South Africa has neither the depth of players nor coaches at the required standard to field five fully-independent Super Rugby franchises. The woeful performances of the Lions and Cheetahs ever since the acrimonious split-up of the Cats just proves they were never good enough to each have their own team in this competition and should one more be combined in the interests of mounting a stronger SA challenge.
Since the dissolution of the Cats franchise at the end of the 2005 Super 12, the Lions and Cheetahs have competed as separate entities in the expanded Super 14. We were told that the only problem at the Cats, the reason that they had become the perennial whipping boys of the Southern Hemisphere showcase, was the so-called “cultural differences” that made players from Joburg and Bloemfontein mutually incompatible. How could one expect a team to perform when all of their players didn’t live in the same place and play for the same Currie Cup team, after all? Must be the same reason the Boks never win anything!
So, we duly fell over ourselves in the haste to establish two new teams, each with a historically strong (or at least less weak) identity, a single home ground and a single character. In the 2006 season, the Cheetahs finished in 10th place out of 14, managing to win 5 out of 13 games. The Lions were 13th, managing to win only twice. The following year was no better, with the Cheetahs slipping to 11th (4 wins out of 13) and the Lions crawling up a place to 12th (5 wins out of 13). So far in 2008, at more or less the halfway stage, the Cheetahs are in 13th and the Lions in 12th. Out of 12 games between them, they have managed a single win; that win was the Lions victory over the Cheetahs, in fact, which just goes to prove the theory. Only a fool would bet against both teams again occupying their regular positions in the bottom third of the table at the conclusion of this year’s competition.
Two questions need to be asked here: the first is, are the individual results achieved by the Lions and the Cheetahs over the last 3 years in any way an improvement over the results they delivered as a combined entity over a decade of Super Rugby? The answer here must be an emphatic no. The Cats at least qualified for the semi-finals of the Super 12 on two occasions; anyone predicting the same fate for either the Cheetahs or the Lions over the next few years clearly needs to increase the dosage. The second question again asks whether any other regional team that South Africa could field (such as the Spears) could possibly perform worse? Again, worse is a relative term, but I don’t really feel that they would.
Our problem here is the lack of quality coaching. The Bulls are discovering to their detriment that you actually need to have a coach that knows what he’s doing to be competitive at this level. Naka Drotske and Eugene Eloff are both reasonable coaches, but neither has what it takes to be successful in Super Rugby on his own at this stage. The only time in living memory when the Cats actually had a decent coach at the helm (Laurie Mains) they all of a sudden looked a different team and were serious contenders. Combine the teams, get in a coach who had proven success at this level (i.e. a foreigner) and let’s see what happens. It can’t be any worse.
Looking at the tour squads announced by each team, as well as some of the names that are getting regular game time here, we can come to no other conclusion than this; the Lions and the Cheetahs as individual entities lack the player depth to mount a serious challenge. Again, the only future for both of these franchises is to combine them once more and leave the fifth spot open for some form of development team. Either that or let sanity prevail and revert to a 12 (or maybe even 10) team competition, where each side actually is strong enough to compete with every other. We are not the only ones having problems, after all, with the Highlanders clearly not up to the required standard and the Reds not too far behind.
Time to take some action, guys, if you can get the administrators away from the lunch table in a sober enough state to make the tough decisions. I’ll be over here on the edge of my seat.Tweet