SA's leaders not earning their bonus
What can be said about the quality of rugby produced in a conference when it’s comfortably led by a team that has gone through 14 matches without scoring a single four-try bonus-point?
That, unfortunately, will be the synopsis of South Africa’s participation in the 2012 edition of Super Rugby after the Stormers pretty much sealed our conference on Saturday when they limped to yet another unimposing win, this time at home to a self-destructing Lions outfit.
And it could be worse, what will it say about the tournament as a whole if that same flair-less team turns out to be its overall leader at the end of league play?
That, too, is a real possibility, because the Stormers have only the out-of-the-running Cheetahs and Rebels left to tick on their pre-playoff to-do list, while the Chiefs -- the only other realistic contenders for the top-of-the-log spot -- have both the Crusaders and the Hurricanes waiting for them in the next fortnight.
The answer to those questions, of course, is nothing. It’s not an indictment on either the conference or the tournament if its dullest team ends up being its torch-bearer; it is just sad proof that the game itself has degenerated into an adventure-less, defence-dominated bore-fest.
And it’s hardly news. We’ve been bemoaning the state of the game – even in one of its most exciting tournaments - since kick-off way back in February. And it’s no surprise that nothing has been done since to rectify it.
So what are we to do now? Shall we just hand the Stormers the trophy now and hope that by next year this time something will have happened in the world of rugby so that it is no longer necessary to out-bore them in search of glory?
The answer, at least historically, is a resounding no. It may be true that Super Rugby could end its league phase being led by a team that struggles to score, but the title has never been won by one.
All five champion teams had a devastating game with ball-in-hand when they won their respective titles, and quite often it was required of them to call on it en route to or in the playoffs themselves.
Take the Bulls, for example. They won their first title in 2007 with a miracle try well after the hooter against as resolute a Sharks defence as you could ever hope for. They were able to believe in their own scoring abilities in those last couple of minutes because two weeks beforehand they ran in 13 tries against the Reds just to qualify for a home semifinal.
And then we have last year’s champions, the Reds. They had their backs against the wall in the final after an opportunistic Dan Carter try, but Will Genia, Quade Cooper and Digby Ioane were able to create two great tries out of nothing to win despite their flyhalf’s wayward boot. They never panicked, because they knew how to put their stars away for points, they had been doing it all season.
And that brings us back to the Stormers. What will they have to fall back on if they once again find themselves having to play catch-up in a knockout match? So far this season they have scored a measly 25 tries. That is 20 less than their closest conference rivals the Bulls, and only one more than the lowest-ranked Lions. With a backline as talented as any other in the competition, that is simply unacceptable.
Their ultra-conservative approach has gotten them into the playoffs, but it’s done so before, and that alone should no longer be good enough for them. It’s time for them to step out of their comfort zone.
History (both their own and that of previous champions) shows that you can’t go into knockout matches with a limited arsenal. Let’s hope that in these next two weeks the Stormers will stop trying to tackle themselves to wins and start focusing on getting their potentially awesome attack into the game.
Play like the lekker ding you claim you are. It is something you owe yourselves and your fans, and it’s the only way you’ll get the momentum you need going into the playoffs. It will also make the rest of the rugby world a tad less depressed about the state of our game if it is not just plain cynicism that has won the day.
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 16:
15. Robbie Robertson (Chiefs) 14. Nick Cummins (Force) 13. Conrad Smith (Hurricanes) 12. Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs) 11. Bjorn Basson (Bulls) 10. Aaron Cruden (Chiefs) 9. Will Genia (Reds) 8. Scott Higginbotham (Reds) 7. Jacques Potgieter (Bulls) 6. Liam Messam (Chiefs) 5. Juandre Kruger (Bulls) 4. Rob Simmons (Reds) 3. Ben Franks (Crusaders) 2. Deon Fourie (Stormers) 1. Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders).
Bok Barometer for week 16:
15. Gio Aplon (Stormers) 14. Gerhard van den Heever (Stormers) 13. Lionel Mapoe (Lions) 12. Jean de Villiers (Stormers) 11. Bjorn Basson (Bulls) 10. Morne Steyn (Bulls) 9. Francois Hougaard (Bulls) 8. Siya Kolisi (Stormers) 7. Jacques Potgieter (Bulls) 6. Heinrich Brussow (Cheetahs) 5. Juandre Kruger (Bulls) 4. Flip van der Merwe (Bulls) 3. Werner Kruger (Bulls) 2. Deon Fourie (Stormers) 1. JC Janse van Rensburg (Lions).
