Sharks will fly SA flag

In his first weekly newsletter, Keo explains why the Stormers won’t live up to the hype this season.

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I’m picking the Stormers to do the usual in 2009, which is to give a hint of why so many believe they will go all the way this season, but then to implode before the semi-finals. Anything less than a top four represents a failure but once again we find ourselves in Slaapstad expecting so much of a franchise that realistically has never done anything but boast the best support base in the competition’s history.

I’m told by my many informants that things are going so well with the Stormers that they have instituted a draconian-style media policy which limits access to the squad once a week and does not even allow for the local rugby writers to attend training sessions. Apparently the team sponsors agree with this archaic strategy, which asks the question why they would want to be involved with a team that only wants exposure once a week?

Now take that attitude and ask how it fits in with a marketing strategy that calls the team that of the people. Clearly it doesn’t but then when you have that kind of paranoia from team leadership before a ball has been passed, you know the degree of implosion when it all goes wrong.

Already there’s been too much cleverness from within the Stormers ranks. Selecting Nick Koster as a winger is doing his development as a loose forward no good. It is not in the interest of the player and if I was Koster I’d be on the first plane to Durban where his skills as one of the country’s most promising loose forwards would be improved.

Koster, given his pedigree as a person, has said all the right things about putting the team first, but if the Stormers believe he will be content to wait his turn, then they’ve underestimated the ambition of the young guy.

The Sharks, on balance, are an outstanding side and John Plumtree commands respect as a coach because his actions say much more than his words. Some coaches talk a great game, while Plumtree is from the school that prefers others to do the talking based on achievement of the team.

I’ve never liked the Sharks because I’ve never liked Durban and Durban has never liked me. There is no mountain and there is no loyalty from their rugby supporters when times are tough. You only have to do a check on crowd attendance in a poor season and compare it to when the Sharks are competing for a home semi-final. At least down in Mountain Goat country 35 000 still come out whether the Stormers are playing for the wooden spoon or missing out on a semi-final by points differential.

But because I don’t like the Sharks doesn’t mean I’m not picking them to be the best of the South African sides. Of course they are but to win the competition they have to be hosting a semi-final. Can they do it? To quote someone familiar with the Durbanites, there’s the lovely line of Bob the Builder … ‘Yes we can!’

In assessing the prospects of the Lions and Cheetahs I just did a copy and paste from every year’s preview. ‘NO CHANCE’.

The Bulls will be more competitive with Victor Matfield back running the show, but they are top six – more than top two – material.

South Africa’s chances are helped by the fact that this must be the weakest squads picked by New Zealand in the history of the tournament. Some of their players are just KAK and in the glory days of Super 12 wouldn’t even have made the Supporters’ XV of the Blues and Crusaders.

And as much as it hurts to say it the European Cup has definitely replaced Super rugby as the premier international club/province/region (whichever is your fancy) competition. The quality of players in the European Cup and the variety is something you won’t see in this year’s Super 14.

The Hurricanes look the best on paper among the Kiwi sides, but there’s two teams of northern hemisphere-based Kiwi sides I’d enter in the Super 14 ahead of the Highlanders and Blues. The Crusaders will benefit from what Robbie Deans built, but they won’t be as good. The Chiefs will, like the Stormers, be wonderful or woeful and the Canes will have to be playing at home in the play-offs to have a chance of winning the competition.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot the Australian teams, who with the exception of the Waratahs will make up the numbers, and if the Sharks do come unstuck then maybe this is the year that the Sydneysiders finally come good.

My biggest wish for the Super 14 is to hear more Australian commentary, less South African commentary and a few new names making an impact. I also wish for even better-looking bar ladies at SA Rugby magazine/keo.co.za’s plush suite at Newlands, and that will take some doing after the visuals we were treated to last season.

What the Super 14 does provide is balance in viewing because as much as I like the 6-3 battles when Toulouse visit Bath, nothing beats a bit of basketball in February and March, so hopefully our teams can embrace the spirit of scoring tries a bit better than their northern hemisphere counterparts.

Other thoughts:

This is the first in a weekly newsletter, the contents of which will be determined by your questions and observations as the season progresses. I know I am speaking to the most intelligent of rugby supporters out there, and when in doubt, I only have to reflect on the insightful ‘dragons’ comment the Einsteins of the game feel compelled to start every thread with.

For those new to the site (yes it has been going since 2004 and was only started because no newspaper would employ me) the history to the dragons comment is: ‘At the start of a new season, copy had been archived and a new page had been built, but wordpress (the blogging system used) needed to reflect a previous story in the menu, which was about the Welsh Dragons slaying the sad Scots (again). However, when you clicked on the story it obviously was not there. And so was born ‘DRAGONS’.

The other question asked is the origin of Muppit. In the early days one regular was trying to make a basic point (it must have been a Bulls supporter). The Bulls supporter, typically, got it wrong and thought the oke was having a go at him. In having to explain himself, he told the two horned genius from Loftus not to be a Muppit. And so was born ‘MUPPITS’.

As we move forward in the year, my loyal support base will be rewarded with pearls of wisdom, insights you’ve never read before, cheerleading and execution-style honesty about the implosions of individuals and a little anecdote that gives you insight into some of the glory boys who have done our country so proud in the past. I’ll start with a gem from my good friend (I know I am his favourite rugby writer) Joost van der Westhuizen. In taking offence to something he believed I had written way back in 1996, he asked me to explain my insult as he was not a (think of the Afrikaans word here) PATRIOT and that he stood for the new South Africa. When he presented the evidence it was in fact a picture caption calling him patriotic because he was wearing a shirt proudly displaying the South African flag. Hopefully Joost is still as patriotic about a South Africa that is no longer that new.

Congratulations to World Cup winning Bok forwards coach Gert Smal on his immediate impact with the Irish. Their lineout functioned like the Bok lineout did for the last few years. To my very good friend Nick Mallett … what are they putting in those espressos in Rome? A flanker at scrumhalf? It is that kind of thinking out of the box that will have the Italians putting you back into the box. To quote Hugh Bladen, it was a SHOCKER. As for the Six Nations … to quote Blades again … SHOCKER!

Now fire your questions in to me by lunchtime every Monday and not only will you be a better person for the interaction you will be rewarded with prizes as impressive as the Sharks and a few as limp as the Lions.

Send your questions to [email protected]