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The Play-off Kings … by Janine Willemans
The Bulls have had yet another consistent Super Rugby campaign, showing marginal gains in their win/loss ratio compared to last season. Their consistency has resulted in them winning the South African conference and securing a place in the semi-finals. So, as far as Frans Ludeke’s men are concerned, job done thus far.
The Cheetahs have been the surprise package of the season. The team, led by Springbok vice-captain Adrian Strauss has always shown glimpses of their potential, but in past seasons a brilliant performance on one Saturday was easily eclipsed by a complete meltdown the following weekend. This season, the Cheetahs have doubled their win percentage by clinching close games that in previous seasons would have gone to the opposition. The penalty after the final whistle that sealed the game against the Stormers in Bloemfontein is one of those that come to mind. So, cheers to the Cheetahs for making the play-offs.
Broken Stormers Promises … by Rafiq Wagiet
2013 held out so much promise for the Stormers … they made the play-offs in 2012 and many of the players were involved in the campaign to end Western Province’s Currie Cup drought. The fans had much to cheer about and even more to look forward to in 2013 … a fully fit squad, the return of Schalk Burger and the recruitment of two Springboks in the form of Elton Jantjies and Jaco Taute who would add spark to the often listless backline.
Fast forward six months and we look back on a Super Rugby campaign that the Stormers and their supporters would want to forget very quickly. This has been the Cape franchise’s worst season since 2009 when they ended in 10th place. It’s reminiscent of the dark days under Kobus van der Merwe, when the Stormers regularly finished mid-table … or worse.
So where did it all go wrong?
Schalk Burger suffered another injury setback in the pre-season where weeks on the side-lines turned into months. The situation was compounded when he contracted bacterial meningitis during a medical procedure, leaving the boisterous blonde haired flank at death’s door.
On the field, the Stormers weren’t doing any better.
They lost their first two fixtures and just when the fans thought they were turning the tide, there was the heart-breaking loss to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein that pretty much turned the hunt for Super Rugby glory into a pipe dream. The Australasian tour that followed saw the Stormers manage just one win out of four games, including the dubious distinction of becoming the Melbourne Rebels’ first South African scalp.
Another dubious ‘record’ the Stormers now hold is the massive R228 000 fine the team had to cough up after being found guilty of misconduct for insulting and offensive conduct towards match officials during their game against the Hurricanes.
So, where to from here for the Stormers?
In 2014, they’ll have to make do without a number of their stalwarts. Scrumhalf, Dewaldt Duvenhage’s heading off to France, along with wing Bryan Habana and fullback Joe Pietersen. The most capped Stormers player of all time, Andries Bekker is going to Japan. It’s not all doom and gloom though – I believe it’ll give other fringe players and up and coming young stars like 20-year-old Cheslin Kolbie a shot at the match 23 and the opportunity to prove their worth. Then of course there is the giant that is Siya Kolisi, who has fast become a crowd favourite at Newlands.
I don’t know what the future holds for the Stormers, but as I’ve said before (and I’ll probably find myself saying it again in 2014) … This year the Stormers will win Super Rugby!
The Sharks Drought … by Alicia Pillay
History has shown that off the field distractions nearly always impact on a team’s performance. Whether this is the reason behind the Sharks’ poor showing in Super Rugby in 2013 is anyone’s guess, but like the Stormers, the Durban based side just hasn’t lived up to the hype of the previous year. The Sharks had a reasonably good start to their campaign and even put one past the Crusaders; but that victory was followed by a five game losing streak that all but derailed the Sharks’ play-off chances.
We could argue that injury woes played a big part in the team’s fortunes. At one stage ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, Lwazi Mvovo, Butch James, Bismarck du Plessis and Willem Alberts were all side-lined. There were also the claims of infighting in the camp, with Captain Keegan Daniel reportedly complaining about a rift between Afrikaans and English players. Ryan Kankowsi, a Sharks stalwart, was inexplicably dropped from the squad mid-season and the appointment of former Springbok captain John Smit as Sharks CEO also saw a number of changes and a lot of uncertainty.
