The lack of depth in the Cheetahs and Lions squads begs the question why the Cats concept was ever canned.
Both Naka Drotske and Loffie Eloff announced their squads this week, and while several injured Springboks will return to bolster their respective teams later in the competition, it’s patent these franchises are thin on experienced players.
The Cheetahs suffered a mass exodus at the end of last season, losing Os du Randt to retirement, Jannie du Plessis to the Sharks and Ryno van der Merwe, Ollie le Roux, Willem de Waal, Michael Claassens, Marius Joubert, Ronnie Cooke, Philip Burger and Corniel van Zyl to European clubs. Free State president Harold Verster told this website the union couldn’t compete with the lucrative overseas offers and the result sees the current Currie Cup champions severely depleted.
The Lions were struggling from the start, but the end of last season saw Jacques Cronje, Ashwin Willemse and Ricky Januarie bid farewell. Their scrum, which did so well in 2007, will struggle to apply the same pressure without Brian Mujati to support Heinke van der Merwe up front. The union have secured a great new sponsorship, but Eloff’s philosophy is to develop talent rather than buy it. The current crop may remain in Johannesburg due to the attractive paycheque, but it could be a few more years before the team wins any trophies.
There’s been talk of provincial rivalries and the pride in the respective unions, but if one considers the current situation as a must-fix, a merger doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.
The Stormers have faired poorly over the past few seasons, but this is unacceptable considering they can afford to play Springboks off the bench, such is their depth. The majority of the Bulls and Sharks players represented South Africa in France last year, and yet both the Bulls and Sharks Currie Cup teams made the domestic semi-finals. This depth is not apparent at the Lions or Cheetahs franchises. When injury strikes key players, these teams rarely recover.
Eloff has built up the profile of these young Lions players since taking the reins in the 2006 Currie Cup, but his team are still well short on veterans needed to clinch the big fixtures. Including Jaque Fourie and Andre Pretorius, the best Lions side would include five Springboks.
Drotske has also suffered. When Bevin Fortuin and Hendro Scholtz return from injury next month, the Cheetahs squad will boast eight Springboks, two of which (Jongi Nokwe and Wian du Preez) who earned the title but never played a match.
Last year’s Super 14 final saw the Sharks select 15 Springboks in their match 22. Waylon Murray and Ryan Kankowski later went on to become Boks. Fourteen of the Bulls 22 had already worn the green and gold.
The Cheetahs and Lions cannot match these numbers as separate entities, but together perhaps they could launch a realistic campaign for the title. They are good enough to force the odd upset but in a tournament that’s all about consistency, you need 30 quality players in order to go the distance.
Injuries are a part of the game, but in Super Rugby, you can’t afford to hold thumbs for 16 weeks. The second-string has to be just as capable of getting the job done as the first-choice players.
New look Cats –
15 Bevin Fortuin (Cheetahs)*
14 Rayno Benjamin (Lions)
13 Jaque Fourie (Lions)*
12 Meyer Bosman (Cheetahs)*
11 Jaco Pretorius (Lions)*
10 Andre Pretorius (Lions)*
9 Jano Vermaak (Lions)
8 Joe van Niekerk (Lions)*
7 Juan Smith (Cheetahs)*
6 Hendro Scholtz (Cheetahs)*
5 Barend Pieterse (Cheetahs)*
4 Rory Duncan (Cheetahs)
3 CJ van der Linde (Cheetahs)*
2 Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs)
1 Heinke van der Merwe (Lions)*
16 Richardt Strauss (Cheetahs)
17 Wian du Preez (Cheetahs)*
18 Anton van Zyl (Lions)
19 Kabamba Floors (Cheetahs)*
20 Falie Oelschig (Cheetahs)
21 Earl Rose (Lions)
22 Jongi Nokwe (Cheetahs)*
By Jon Cardinelli