Bad news only for wobbling Wallabies
Three teams in the playoffs and one in the final. That is a proposition that very few South Africans would have said no to at the beginning of this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby season.
Throw in the fact that our finalist would be the team that is widely regarded as the strongest in the competition at present, and that it also happens to be the outfit that provided the bulk of our new Springbok coach’s first run-on team, and we’d have all been over the moon.
There is no doubt that our participation in this, the 17th edition of a tournament that now makes up almost three quarters of our rugby viewing in a year, must be described as a success, regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s final.
Unfortunately for those of us here in the Republic, that is in all probability where the good news ends for now.
The problem is that the team that will have the honour of representing us in the big match was also the lowest-ranked of our qualifiers, and will therefore have travelled halfway around the world for the third time in three weeks by the time the final kicks off. That is a hurdle that no-one can reasonably be expected to overcome.
But we’re not alone. The same good news/bad news scenario also seemed to have played itself out in New Zealand in 2012.
They provided us with the most unlikely of finalists, and in doing so shattered the mould of what we thought it took to win this competition.
It happened in the most unassuming town in a quite unassuming country; a place that used to be known to us only for celebrating a rare try with the peculiar sounds of cowbells and a chainsaw.
It was Chiefs coach Dave Rennie’s first year in charge at this level, and apart from an All Black flank and what they would call star five-eighths, he had nothing recognisable to work with. Yet, on Saturday these “no-names” will in all probability all have Super Rugby winners medals hanging around their necks.
It’s good news for New Zealand, and if you’re really honest, probably for every one of us that loves this game. It turns out you don’t need a big budget or a big squad or a big stadium to win this tournament. All you need a small handful of genuine stars, surrounded by a squad of capable and coachable youngsters, lead by a man that knows what he’s doing. That is within everyone’s grasp.
The bad news for New Zealand is that they’ve now become beatable. More specifically, the Crusaders have. It took nothing more than a newby coach and a bunch of “no-name” small-towners to do what up until this year was unthinkable: knock the seven-time champions out in New Zealand.
With it went the aura that surrounds the heart of All Black rugby. If Rennie’s anonymous renegades didn’t fear the likes of McCaw and Carter, why should the rest of us when we meet them donning different jerseys later this year?
It was a different story in Australia, however. We tried, but we can’t find good news for them from anything that happened in these last six months.
Not that they haven’t tried to find some themselves. Our favourite columnist, Spiro Zavos, was at it again this week after taking exception to John Plumtree stating that the Aussie conference was the weakest (John’s point was that it was somewhat unfair to travel to Brisbane for a playoff if your team had more log points than theirs).
“The Australian conference sides accrued 32 wins, scored 210 competition points; 179 tries for and 218 against. The South African sides had 42 wins, scored 247 points; 210 tries for and 189 against. The New Zealand teams had 46 wins, scored 264 points; 222 tries for and 174 tries against,” wrote Zavos, as if it didn’t prove Plumtree’s point.
Well there’s that, and the fact that out of the 20 cross-conference games played between teams from the two countries, SA sides won 15.
Make no mistake, Australia can and will field a very competitive National side this year, but there is no doubt that the new Super Rugby format is doing them no favours in the long run. They were thin on talent to start with, and have now gone and spread it over two Super teams too many.
Every youngster that comes through their system learns very early on that once you cross the border the best thing to do is to find yourself a cushion and bite down very hard. That is a tough habit to break, no matter who you play for.
That brings us to the next item on rugby’s menu: the inaugural Rugby Championship. Is there anything we can learn from this last Super season that’ll be applicable when rugby’s greatest foes (and this year, a new kid on the block) lock horns in little over two weeks?
Well, statistically there is some correlation between Super Rugby and the old Tri-Nations. To date 11 of the 16 Tri-Nations titles were won by the country that also provided the Super Rugby winner.
But stats never get to take the field. The Sharks will probably not win the title on Saturday, but their travelling schedule will have just as much say in the result as anything the Chiefs can throw at them.
That takes nothing away from the opening two paragraphs of this article. We had three teams in the playoffs and one in the final. Our finalist has struck irresistible form of late and will make up the bulk of our National side.
It’s been another gruelling Super Rugby season, but South African rugby has emerged from it as strong as we could ever have hoped for. And the Springboks couldn’t have asked for a better platform. The time has come for Heyneke Meyer and his men to go make us proud.
Here are our final teams of the season.
Please note: our season's teams are made up of the players that were selected into our weekly teams most often. Our weekly teams, in turn, were selected on the previous weekend's action only. Overall this should reflect which players we thought had the best form throughout the season.