Coach, John Plumtree was summarily dismissed, despite a long relationship with Smit when the latter was still a player. The New Zealander had been with the Sharks for a number of years and had won two Currie Cup trophies and took the team to two Super Rugby finals – most recently last season, when they came up short against the Chiefs.
Brendan Venter has moved into the Shark tank as Director of Rugby, while assistant coaches Hugh Reece Edwards and Grant Bashford are looking after the rest of the season.
The Sharks’ 2013 Super Rugby dream is dead in the water and it remains to be seen whether they’ll be as dominant again this year in the Currie Cup. A big concern heading into the domestic competition will be Smit’s leadership.
The manner in which he’s gone about his business thus far has been less than savoury.
As a rugby player I trust him, but as an administrator he is yet to prove himself.
Super Rugby Needs The Kings … by Sibongile Mafu
To combine two overused phrases into one shameless cliché: the Southern Kings started with a bang and then ran out of steam in their first season of Super Rugby.
The Kings burst onto the scene with a 22 – 10 win over the Western Force before a capacity crowd at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, instantly silencing the critics. They were the big talking point after the initial round and left many wondering why it took so long for them to participate in the competition.
However, as the weeks rolled on, other teams began to figure them out and comprehensive losses to the Crusaders and the Bulls underlined the difference in class between the Kings and the very best. They also lost their captain, Luke Watson to injury early in the competition and were never quite okay after that.
The definite highlights of their season were their first game against the Force and their victory against the Rebels away from home. The 28 all draw against the Brumbies in Canberra bore testimony to the Kings’ defensive grit and heart.
This was unquestionably a learning season for the Kings, but has also injected new life into sleepy Port Elizabeth where locals have come out in their numbers to support the team. And when you look at the Eastern Cape being the birthplace of rugby in this country, the Kings’ introduction to Super Rugby is bigger than the results of their first season. It instilled a belief and confidence in the team and those who support them that there’s an exciting future ahead.
They deserve a second run next season. Rugby in this country needs it.
Confessions of a Lions Fan … by Sheldon Morais
Forgive me Kevin de Klerk, for I have sinned.
In the 12 months since the Lions last played a Super Rugby match, broadcast to millions of people across South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, I have supported the Cheetahs, the Stormers, the Sharks, the Bulls and even the Southern Kings.
I have let my heart be stolen by 18-year-old Sergeal Petersen’s electric performances on the wing for the Kings and the Cheetahs’ march to an unlikely play-off spot.
Apathy has taken hold of me, leaving me listless even when fed scraps in the form of warm-up matches against Samoa and the like.
But my dreams and love for you have not been doused. I yearn to see Ellis Park three-quarters full on big match days. I yearn for the annual race to avoid bagging the wooden spoon. I may have complained about these “problems” in the past, but after a year of nothing, a year of Super Rugby ambivalence, 12 months of only memories, I yearn for them dearly.
I have read sources leaking information about possible talks between the Lions and the Kings to form a united team called the Lion Kings. Now, while South African rugby is often slammed for its comical episodes this may be one step too far. Anyway, I think the Hollywood big-wigs may have a thing or two to say about that name.
I hyperventilate and have scary flashbacks of the failed Cats project whenever talk of merging comes up. No, don’t do it!!!
Despite my love for the Lions as a Johannesburg native, the overall goal of growing the reach of rugby, especially in the Eastern Cape which is a hotbed of untapped black talent, is a compelling reason to allow the Kings to build on the momentum they have undoubtedly built this year.
The support the team has been able to draw shows the hunger that exists in the Eastern Cape, a province often treated as one South Africa’s bastard children who receive the bare essentials in the classroom and on the sports field. The hunger needs to be fed.
The promotion-relegation series is going to be a nervous period for Lions and Kings supporters, because of the financial and management implications of missing out on a full year of Super Rugby. Players with Springbok ambitions want to play at the highest level, while their unions need the exposure of international rugby to lure sponsors.
But above it all, you have fans, like myself, who just want to see their favourite team play, dare I say it, evenly if only badly.
As you may know Kevin, life just isn’t fair.
Article source: http://ewn.co.za/2013/07/15/Crouch-touch-set