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Local dourbies running thin

The skies seemed blue, trees green and the roses red, so if you didn’t catch yourself wanting to grate along with old Satchmo these last couple of weekends, it’s time to seriously question your credentials as a rugby fan.

Ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. The weather was miserable, and there are no roses blooming this time of the year, but you at least must have wanted to hoarse uit volle bors every time the old man got around to that wonderful world bit.

And, would you believe it, we have the Aussies to thank for putting us in such a great mood.

No, they didn’t do anything special; they just haven’t mercilessly drained our oval-shaped souls with one of their Super Rugby derbies for almost a month now.

We had our morning coffee these last couple of Saturdays watching some pick-me-up candyfloss from under the Long White Cloud. Our cornflakes came with a side of some proper test rugby (spiced with the knowledge that it’ll end in heartbreak for either the Aussies or their Welsh & Mercenary opponents.)

By the time it came to doing our normal weekend chores our spirits were soaring. The trash was taken out humming “The colours of the rainbow...” The kids, while being bussed to the mall, heard “So pretty in the sky.”

We were happy. Smiling like that slightly sinister baby on TV, in fact. And it’s only because – and as has been said of the concessions of many a bad wicketkeeper - the Aussie sides have now had more byes than the ending of a Teletubbies episode.

What a pity, then, that our Saturdays also had to have late afternoons.

It was as the sun set these last two Saturdays that we were shown that – at least when it comes to derbies - our Australian brethren have nothing to teach us when it comes to dourness.

In the absence of the usual suspects, the paleness took the PE straight out of Perth. In fact, if the two teams in action there last Saturday showed any less imagination, the occasion could easily have been mistaken for an actuary’s convention.

In terms of quality it was also no better in Pretoria. There we saw both teams add considerable bulk to what used to be a Bloem-based manual called “How Not to Win a Match.”

And cursed be the shallowness of a being that would hold that tackle-free try-swapper we saw in Wellington’s Cake Tin in any higher regard. That was not entertainment. At least half the sips and giggles of the true fan of this great pastime are derived from the bone-crunching quality of a well-timed tackle (even if it was slightly misplaced. Almost as much as his team’s kicks goal, or the loyalty that influenced the decision to appoint our beloved beheader as captain.)

The problem, we’re sad to report, is not one of nationality. All three apples in the Sanzar basket are rotting at the same time. No, the problem is simply that this second round of derbies we’re in the middle of right now is completely unnecessary. It has come at a time when more than half the teams are no longer in the running. Dreams and ambition are gone from the eyes, and for the most part there is only pride and egos left on the line.

In these circumstances the quality of preparation and on-field performances is the first victim, and an unnecessarily high injury count only part of the cost. It does no one involved in this game we love any good.

The bean-counters, as is their wont, will argue. They have crowd figures to prove how popular these derbies are. The people (and more importantly their wallets) have spoken, and if it’s derbies they want, it is derbies they’ll get. Until every last drop has been bled, it seems.

We cannot agree. Here at the SuperWrap desk we’ve never claimed numbers to be our strongpoint, but if discussing them is the only way to get our point across, we’ll give it a shot.

In a country like ours where supporters of the big Unions are spread far and wide, the size of one particular crowd does not necessarily reflect that the match-up itself is highly appreciated. It could simply be that one host venue now has a chance to attract two sets of fans, instead of the usual one. Those wallets aren’t necessarily telling you that they like your derby, just that they like not having to travel too far to watch the team they support live.

There’s also this: a product will always only be the sum of its parts. If a big chunk of those parts are sub-standard, so will your product be.

Just look at the immense popularity of the few rugby traditions that haven’t been bled dry yet, that are still scarce enough for it to be considered something special. Look at the British & Irish Lions and the hordes of fans that were willing to spend on far more than just a match ticket just to be able to say they were there. Those wallets are the ones telling the true story.

More importantly: look at the large number of players crossing the equator because they can’t justify the physical strain they endure down here for the comparatively scant reward they receive. No, bean-counters, it’s not just about the relative strength of any particular currency - it’s just as much about the limitations of the human body.

The idea of having the best provincial teams of the world’s strongest three rugby nations compete for glory each year is a splendid one. Super Rugby is something we all love, and derbies will always be an important part of that golden egg. But it’ll always just be a part, and certainly never important enough to want to kill the goose for it.

Ok, enough of the song and dance, let’s move on to team selections.

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. With all Australian teams out of action, we also chose not to select an overall Super XV this week.

