Peter de Villiers has quickly learnt that making bold predictions in South African rugby is asking for trouble.
Before the season began, the new Bok coach told anyone who would listen that three South African sides could make the Super 14 semi-finals â€“ something which has never happened in 12 years of Super Rugby. After three rounds of the tournament, only the Sharks (third) are in the top half of the table. The Lions are ninth, the champion Bulls are 10th, and the Cheetahs and Stormers are propping up the table. The Bulls, Lions and Cheetahs have all conceded 50 points at home to Kiwi teams.
With the Blues and Crusaders in red-hot form, the Sharks can realistically expect to finish third or fourth on the log, which will mean a semi-final in New Zealand. The rest of our franchises need a miracle to sneak into the top four.
Admittedly, when De Villiers made his Super 14 prediction, South Africa was still on a World Cup high and anything seemed possible. But the coach should still have taken other factors into consideration before opening his mouth.
Firstly, the New Zealand franchises are back to full strength this year (22 All Blacks were rested for the first half of the tournament in 2007). Would the Kiwis have won just one match out of 14 in South Africa if they’d had their best players available? Would South African teams have won a record nine matches overseas?
Secondy, South African franchises have lost more than a dozen players to Europe, including five World Cup stars (Jon Smit, Gary Botha, Victor Matfield, Butch James and Percy Montgomery). The Cheetahs, especially, have been hit hard (how they’d love to have Willem de Waal around) and a spate of injuries have compounded Naka Drotske’s problems. The reality is that South Africa does not have the depth of New Zealand, and the post-World Cup player drain was always going to have a far greater impact on us.
And lastly, three of our teams have new coaches in Drotske (Cheetahs), Rassie Erasmus (Stormers) and Frans Ludeke (Bulls). The Bulls were always going to struggle without Heyneke Meyer (as we saw in the Currie Cup when Pote Human was head coach), Drotske only has Currie Cup head coaching experience, while Erasmus will need time to turn the Stormers around.
Unfortunately, De Villiers’s wild predictions haven’t been restricted to the Super 14. In an interview with SA Rugby magazine, he insisted the Boks could beat the All Blacks at their own game this year, i.e. by throwing the ball around and running them off their feet. His reasoning? “We just need to have a positive mindset,” he said. “If we can be successful with a negative mindset â€“ as has often been the case in the past â€“ imagine what we could so with a positive one.”
With the Boks playing two Tri-Nations matches in New Zealand this year, De Villiers may find that his promise of an expansive approach may be hard to keep.
By Simon Borchardt