn (Cheetahs), 11 Julian Savea (Hurricanes), 10 Bernard Foley (Waratahs), 9 Piri Weepu (Blues), 8 Cornell du Preez (Kings), 7 Ardie Savea (Hurricanes), 6 Steven Luatua (Blues), 5 Ali Williams (Blues), 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit (Sharks), 3 Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs), 2 Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), 1 Reg Goodes (Hurricanes)

Bok Barometer for week eight:
15 Hennie Daniller (Cheetahs); 14 Willie le Roux (Cheetahs), 13 Juan de Jongh (Stormers), 12 Robert Ebersohn (Cheetahs), 11 Raymond Rhule (Cheetahs), 10 Pat Lambie (Sharks), 9 Rayno Benjamin (Cheetahs), 8 Cornell du Preez (Kings), 7 Wimpie van der Walt (Kings), 6 Siya Kolisi (Stormers), 5 Franco van der Merwe (Sharks), 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit (Sharks), 3 Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs), 2 Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), 1 Trevor Nyakane (Cheetahs)

Match of the week:

The words David against Goliath was thrown around last week to describe the theoretical mismatch between the log-leading Brumbies and competition newcomers the Southern Kings. And when they took to the field, it seemed confirmed, as the Brumbies sped out to a 13-0 lead in no time.

But the South Africans just never seemed to get what this was about. Time and again they fought their way back into the match, culminating in an after-the-hooter bonus-point and match-drawing converted try. It was a giant step towards becoming settled at this level, and the Kings’ effort wins them our match of the week award.

Here it is:

Please note that video footage is for the website only and is rights restricted, and therefore only available in regions that fall within SuperSport’s broadcast footprint.

This video is not available in your region

Try of the week:

Mere seconds after we confidently announced in our online text commentary that the Waratahs had nothing to offer on attack, flyhalf Bernard Foley went and did this:

This video is not available in your region

Congratulations to:

  • Andries Bekker and Meyer Bosman, who both played in their 100th Super Rugby (SR) match this past weekend.
  • Sam Wykes, Chris Smylie, Kane Douglas and Peter Saili, who each earned their 50th SR cap this weekend.
  • The Cheetahs, whose fifth straight SR win this past weekend is a new franchise record.

Quotes of the week:

“Two Saveas is equal to four Whitelocks” – NZ commentator Sumo Stevenson after the Hurricanes-Waratahs game.

“Gentlemen, please disappear” – referee Stuart Berry says what most fans hoped he would do in the Cheetahs-Stormers game.

Twitter files:

Here is this week's look at what players got up to on Twitter:

The Kings may be the toast of the town, but it is good to see some things are still new to them…The Kings got their first taste of Australian Rules Football while visiting Melbourne.
A physio session is a relaxing time, except when your teammates pop in, as Juan de Jongh finds out here with Scarra Ntubeni and Siya Kolisi.
A finger op isn’t always great, as Zane Kirchner shows. Six weeks on the sidelines for that? Pull the other one!
Good to know some players took their week break to go and soak up some sun. Enjoy it Morne, there’s not too much of that in Europe.

And if you thought players were all concentration before rugby games, have a look at Julian Savea’s pre-match ritual…

Berry your chances

After both the SuperWrap and several other columnists on this site spent a large amount of space debating the current refereeing inconsistencies, it was sad to see that a below par performance was defended to the hilt by the whistleblowers once again.

You would be hard-pressed to find a Cheetah or Stormer supporter who would say that Stuart Berry had a good night with the whistle, but rather than taking the hit and moving on, referees seem to continue with their persecution complex.

Take the drivel that was offered up as an excuse for missing the clear-as-daylight offside in the lead up to the Stormers' second try. All of us could see that he had made a wrong call and that any TMO in the world could help him right. Would it not have been more honest to just simply say he missed it and move on.

Instead, this was the explanation offered by the sareferees.co.za website.

“If the rebound had been seen it would have been a scrum to the Cheetahs, not a try to the Stormers. The referee clearly did not have a good view of what happened. When Aplon chipped the second time, the referee was left 20 metres or so behind play, which is understandable as many people are slower than Aplon and the kicked ball. Even Aplon got left behind!

“The referee was at ground level and did not have a bird's eye view or a replay. Near the ball there were at least five pairs of legs and the action was quick.

“Perhaps he could have guessed but referees believe that guessing is dishonest and imagine the uproar if he had guessed wrongly.”

So there you have it. The ref is too slow, which begs the question of whether or not he should have handled the game in the first place?

Bullied beef

Our friends at the New Zealand Herald haven’t been scared to tell it like it is in the past, and this past week it was no different.

While lamenting the horrible penalty that cost the Bulls their game in Canberra a fortnight ago, they certainly weren’t going to offer the Pretoria lads sympathy.

“Sympathy is not an easy emotion to muster when it comes to the Bulls, which is why no one is feeling sorry for them after being robbed of a draw in Canberra.

“No one should particularly fear them much either as their vaunted forward pack was beaten up by a bunch of Aussies. Seriously, the shame would be less if they had been done over by a pack of girl guides.”

We had to stop chuckling for a minute just to say we agree…

10se times for Aus

With all the wealth of talent South Africa has at 10 at the moment, and the potential to develop it into something special, it was hard not to grin at the Sydney Morning Herald lamenting the lack of a quality flyhalf ahead of the British and Irish Lions visit later this year.

With James O’Bieb…Connor the obvious choice, there wasn’t much else to please the Aussies, as they take an honest look at their own prospects.

“James O'Connor has spent most of his time at No 15, Kurtley Beale has pressed self-destruct, Berrick Barnes is crook and Christian Lealiifano has spent the majority of the season at No 12. Quade Cooper is his own special case.

He's wearing No 10 but playing at No 15 in defence and, after the Rugby World Cup experience in 2011, Robbie Deans is about as likely to write a glowing foreword for a Steve Hansen book than go down that path again. If Cooper does regain the Wallabies jersey, he'll be asked to defend in the front line and his practice will be limited."

Given coach Heyneke Meyer’s options at the moment – barring injuries – it wouldn’t be a wonder if the Aussies were a tinge green with envy at the wealth of 10s in South Africa at the moment.

What's the score, 24?

Our friends in the local media were a little too on top of their game. This is how News 24 reported on the Brumbies/Kings game after the 'first final whistle' was blown...:

RIP

Finally we’d like to take a moment and pay our respects to Gerda von Solms, the CEO of Free State Rugby who passed away last week. A wonderful person, who always showed kindness and respect to us at the SuperWrap whenever we went to Bloemfontein. Totsiens Tannie Gerda, ons sal jou mis!


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