Super XV for 2012:
15. Andre Taylor (Hurricanes) 14. Cory Jane (Hurricanes) 13. Conrad Smith (Hurricanes) 12. Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs) 11. Zac Guildford (Crusaders) 10. Aaron Cruden (Chiefs) 9. TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) 8. Kieran Read (Crusaders) 7. Matt Todd (Crusaders) 6. Adam Thomson (Highlanders) 5. Juandre Kruger (Bulls) 4. Eben Etzebeth (Stormers) 3. Owen Franks (Crusaders) 2. Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks) 1. Sona Taumololo (Chiefs).
Bok Barometer for 2012:
15. Joe Pietersen (Stormers) 14. JP Pietersen (Sharks) 13. Juan de Jongh (Stormers) 12. Jean de Villiers (Stormers) 11. Bjorn Basson (Bulls) 10. Morne Steyn (Bulls) 9. Francois Hougaard (Bulls) 8. Keegan Daniel (Sharks) 7. Marcell Coetzee (Sharks) 6. Siya Kolisi (Stormers) 5. Juandre Kruger (Bulls) 4. Eben Etzebeth (Stormers) 3. WP Nel (Cheetahs) 2. Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks) 1. Tendai Mtwarira (Sharks).
Match of the week:
The Sharks did the nearly impossible by travelling to Brisbane and back in the space of a week and still beat the seemingly invincible SA conference winners at home to book a spot in the final. What a remarkable achievement.
The match itself was one where the Durbanites had complete control for the first hour, breaching the impenetrable Stormers defence twice to build a handy lead. The last quarter saw them on their last legs, desperately clinging to their points advantage, but in the end they had enough left in the tank to seal the deal.
We wish them the best of luck in Hamilton this weekend.
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.
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Try of the week:
This week’s try of the week came from the other semifinal. Once again Sonny Bill Williams showed his remarkable knack for spotting scoring opportunities when he set up Liam Messam’s try.
This time it came from the back of a ruck where the centre spotted a gap, saw off one tackle and got his famous offload away.
We can only hope that this was his last bit of heroics this season.
Here it is:
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Here is this week's look at what players got up to on Twitter:
|The Chiefs enjoyed their win over the Crusaders it seemed – in their words “native style”
|Chiefs flanker Liam Messam’s dad is a bit of an artist, and this “artwork” perhaps summed up the Chiefs way of dealing with errant TMOs this weekend.
|We know the Sharks are a travelling horde these days, but they seem genuinely happy at heading back to Oz as this photo from Louis Ludick attests. Perhaps it is the voyager miles they’re adding to their accounts?
|Finally a good word about the Stormers. While the pressures of a semifinal week were upon them, they found time to visit a childrens’ hospital, something some other teams never do nowadays. Well done to them.
Before you ask:
Here is that clip showing what happens when the immovable object gets in the way of the unstoppable force:
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Cry me a river...
The big international news this week was Graham Henry’s hint that the All Blacks 2007 exit was due to “match-fixing”.
Henry wrote about how his post-match analysis showed that up to 40 penalisable French offences were missed in that match. (We’re just glad he didn’t check the other side of the ruck. His calculator might have exploded)
While Wayne Barnes wasn’t at his best on the night, and missed the crucial forward pass, few outside Henry’s sympathisers would even contend that these match-fixing claims could be true.
London Sunday Times scribe Stephen Jones described his claims as “pukable” and pointed out that it doesn’t do his status justice, especially since it coincided with the release of his biography.
Of course we’re sure that the IRB would never see that such a claim brings the game into disrepute, nor would the NZRU. After all Henry was just appointed onto the IRB’s Rugby Committee – and how would that look?
On a serious note, after that poor girl Suzie managed to get hold of their menu in 1995 and Barnes stuffed them in 2007, is it any wonder they can only win a World Cup in NZ?
We were happy to see that Waikato restaurants are going an extra mile this week to ensure their guests are feeling welcome.
According to the New Zealand Herald, shark is on the menu at two Hamilton restaurants this week.
John Lawrenson, who owns both restaurants, said 7kg of shark had already been ordered for his Keystone and The Abbey restaurants for Thursday night and he was expecting the dish to be a hit with diners not backing the South African team. Keystone executive chef Mike Huitema, who enjoys cooking wild food, has come up with three ways to serve the fish, which was once used as a cheap substitute in fish and chips.
There's the traditional battered shark served with chips and salad on offer at both restaurants, with a more gourmet option of shark served on a smoked mash with cress and seared scallops served at Keystone, and shark served with a caprese salad, grilled tiger prawns and a lemon cream sauce at The Abbey. The shark dishes cost between $28 and $31.
"I think it will appeal to Waikato people. Waikato people seem to embrace this sort of stuff and I think the tongue-and-cheek shot at the Sharks will probably be appreciated.
"I expect quite a few people to come in and have a try of it," Mr Lawrenson said.
There's also a steak dish on Keystone's menu that is served with biltong, which might appeal more to any South African supporters in Hamilton.
Well thanks for that. Here’s hoping that all of you guys bite off a little more Shark than you can chew on Saturday night.