Sharks will rise again

MARK KEOHANE, in his Business Day column, writes Sharks supporters need not despair. Super Rugby isn’t won in March, but in August.

A week’s a bloody long time in rugby. This time seven days ago I was waxing lyrical about the physical superiority of the South African teams. They manhandled their Kiwi equivalent and they towered like giants.

Enjoy the celebration of the moment, I wrote, because it could all be different a week later.

And so it was.

This time it was the New Zealand and Australians, in the shape of the Crusaders and Brumbies, who were tossing the Bulls and Sharks around as if they were the rag dolls.

Don’t despair. History tells us it could all be different again in a week’s time.

This is what makes this year’s Super Rugby tournament so exciting. It is also what made the Six Nations such good viewing.

Saturday’s viewing was vintage for the purist. The Crusaders gave the Bulls a lesson in patience with ball in hand, use of pitch width and in physicality in the collisions. The Brumbies did likewise to the Sharks in Durban in an exceptional exhibition of total rugby in the first 40 minutes and Wales were monumental in physically wearing down England and then blowing them apart with championship-defining counter attack try-scoring.

Wales’s 30-3 demolition of England had the intensity of a World Cup final and the quality of rugby exceeded what we’ve seen in the last two World Cup finals.

It was magnificent and on balance of last year’s Autumn November internationals and the season’s Six Nations the 2015 World Cup will be contested between New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, France, England and Wales. All six of the teams have shown, at one stage or another, they possess the players to be world champions and the ability to beat the other.

England’s victory against the All Blacks was one too savour. The All Blacks, a week earlier, ripped apart Wales. Australia beat England and France fried Australia the week before. The Boks, humbled at home against the All Blacks, beat England at Twickenham a week before England’s glorious afternoon against the All Blacks.

I tipped Wales to win the Six Nations, despite losing all their Autumn internationals and being on a six match losing streak. They took a beating in the season opener in Cardiff against Ireland, trailing 30-3 with less than half the match played. What the …?

The Wales I tipped as champs arrived in Paris, ground out a win against the French, also scalped Italy and Scotland before showing the all-round balance in defence and attack to embarrass England.

Wales, in what they did in Cardiff at the weekend, emphasized that tournaments are not won in the opening thirty of the season but rather in the final 30.

This season’s Super Rugby has been as unpredictable, entertaining and inviting. The tournament’s newcomers, the Kings, beat the Force, who a week later came within a few minutes of beating the Bulls in Pretoria while the Blues were thumping the Crusaders in Auckland. A week later the Bulls beat the Blues and at the weekend the Crusaders scored six tries to one in trampling the Bulls.

The Force, unable to beat the Kings in Port Elizabeth, beat the Reds in Brisbane and the Brumbies won on the road for a tournament record seventh time in giving the Sharks a rugby lesson in Durban.

One team’s delight has been another’s desperation, but it is a weekly thing, so don’t get too down on what happened this weekend. Feel the pain, let it pass and have an expectation that it could be very different seven days from now.

I wrote a similar thing a week ago when I urged South Africans to enjoy the moment, celebrate the dominance of the weekend but not take one weekend of being a winner as necessarily significant to the outcome of the tournament.

Super Rugby is a tournament won in August and not in March. National squads are also selected in June and not in March.

Players pace themselves. It is understandable and not a crime. Be conscious of it. This tournament is about who fires their bullets post the June internationals and not who empties the cartridge pre-June.

The Brumbies are to be applauded for their effort. Similarly Wales. The Sharks and England will feel disgusted at their lack of effort, but to dismiss the qualities of either team on the basis of one Saturday is to dismiss the dynamics of sport.

Seven days is a long time in sport and August is still a long way off in determining the champions of Super Rugby.

The Sharks were given a rugby lesson, but rather in March than in August.