Dan Nicholl, in his unique way, looks at the Springbok squad announcement and the Super 14 semifinals. Read and enjoy!
There’s been rumbling criticism through the course of the Super 14, from the quality of the rugby and the introduction of the new rules, to the intensity of play and the incomprehensibility of some of the refereeing (Willie Roos still sports the wrong first letter to his surname; in Bryce Lawrence’s defence; though, his guide dog’s been off sick for much of the season). But whatever the pitfalls of the 2008 season, there’s no quarrelling with the show Super 14 put on over the weekend to wrap up the pre-knockout stages.
Dan Nicholl’s writes in his column on Rugby 365 The competition’s assault on Friday morning productivity remains resolute, and if you hadn’t snuck off to the boardroom for the Hurricanes-Blues game, chances were you were following the iafrica/365 online commentary (available for the semis, if you’re marooned away from television coverage). An almost perfect result; yes, the Hurricanes scraped a bonus point, but surely it wouldn’t matter…
But with the Reds failing to get the result South Africa needed against the Waratahs, Ellis Park was suddenly vital, Sharks and Stormers fans watching the final breathless minutes on the edge of cardiac arrest. No bonus point in the end, though, and a fluid, authoritative Sharks deservedly wrapped up a trip to Sydney, and sealed a hell of a day of rugby.
Well, not quite — Pieter de Villiers sealed the evening, his major contribution being headaches for rugby subeditors everywhere, as they have to keep a constant eye on Isma-eel Dollie’s rogue hyphen. But it was the rugby earlier in the day, with a resurgent Bulls performance and some manic defence from Lions (71 tackles to the Stormers’ 31 at one stage late in the second half) that gave the Super 14 a South African gloss, and gave us an international season to look forward to.
And all the more so with the World Cup squad just about intact; bar Luke Watson and Schalk Brits, this could have been another Jake White squad. Yes, it’s large and unwieldy, there’ll be some permanent tackle-bag carriers amongst the group, and one or two players raise a definite eyebrow (Kabamba Floors had disappeared off the face of the rugby planet, Brian Mujati’s selection won’t have gone down well in Alex, and Wynand Olivier has convinced another coach that he’s just too good looking to leave out), but it’s a promising group with which to launch a new Springbok chapter.
Before the Super 14 gets signed off, though, there’s the matter of the Sharks, and an outside chance at going one better than last year. A win in Sydney isn’t out of the question, but following up (in all probability) with a victory in Christchurch… Well, it’s a tough ask. But while the Stormers caught the imagination in recent weeks with a late charge, the Sharks deserved their semifinal after showing plenty of character to come back from a tough tour and finish strongly. Winning the Super 14 did wonders for rugby here last year; should the Sharks create a little magic in the next fortnight…
Whatever does eventuate in the play-offs will be a bonus; the competition proper ended with a local flourish, and while Bloemfontein won’t be awash with smiles, the rest of the rugby country has reason for cheer. There’s a lot of trimming down to be done to the training squad (plus Sharks to be added), and Pieter de Villiers hasn’t given us a true show of his Springbok cards just yet. But I’m feeling fairly cheerful this morning: bring on the Waratahs, the Crusaders, and the WelshTweet