Super Rugby

Super Rugby reality check

A bit of perspective please ladies and gentleman. If not the emotional crash will again feel colossal when doing a post mortem of South Africa’s Super Rugby season.

The reality after five weeks is more damning than it is daring.

What has happened to the Bulls? I asked this a week ago and the question simply has to be asked every week. Wrong coach? Wrong players? Wrong everything?

The Bulls played the least impressive of New Zealand’s five franchises (in the Blues) and took a beating. They coughed up 31 unanswered second half points and the only sight more depressing was listening to the hapless Adriaan Strauss give an all too familiar captain’s post match interview on trying to find a positive amid the slaughter.

It won’t get better for the Bulls, which again dulls the Round One euphoria of the Stormers first half against the Bulls. Everyone has looked good against the Bulls who on present form would struggle to beat the Kings, who in turn would struggle to beat anyone outside of the Sunwolves.

It’s a dire reflection of the mental state of South African rugby’s stakeholders, be it the sponsors, coaches, players, media or supporters when a team like the Stormers are put on a pedestal for beating the Sunwolves.

Let’s go back to the opening round of the competition when the Sunwolves conceded 86 points to the Hurricanes, who a fortnight later lost to the Chiefs in Hamilton.

The Sunwolves are not the measurement of anything other than mediocrity. The focus, if winning this competition is at the essence of any reflection, should have been on the Stormers inability to get a bonus point win against the Sunwolves.

It should have been on the unacceptable in the 44-31 defeat and it should have been on how the hell the Stormers found themselves 24-10 and 31-20 in arrears and playing catch up against a team that will finish 18 out of 18.

South African Rugby’s supporters and reporters need to stop applauding the mediocre and stop trying to present the mediocre as the much improved.

SuperSport analyst and former Springbok and Stormers captain Jean de Villiers fortunately was true to the essence of what he took from the Stormers win against the Sunwolves.

‘They are going to have to learn to defend if they want to progress in this tournament.’ Amen to that.

The Stormers, if they are to be sold as a potential competition champions or a team to be taken seriously in the play-offs, have to emphatically dismiss the challenge of a side like the Sunwolves. I feel compelled to write it again … the Sunwolves took 80 against the Hurricanes, who are the defending champions.

The Sunwolves have one league point after five matches. If the Stormers comeback had been against the competition’s leading team with 21 league points I’d understand and also be endorsing the sunshine state of mind, but the Sunwolves … come on!

The Stormers are four from four but only have the one bonus point despite three of the matches being against competition easy beats the Bulls, The Kings and the Sunwolves.

Things may look decidedly different and the view may be entirely different after the Stormers play the Cheetahs, the Lions and three away matches in New Zealand.

Perspective, please or there will only be heartache.

The obsession with all out attack will win South African rugby nothing short or long term. There has to be an appreciation of attack, defence and simply the application of intelligent rugby. It’s been done before in this country (often) and can be done again.

But it also requires honesty in every assessment and this honesty is the positive in our rugby.

Sadly the insular nature of South African rugby means that criticism is interpreted as negativity but the only way to get it right is to be truthful about the measurement of our teams against the best in the competition … not the worst.

The Lions, for me, remain South Africa’s best hope of making a play-off statement but even they have not been as good in the opening month as they were a year ago. They’ve been hit and miss and the uncertainty about coach Johan Ackermann’s possible departure to Gloucester is affecting the team’s performance.

The Sharks thankfully won in Bloemfontein, and I write thankfully, because they present a better play-off option for South Africa than the Cheetahs whose domestic superiority in last year’s Currie Cup simply highlights the sub standard nature of the competition.

Individually, there are good news stories among South Africa’s player performances but the Super Rugby challenge as a collective so far has been everything but a good news story.

*This column first appeared in Business Day Newspaper

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