Match of the week:
The standard of rugby wasn’t too great this past weekend with most teams struggling to shake the cobwebs after three weeks of rest. The best match, in our opinion, came in Christchurch where the Hurricanes managed to keep their title hopes alive by upsetting the Crusaders.
South Africa’s favourite referee, Bryce Lawrence, let a few things slip, and the ball bounced right for the visitors on the night, but there is no denying that it was a remarkable result for the Canes, especially if you consider that they were completely dominated in the set phases.
In the end the match was only decided when Tyler Bleyendaal narrowly missed a long-range penalty right at the end, and it’s that edge-of-the-seat characteristic that makes this our match of the week.
Here are the highlights:
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.
Crusaders v Hurricanes
Try of the week:
This week there could be only one. Bjorn Basson reminded us all what a winger’s real job is when he dummied and swerved at full tilt past the Cheetahs defence to score this beaut. It was Basson’s ninth try of the season, equalling Bryan Habana’s Bulls record.
Here it is:
Bjorn Basson try
- Wyatt Crockett and Wynand Olivier, who both played their 100th Super Rugby (SR) match this weekend.
- Morne Steyn, who became the first player to pass the 200-point mark in SR this year.
- Peter Grant, who passed the 100-point mark for SR points in 2012.
Here is this week's look at what players got up to on Twitter:
|The Reds will continue the season of ludicrous jerseys this week, but for a good cause, wearing the indigenous jersey to celebrate indigenous culture in Australia. Looks a bit better than the Bulls' pink one though.
|Bulls captain Pierre Spies tried his hand at MasterChef cooking – making a cheesecake, but eventually gave in and called his wife for help.
|James O’Connor even tried a new hairstyle to get away from the comparisons to Justin Bieber…didn’t work, did it?
|Even heroes have heroes it seems. Kurtley Beale was like a kid at Christmas when he got the great Jonah Lomu to sign his boots this past week.
New Zealand Herald columnist Chris Rattue is definitely not a fan of Bryce Lawrence.
After the Crusaders' loss to the Hurricanes he laid into our favourite referee with his pen in undeniable fashion: “Cinderella stormed the ball in Christchurch thanks to a nice fairy godmother who looked a lot like referee Bryce Lawrence,” Rattue wrote.
“The rise-from-the-ashes Hurricanes caused a gigantic upset by knocking over the heavyweight Crusaders with both teams a little below full strength. What a game, largely because of the shock result. What a result, thanks to the referee and his non-assisting assistants.
“There's a temptation not to pick over the finer details that don't fit the fairytale when a medium-sized guy bowls a big guy. But come on troops. The Crusaders were completely dudded on the obstruction front. Neither of the Hurricanes' two tries, scored by Conrad Smith, were legitimate. Both were Crusaders penalties unawarded. Lawrence either kicked the rule book into touch or was blinded by the Smith halo.”
And this from the same guy who told South Africans to grow up for complaining about Lawrence’s performance at the World Cup.
Bob, Bob, Bob...
We could help chuckling at Bob Skinstad’s comment during the Lions-Stormers game over the weekend.
“Off the record, Johan Ackermann is the strongest man I have ever encountered,” Bob told viewers during his commentary stint.
“Off the record” could mean different things to different people, but telling millions of viewers live on air certainly isn’t a definition we’re aware of…
The chirp of the week came from the Loftus press box, when Morne Steyn was penalised after assistant referee Cobus Wessels flagged him for an apparent high tackle.
Quick as a flash, one journo tweeted “We’re not even sure Morne Steyn can make a high tackle”, joking about Steyn’s strange and sometimes difficult tackling style.
Just to prove we can all be wrong, stats showed Steyn made 11 tackles and missed none on the weekend.
Ton up for Grey
South Africa’s most successful rugby school, Grey College is gearing up for their centenary celebrations this year, and will name the Grey Player of the Millenium at a gala banquet on August 3 in Bloemfontein.
It’s amazing just how many top players the school turns out, with no less than seven Boks in the recent England series who were schooled there -- Ruan Pienaar, Frans Steyn, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Flip van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen are all Grey Alumni, as is IRB Junior World Player of the year Jan Serfontein.
The highlight will be a match against the Cardiff Blues on August 4 and a whole programme of events to go with it. Interested parties can contact Grey College’s reunion office on 051 444 5799 for more information.