After 14 weeks of high-intensity rugby, all that remains are the semifinals and final of this year’s Vodacom Super 14 competition. So how did the local sides fare? Jacques van der Westhuyzen takes a look.
Sure, they had a new coach and a number of senior players left the franchise, but with the rugby set-up at Loftus as formidable as it is, they should have fared better. They complained about the ELVs, couldn’t get their confidence up and, simply put, struggled. They won their first game at Newlands, but then lost to the Crusaders (54-19) and Sharks (29-15), both at Loftus, before a nightmare tour which saw them lose to the Reds (40-8), Chiefs, Blues and Force. They came home and were hammered by the Hurricanes (50-22). They turned matters around with four wins at the end, but, as the defending champions, one would have at least expected them to challenge for the semifinals.
Wikus van Heerden
If the Bulls struggled, the Cheetahs virtually knocked themselves out of contention from the word go. They also had to get used to a new coach, while the loss of Willem de Waal, Ollie le Roux and Os du Randt was telling throughout. They simply lacked depth, a few wise heads and the ability to land the knockout blow. While they scored some scin-tillating tries, their defence was an utter shambles. They leaked 57 tries – 10 more than the second-worst defensive outfit, the Chiefs. The Cheetahs managed just one win all year, against the Reds, but it could have been so different had they been a little more clinical at times. They lost six of their 13 matches by seven points or less.
Standout star: Duane Vermeulen
It was another woeful season for the men from Johannesburg, and no matter what the coach says, there is no excusing the performances. Sure, they were in with a shout of victory on numerous occasions, but all that matters after 80 minutes is the result, and the Lions only managed two positive ones. They scored a paltry 23 tries in 13 matches – the worst in the competition – and conceded 44. They picked up only two bonus points – the worst in the competition. Losing Andre Pretorius and Jaque Fourie before the start of the campaign didn’t help their cause, but pro-vision should have been made for their absence. In the end, they just didn’t have the necessary experience or know-how to be a factor.
They started like a house on fire, winning seven out of their first eight games, with the other result a 13-13 draw with the Hurricanes. At that stage it looked certain they’d finish in the top two, but injuries to the likes of Frederic Michalak and Johann Muller, and the inability of the side to really strike form resulted in coach Dick Muir regularly making changes to his team. They then lost three big games on tour – to the Brumbies, Waratahs and Crusaders – picking up just one bonus point in the process. Their failure to regularly score four tries for a bonus point meant the Sharks were always going to struggle to make the playoffs. But they played their best rugby in their last two games, picking up 10 points to finish third.
Standout star: Ryan Kankowski
To miss out on the semifinals by a single log point after losing their first three games was a wonderful achievement. They played the most sparkling and enterprising rugby of all the SA sides and probably got to grips with the ELVs a lot quicker than the others. After the dismal start, they hit back by winning eight out of their next 10 games, including three victories in Australasia – against the Reds, Chiefs and Force. They’ll be kicking themselves for drawing with the Waratahs at Newlands, and for not scoring four tries against the Lions. Coach Rassie Erasmus got the best out of a highly talented squad and their brand of rugby, combined with the winning, drew the crowds back to Newlands.
Standout star: Jean de Villiers