Bok Barometer for week 18:
15 Hennie Daniller (Cheetahs), 14 Willie le Roux (Cheetahs), 13 JJ Engelbrecht (Bulls), 12 Robert Ebersohn (Cheetahs), 11 Lwazi Mvovo (Sharks), 10 Morne Steyn (Bulls), 9 Jano Vermaak (Bulls), 8 Phillip van der Walt (Cheetahs), 7 Jean Deysel (Sharks), 6 Marcelle Coetzee (Sharks), 5 Ligtoring Landman (Cheetahs), 4 Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), 3 Jannie du Plessis (Sharks), 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle (Bulls), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs).

Match of the week:

It may not have been the biggest spectacle, but it would be hard to top the Bulls/Sharks clash for sheer drama. It had everything from late team changes and captaincy switches, to the losing of heads literally and figuratively. And there were 29 other players on the field as well.

If by some chance you missed it, here’s the highlights of a match that betters any soap opera:

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:

Pity the team that has to travel to Christchurch to play in a playoff. The Crusaders have run into some seriously good form. It was on display throughout their match against the log-topping Chiefs, but nowhere more clearly than in the off-the-ball play that set up this try:

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Congratulations to:

  • Dan Carter, who passed the 1500-point mark in Super Rugby (SR) on Friday.
  • Pat Lambie, who became the youngest South African ever, and the 3rd youngest overall, to earn 50 SR caps.
  • Joe Pietersen and Rayno Benjamin, who also played in their 50th SR match this weekend.

Twitter files:

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

Wilhelm Steenkamp was aching on the physio table Monday after “recklessly” using his head in a ruck against Butch James. We’re not sure if it was that or Butch’s hair tug that caused the pain, but the man doesn’t look happy.
Jason Woodward is a good rugby player, but when the Rebels’ player tweeted this manual about “getting to know your toaster” we really start worrying about him off the field.
Kyle Cooper is new to twitter, and couldn’t wait to take a picture of his teammates at lunch. Keegan Daniel couldn’t help but photobomb it though…
With Robbie Deans now gone, Quade Cooper was hard at work again – this time doing a dual kicking exhibition and media day. Something tells us new Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie will get him back in “Wallaby gold”

Quote of the week:

"Did I just see your fist pump all the way from New Zealand @QuadeCooper ?? Haha" – Corey Jane tweets the Wallaby outsider on Robbie Deans’ departure.

Take it like a woes...

We all know Rugby is a serious business, but to be honest, we like coaches who front up no matter what has happened on the field.

It is a mark of a good man, they say, to honestly assess what has happened in front of the fourth estate.

So you can think how disappointed we were when Saturday’s two losing teams – the Blues and the Sharks – snubbed the media and didn’t turn up for the post match press conference.

Sir John Kirwan was apparently “disappointed” in his team’s performance and headed for the bus.

Even more disappointing was the fact that Grant Bashford and Hugh Reece-Edwards – after the epic drama of Loftus – decided not to turn up and talk a bit.

We did see Bash say the “better team had lost” to the Sharks website a day or two later, but it simply wasn’t good enough. Strange behaviour, especially under the “new broom” of new CEO John Smit.

Frans Ludekrous

Speaking of the Loftus drama, it was interesting to see Bulls coach Frans Ludeke’s take on Riaan Viljoen’s missed penalty. Ludeke said he had “peace in my heart” if it had gone over, saying the Bulls had several chances and hadn’t used them to get the win.

Asked if his players “had kept their head while other lost theirs” Ludeke looked surprised at the question.

“No, you can’t say that,” he said, before offering: “I felt for him (Viljoen). We also lost a game like that in the last minute earlier this year to the Brumbies so I felt for him.

“We’re blessed,” he added admitting it was a let-off the team desperately needed.

Considering the way some coaches have carried on about opposition and referees, Ludeke deserves a tip of the hat for that one.

No penny left for Hennie

While the euphoria among Cheetahs fans still rages on about them making the playoffs for the first time – and well done in doing so – few people have realised that the retention of Willie le Roux has come at a cost.

Le Roux is of course still a Griquas player, so “retaining” his services is not quite accurate as he makes the short move across to Bloemfontein permanently from the end of the season.

But in securing a R2-million contract for him to stay at the Cheetahs, it seems there is no money to retain the most loyal of Cheetah players – Hennie Daniller.

Daniller has been linked with Italian club Zebre and it confirms long-standing rumours that coach Naka Drotske wants Le Roux to be the Cheetahs fullback.

Of course, the move could not have been done without Heinrich Brussow’s transfer to Japan either…but nobody is mentioning that.

Rattle ‘em bones

Finally, our good deed for the week.

We were genuinely concerned about the lack of defence in the clash between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders this past weekend.

We can’t sit idly by while the whole of New Zealand seems to lose its appetite for all things physical.

In a spirit of cooperation and good will, we’ll give them this little reminder of how a good tackle can be just as much of a crowd-pleaser as anything else on offer:

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