RYAN VREDE believes the brutal physicality of the South African Super Rugby derbies have the potential to seriously undermine the Springboks’ World Cup campaign.
With the expanded Super Rugby tournament in its infancy, that appears to be a premature assertion. But you would have to present a convincing argument to alter my position, shaped by watching the controlled violence played out in Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Cape Town and Durban in the past fortnight.
South African derbies have featured more ruck cleans and counter rucks than in the Australian equivalent. Furthermore, South African derbies totalled 26 more tackles than their Australian counterparts and 241 more than the all-Kiwi contests (that figure is significantly higher because of the cancelled Crusaders-Hurricanes match).
However, those statistics fail to reflect the brutality of the collisions in South African derbies. I don’t have access to technology that could accurately measure force at point of contact, so my view relies on the experience of watching derbies live and from South African players in interviews consistently confirming that the physicality of matches against Australasian teams pales in comparison to those against their countrymen.
The Saffa player has always been driven by the primal urge to pummel his brother into submission. The Australasian teams don’t share that mentality, preferring to strike with the rapier rather than establish their dominance by wielding the bludgeon.
What’s more, South African players, particularly forwards, are bigger, stronger and faster than they have been at any point in the country’s history and so possess a greater capacity to inflict serious injury.
It is no surprise that with the forward-orientated approach that characterises most South African derbies a string of talented forwards have already been injured, with varying degrees of seriousness.
Bulls’ hooker Gary Botha injured his collarbone in the opener against the Lions and will be out for another fortnight. Schalk Burger of the Stormers is expected to miss between two to three matches with a knee injury sustained against the Lions. Bulls lock Bakkies Botha is doubtful for their match against the Highlanders as he is being treated for serious bruising to his foot.
However, the most significant injury is that of Cheetahs and Springbok blindside flank Juan Smith, who tore his Achilles tendon on Friday against the Bulls and faces a lay-off of between six and nine months, almost surely ruling him out of the World Cup. Smith, with the intense physicality of South African derbies, won’t be the last marquee Springbok to suffer this fate.
There are still 16 derbies to play in the next four months. Ominously the physicality will only increase the fitter the players get and the closer we get to the play-offs.
When the South African Rugby Union agreed to an expanded tournament they told us it was what locals wanted. Thousands of empty seats at those derbies thus far tell a different story. It speaks of the administrators’ greed and their lack of concern for the well-being of their prime assets.
In signing on for an expanded tournament they showed no appreciation for superior physicality of South African derbies when compared to those contested between Australasian teams. It was a shortsighted decision that has the potential to seriously undermine the Springboks’ World Cup defence.
COMPARISONS BETWEEN THE COLLISIONS IN DERBIES
SA derbies tackle stats – 1054 tackles made @ an average of 132 per game
Lions v Bulls – 70/203
Cheetahs v Bulls – 169/142
Sharks v Cheetahs – 56/110
Stormers v Lions – 152/152
Aussie derbies tackle stats – 1028 tackles made @ an average of 128 per game
Rebels v Tahs – 138/119
Rebels v Brumbies – 214/73
Tahs v Reds – 156/120
Reds v Force – 112/96
NZ derbies tackle stats – 816 tackles made @ an average of 136 per game
Landers v Chiefs – 147/184
Blues v Crusaders – 82/118
Canes v Highlanders – 121/164
SA derbies ruck cleans (own ball and counter rucking)
Lions v Bulls – 261 and 43/ 129 and 104
Cheetahs v Bulls – 251 and 103/ 271 and 69
Sharks v Cheetahs – 184 and 23/ 93 and 78
Stormers v Lions – 218 and 76/ 259 and 64
Aussie derbies ruck cleans (own ball and counter rucking)
Rebels v Tahs – 194 and 53/ 178 and 55
Rebels v Brumbies – 107 and 97/ 315 and 45
Tahs v Reds – 166 and 72/ 263 and 70
Reds v Force – 157 and 60/ 158 and 55
Kiwi derbies ruck cleans (own ball and counter rucking)
Landers v Chiefs – 313 and 108/ 201 and 116
Blues v Crusaders – 193 and 57/ 156 and 65
Canes v Highlanders – 236 and 77/ 217 and 108