I’m utterly amazed to see the South African media once again talking up the supposed incredible depth of talent at the disposal of the five Super 14 franchises, given the evidence of the squads named on Friday. Talk of three potential semi-finalists is doing the rounds again. I’ve never heard such claptrap in my life.
Lions as dark horses, they say. Lots of talent in that squad – they might just be able to upset a few of the big names. Who knows, but they might be close in the final reckoning. Bollocks! To start off with, they have no locks, fit or otherwise. Flyhalf is a perennial problem for them, with an as-ever half-fit Andre Pretorius not even named in the official squad. Earl Rose showed last year that he’s not up to the task at this level and with only journeyman Barry Goodes to back him up, things don’t bode well for the Gautengers.
Not that the Lions are alone in having virtually zero class in either the second row or at pivot. Only the Bulls can claim to have two pairs of Super Rugby quality locks, although in their case, even young Wilhelm Steenkamp still has some work to do in proving his worth. The Cheetahs have lost Corniel van Zyl, Barend Pieterse and Rory Duncan in quick succession and look set to play Toulon reject Nico Breedt as their first choice! The fact that old Wayne van Heerden has been named in their squad is a pretty sad indictment on the lack of quality in the region. The Stormers appear slightly stronger, in that their first-choice pairing, Andries Bekker and Adriaan Fondse, are classy. Should either of them go down, though and we’re looking at old AJ Venter or the unreliable Hilton Lobberts as starting Super 14 locks. Frankly ludicrous.
The Stormers stand out in one respect, though. They are about the only side that can claim two flyhalves of the required calibre, with both Peter Grant and Willem de Waal reasonably comfortable at Super 14 level. The Cheetahs are taking a huge gamble with Meyer Bosman as their only flyahlf – a position he has hardly played. Don’t expect former Falcons pivot Hanno Coetzee to offer much in the way of backup, particularly given that he’s really more of a centre.
The Sharks will be in dire straits in the flyhalf channel should anything befall Ruan Pienaar, with their backup options being Frans Steyn (woeful) and Monty Dumond (untested at this level). Morne Steyn will serve the Bulls well and his understudy, young Burton Francis, may well show that he has the goods over time. Neither have had the opportunity to blossom at Super Rugby level, though, thanks to being in Derek Hougaardt’s diminutive shadow for the last few years.
Outside back is another area in which most of the squads look really thin. The Sharks look pretty decent in this area, while the Cheetahs have plenty of options at wing. The Stormers are well-served at fullback, with quality options in Percy Montgomery and Conrad Jantjes. None of the teams, though, can claim to have any sort of reasonable backup out wide should a first-choice player go down, with the Lions (again) in particular trouble. Their first-choice wingers would seem to be the injury and error-prone duo of Ashwin Willemse and Henno Mentz, for goodness sake.
Even scrumhalf, which is an area of traditional richness in South Africa, is looking a little bare. Only the Stormers and the Bulls have reasonable backups to their frontrunners here. The Cheetahs, again, are left sucking the hind one – being forced to name Tewis de Bruyn as their first-choice linkman. Outside centre looks thin across all five squads, as usual and the Sharks and Lions look vulnerable at hooker. The Stormers, as is the norm for them, don’t have anywhere near the required number of quality props, while the Cheetahs and Bulls are not far behind in terms of the backup named. Journeymen such as Bees Roux, Jean Botha and Ruan Vermeulen are not the sort of names to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition when they appear on a Super 14 team sheet.
In fact, it’s only loose forward where the talent overflows, as it always does, with all five squads looking well-served and bristling with back-row options. The Stormers and Lions will learn, to their peril, that you can’t make up for glaring errors elsewhere in your squad by naming a raft of quality flankers and eighthmen.
Sorry, guys, but coupled with the nightmare draw for two of the teams, the lack of real quality in depth across the five South African squads is far more likely to see none of them in the semis than three.Tweet