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Suncorp officials strike again

Six weeks in and the realities of Super Rugby are starting to sink in.

Injuries are mounting, and already include some significant performers. Pressure is amping up in some quarters. The effects of travel, and week in week out rugby of high intensity and physicality are starting to tell. Some who started poorly are beginning to find their old groove, and others who began well are being pulled back to the chasing pack.

This, as we are often told, is a marathon, not a sprint, and while some are enjoying a run along the flat, there are hills to climb and potholes in the road ahead.

The Southern Kings have certainly had a sharp awakening to the “other” side of life in Super Rugby. That is, 12 000 kilometres from home, as far away as you can get from your passionate supporters, facing the wrath of a Crusaders side determined to get its season up and running, in front of a crowd that might, like your own, wear red and black, but that is where synergies end.

We have watched this story of the Kings unfold from afar. On my many trips to your country, and in discussion with visiting, or expatriate South Africans on any matter pertaining to the national game, I have always heard a great variance of opinion on what is good and what is not, who is the right and wrong person for which job, how much politics are involved and so on. Always I find it best to listen, nod, and not offer too much of an opinion, because it is not ours to get involved. It’s a bit like this with the Kings.

What I do understand is that there is great passion for rugby in the Eastern Cape, that there is talent to harness and develop, and that the backers of the Kings see the franchise as critical to that process.

It is also clear that the Kings, and in particular their president Cheeky Watson, have their detractors, that people in the Gauteng area are aggrieved about their team being dropped from Super Rugby, notwithstanding their rather dismal record, and so passions get inflamed on the matter.

I met Cheeky on Saturday night, for the first time. He started by giving me a ribbing (I think he was being playful) about my work, and then gave me a really good interview for our ReUnion show. Our crew listening on, were quite fascinated. He made it clear they are in a fight for survival, but to be in a battle is nothing new for him.

After a rollicking good start, it seems the Kings are already on course for a dreaded promotion-relegation clash with the Lions at the end of the season, unless they can learn very quickly the lessons of defeats like the one they suffered against the Crusaders.

True, they will meet few more difficult challenges, but while there was plenty of character and resolve, and some good determined individual effort, there were times when they just couldn’t cope with what the Crusaders threw at them.

Their defence was too passive. It’s not that they didn’t hit the Crusaders with force when the tackle was made, it’s just that they stood back too much and waited for the Crusaders to arrive, rather than rushing up to meet them at or behind the gain line. This is a recipe for disaster and the Crusaders had a field day until the game was beyond reach, when they emptied their bench and buttoned off.

As one of their staff suggested afterwards there were times when the Kings were so busy watching the Crusaders they forgot to play them.

They cannot make that mistake against the Hurricanes, or they will get hurt again, because while the ‘Canes do not play to the same structure and pattern, or with the same ruthless efficiency as the ‘Saders, they have just as many threats with ball in hand.

The Crusaders too, paid a price for the game, losing their skipper Kieran Read for the South African trip. There are some, mainly Kiwis of course, who believe Read to now be the best rugby player in the world, but even if he is not that, he must be one of the best four or five. His influence against the Bulls was colossal, and he was unstoppable against the Kings.

Having outplayed Pierre Spies two weeks ago, it would have been fantastic to watch him against the super impressive Duane Vermeulen this weekend. We’ve all been robbed in that regard.

I suspect without Read, father-to-be Dan Carter, and the absent Richie McCaw (seen recently in the audience for the David Letterman Show in New York), the Crusaders will do well to come home with more than one win from their three-match trip, but there is plenty of depth so we will see.

The Stormers will be in great mood after their impressive win against the Brumbies, a game that lived right up to expectation. The Brumbies played really well, despite the setback of losing their brilliant fullback Jesse Mogg, and remain on the front line of betting, but the Stormers took their chances superbly.

Andries Bekker showed just how good he can be, an amazing performance. If he could transfer that sort of effort to test rugby on a regular basis he would rank among the greats.

The unlucky side at the weekend was the Bulls.

Sure, both sides were hit by absurd yellow cards, but I agree with the claim that the one handed to the Bulls had a far greater effect on the outcome. It was a nonsense…James Slipper appeared to try and jump over Lionel Mapoe…what was Mapoe supposed to do…fall flat on the ground? Do a plank?

I guess the officials had painted themselves into a corner with their binning of Jono Lance earlier on, but that didn’t make it right.

People will also argue that the Bulls had their chances to win the game, but I will also answer that by saying a bad mistake like this is a blown chance in itself, and it certainly created a hole in the defence for Quade Cooper to score a soft winner.

It was yet another case of a visiting team getting burnt by local officiating at Suncorp….it cost the Crusaders home advantage for Super Rugby in 2011, and who knows how much this will cost the Bulls in the long run.

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