After a winless Super 14 weekend where the Lions drew and the other three franchises that played all lost, it is indeed a time for soul-searching in South African rugby, with the reality that the five franchises – the Sharks had a bye this weekend – have now won a total of 10 matches and drawn one from 29 outings.
News 24 and SAPA report that Springbok coach Peter de Villiers’ prediction that there will be three South African sides to contest the semi-finals of the Super 14 was always going to prove over-optimistic – and if the South African sides don’t start winning now, his statement could give rise to even more derision than it did originally. After six rounds, it is a statement of which De Villiers would not wish to be reminded.
The realities are:
* Three South African sides are languishing in the bottom half of the log with the Bulls 11th, the Lions 12th and the Cheetahs 13th out of 14 sides. The Sharks, however, are in second place and the Stormers eighth.
* the Lions have won only one match (against South African side Cheetahs) and drawn one,
* defending champions Bulls have won two (both against South Africa’s sides – the Stormers and the Lions),
* the Stormers have won two, both in New Zealand,
* the Cheetahs are winless,
* the Sharks have won five (including wins over the three South African sides – the hapless Bulls, the Lions and the Stormers).
The Sharks, lying second after six matches, seem like the only South African side which can still make it to the semis, although the Stormers, only now coming to grips with a new coach and new teammates, are in with an outside chance.
One must feel for them. They narrowly lost (17-14), by a penalty on the final hooter, to the Blues. Both sides will, however, concede that this is not the quality of rugby that will see them to the play-offs come the end of May.
The Lions, one must concede, were the better side in their 24-all draw against the Western Force, the Sharks and now the Reds – but for all their attractive rugby, the proof is in the scoring, and for that they almost seem to have a near-aversion. On Saturday they again left many a try behind with poor handling, poor options or (sometimes) late support.
In the end, however, it was their tackling that denied them a deserved victory.
Fact is, they didn’t win.
The Cheetahs need to up their discipline and their tackling lines – and there could be some truth in the statement that they are not fit.
Again they led at the break in their match against the Brumbies (13-12), and again it was poor discipline generally and in particular from Falie Oelschig, plus inconsistency at the breakdown from referee Steve Walsh, which cost them against the Brumbies to lose 29-23.
Will have to start performing
The clamour for replacing Frans Ludeke as Bulls coach is increasing among fans. Blue Bulls Company CEO Barend van Graan says that won’t happen – but then a side, with seven World Cup Springboks and another two in Pedrie Wannenburg and Derick Hougaard, will have to start performing to save Ludeke’s skin. He now has only five wins from 31 matches as a Super coach.
Their near annihilation by the very average Chiefs (43-27, six tries to three) again showed a lack of commitment by the players, a pack which was totally outplayed and a jittery backline that couldn’t attack and wouldn’t tackle.
Whatever the reason, it must be rectified and it must be done this coming weekend when the Bulls play the Blues in Auckland.
The Crusaders are simply pure class. After being held by the Waratahs to a 6-0 lead at the break, they upped the pace and cruised home by 34-7 in Christchurch with a great all-round display and minus two injured backliners in Leon MacDonald and Stephen Brett.
They have now scored at least four tries in five of their six outings and have 29 log points – eight ahead of he Sharks who, it must be said, have a game in hand.
The Force has become a team to be reckoned with. True, the Highlanders prop up the log – yes, they’re below the Cheetahs, Lions and Bulls – but they are always a difficult side at home. The Force have won both their matches in New Zealand after arriving there winless on Kiwi soil, and have moved up to fourth place on the log.
What’s more, they’ve completed their stint in South Africa.
Friday (home team first, SA times):
Hurricanes v Crusaders, 08:35;
Waratahs v Cheetahs, 10:40;
Force v Stormers, 13:00.
Chiefs v Highlanders, 06:30;
Blues v Bulls, 08:35;
Sharks v Reds, 17:00.