The fragile five

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Super 14 on 10 Feb 2009 at 11:18
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One of the most vexing thing about the South African teams and their assault on the holy grail that is the Super 14 trophy, tends to be the fact that so much of our play and structure is built around a small core of hyper-talented individuals. Remove the individual, for whatever reason and the team falls apart. Let’s look at the five players, one from each team, whose continued fitness and participation is absolutely vital to any hope of a successful challenge.

For the Bulls, it is, unsurprisingly, Victor Matfield around whom their campaign hinges. We saw last year that the Tshwane lads are quite simply a different team when the big bearded one is at the helm. With Big Vic calling the shots and glaring manfully at the ref, they tend to keep their focus and structure; without him, they revert to a disorganised rabble, more intent on winning the fight than the match. The added effect of Matfield’s de facto stand-in, Fourie du Preez going badly off the boil when burdened with the captaincy and the loss of Wikus van Heerden means that without Matfield fit and on top of his game for 13 rounds, the Bulls aren’t going to go anywhere. Even Bakkies Botha turns into a lovesick puppy without his partner in crime, rather than the brutal enforcer that we know and, well, like. One wonders, given the Bulls’ good run in the Currie Cup last year, after a disastrous Super 14, whether Victor himself isn’t doing a fair share of the coaching while Frans Ludeke spends his time carrying tackle bags…

The Lions are putting a lot of store in the fact that both Andre Pretorius and Jaque Fourie will be fit for this year’s campaign. The Joburgers are never short of a pack of committed forwards; it’s those behind them that tend to look rudderless without a decent general. Petoors will continue to play the roles of the good, the bad and the injured this season as he always does, leaving the ice cool Fourie the play the role of the backline general. Mossie brings a dangerous edge to any side he plays in and his effortless genius tends to rub off on those around him. Expect the Lions backs to feed off his energy and prove far more dangerous this year than they were without him in 2008 – but watch how the wheels will fall off if, for whatever reason, the big Bok is no longer there to steer the ship.

The Cheetahs are a team of no-namers held together by the force of nature that is their skipper, Juan Smith. The only regular Springbok starter in the team since the departure of CJ van der Linde, Smith really is the glue that binds the men in white together. When fit, motivated and uninjured, he forms the lynch pin in what could potentially be one of the finest loose trios on display in this year’s competition. He is prone to the occasional form slump, though and this effect is also felt by those around him. For the Cheetahs to endure anything other than an absolutely abysmal Super 14 campaign, Bloemfontein’s finest son needs to turn in a campaigns-worth of performances quite literally out of the topmost drawer.

The Stormers are another side who lean incredibly heavily on their captain. Jean de Villiers is their play maker and backline general and of all the departing Springboks that turned the Super 14 contenders into Currie Cup jokes last year, one feels it was de Villiers’ absence that caused the most damage. The Stormers have enough quality loose forwards on their books to make do without the services of their other talisman, Schalk Burger, if required. They do not have another centre that can hold a candle to de Villiers, though, nor do they have another suitable candidate for the captaincy. Luke Watson is poison to team morale, while AJ Venter will not make the starting team on merit. Only Gcobani Bobo could possibly fill the great man’s shoes as a skipper, although he too looks old and slow without de Villiers’ guiding presence at inside centre. Mark my words, they day the Stormers’ 2009 campaign falls flat will be the day Jean de Villiers goes down. Stormers fans will be praying that doesn’t happen.

The Sharks, alone, don’t have issues when it comes to captaincy, having not one, but two Springbok captains of recent vintage in their ranks. Although one is tempted to say that the loss of Johann Muller to a long-term injury would seriously knock a huge hole in their tight five, I feel there is a different player who is totally irreplaceable and vital to the cause this year. Ruan Pienaar is the only flyhalf of genuine Super 14 quality in the squad and should he go down, the knock-on effect would have dire consequences for the backline synergy as well severely testing the depth available. Without Pienaar, we face the sire prospect of a backline containing Frans Steyn at flyhalf, Adi Jacobs at inside centre and the young Riaan Swanepoel (or possibly Waylon Murray) on the outside. The other option is for either Len Olivier or Monty Dumond to step up and show they have what it takes as a Super 14 flyhalf – a big gamble considering both are uncapped at this level. No, the fact remains that the success of the Sharks’ campaign this year is very tightly interwoven with the success and longevity of Pienaar’s hold on the flyhalf jersey.


