Give our boys a fair crack
8 May 2008
South African teams always start four league points down in the Super 14.
Once again it is down to two rounds in the Super 14 and one league win that separates teams two and seven.
Once again those who devised the structure of the tournament are commending themselves because any tournament in which the play-offs only get determined in the last week has to be a good one. At least that’s the self indulgence you will hear.
But the Super 14 is not a fair tournament. It favours the New Zealand and Australian teams because of travel determined by geography and it also gives half the teams a more favourable draw each year, which in essence means it is not a fair tournament.
The Super 14, like the Super 12, is weighted against South African teams.
This is not a gripe but a fact and yet we wonder why we continue to fail more than succeed.
Let’s take the Lions as an example. They are fair game and All Blacks legend Sean Fitzpatrick gave them a bollocking for their shabby performance against the Hurricanes in Wellington last weekend.
What Fitzpatrick did not say was that the Lions had been on tour for five weeks, jetting between New Zealand and Australia.
At most, New Zealand teams play three games in South Africa. Australian teams get two. Occasionally a New Zealand team will get an Aussie team on the way over or one on the way back and when they do you never hear the end of how demanding the schedule is.
This brings us back to the South African teams, for whom a short tour is four weeks.
The South African players in time have improved and learned to enjoy Australia and New Zealand, but no matter how much you enjoy a place the difference between three and five matches is a fortnight away from home and in all probability eight league points lost on the road.
When you consider that four league points have historically separated teams four and eight, you get to appreciate the impact of the additional two weeks away from home.
Given the circumstances and the disadvantage of the draw (based on geographics) the fact that South Africa invariably has one team in the semi finals and on most occasions two in the top five is a credit to the boys.
The reality is South Africa does not have the depth for five teams and neither does New Zealand. Australia also does not have the depth for four teams. But outside of the depth issue, the best South African teams do bloody well.
I don’t think we give them enough credit and I have been as guilty as the next person. Our expectations are high and we demand success every weekend. But the reaction too often is over the top.
Because of this South African inferiority complex, which too many still have, it seems improper to object to the schedule because then South Africans are accused of being an extension of Pommy whingers.
The obvious solution is for South African teams to play in Europe, but that doesn’t ever seem likely. South Africa, by playing in the Super 12, have improved New Zealand and Australia’s development of players, to the detriment of their own.
If there is to be an expansion to the Super 14 then it has to ensure the teams all play the same amount of games overseas and spend equal time away from home.
Otherwise we will be wasting our time again and continue to be the whipping boys of New Zealand and to a lesser degree Australia.
The point is the Kiwis are not that good and we are not that bad. But when we continue to give them an eight point tournament head start we will never know how good we can be in this tournament or just how ordinary their teams can look.