  • Some interesting observations. :cool:

  • Comment 1, posted at 10.02.09 11:28:06 by McLovin Reply
    McLovinAssistant coach
  • Should also be interesting to see how the Crusaderas go without Cardah. But they still have McCaw.

  • Comment 2, posted at 10.02.09 11:29:39 by McLovin Reply
    McLovinAssistant coach
  • @McLovin (Comment 2) : yeah – I know I’m being very hard on the SA teams, while there may be some doubts about the depth of the Anzacs too. That said, as perennial underachievers, it’s the SA teams that have the most to prove.

  • Comment 3, posted at 10.02.09 11:31:24 by robdylan Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 3) : True.

  • Comment 4, posted at 10.02.09 11:33:03 by McLovin Reply

    McLovinAssistant coach
  • Rob,

    I think the loss of Muller would be massive.

    Not only does it directly impact on your lock reserves which is thin as is, it will also pose a dilema on what to do now with Smit and Bismarck.

    Does John plan to play 80 minutes at 3 every game with Jannie in the wings? I think not.

    So where would he play 80 then? Hooker?

    What about Bismarck?

    If not Smit captain then who?

    Your strength is your tight 5, losing Muller would have more of an impact than any other player imo.

  • Comment 5, posted at 10.02.09 12:10:25 by MorneN Reply
    MornéTeam captain
  • @MorneN (Comment 5) : There was an “also ran” for each team… Bakkies, Baywatch, Brussow, Mujati and Muller

  • Comment 6, posted at 10.02.09 12:13:41 by robdylan Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 6) :

    You gave me a choice of who I cannot survive without – it would be Muller.

  • Comment 7, posted at 10.02.09 12:18:20 by MorneN Reply
    MornéTeam captain
  • @MorneN (Comment 7) : ok – fair enough.

    Muller does not get anywhere near enough credit for the work he does around the park. I remember the first ever interview I did for RW was with Danie Saayman… who told me Muller is the best scrummaging lock in the country. There’s no way Hargreaves, vd Berg, or Snyman can come close to what he brings.

  • Comment 8, posted at 10.02.09 12:34:42 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
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  • At last some praise for a quiete guy who goes about doing his business without having everyone singing his praises.

  • Comment 9, posted at 10.02.09 12:45:10 by Sharksmad - The Blog's Dudette Reply

    Sharksmad - The Blog's DudetteSuper Rugby player
  • @robdylan (Comment 8) : And Rob Linde is the best scrummaging lock in France :!:

  • Comment 10, posted at 10.02.09 12:47:42 by PJLD Reply
    Clayton(PJLD)Team captain
  • @PJLD (Comment 10) :

    You Stormers just don’t learn about posting comments while you are under the influence. Do You?

  • Comment 11, posted at 10.02.09 12:54:25 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©Head Coach
  • @PJLD (Comment 10) :

    I agree Claytie. He was very underrated when he played in SA. :???:

  • Comment 12, posted at 10.02.09 12:56:54 by wpw Reply
    wpwAssistant coach
  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 11) : Jy sê nie vir my nie! FJ!EL

  • Comment 13, posted at 10.02.09 12:57:19 by PJLD Reply
    Clayton(PJLD)Team captain
  • @PJLD (Comment 13) : :mrgreen:

  • Comment 14, posted at 10.02.09 13:01:00 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©Head Coach
  • @McLovin (Comment 2) :

    I think they will do well without Carter…but should Richie not be available they might just fall a lil short…and could be the dif in a tight win to a tight loss or a bonus point or two…

  • Comment 15, posted at 10.02.09 13:10:24 by Hmmm Reply

    HmmmSuper Rugby player
  • @McLovin (Comment 2) :

    Stephen Brett is your man to fill those shoes. And he will fill them WELL

  • Comment 16, posted at 10.02.09 13:11:57 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©Head Coach
  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 16) : I remember he played very well last time he was standing in for Carter. :cool:

  • Comment 17, posted at 10.02.09 13:14:53 by McLovin Reply

    McLovinAssistant coach
  • I understand the importance of Johan as a lock and as a leader…but at least we do have other locks who have Super 14 experience.

    If we lose Ruan or Rory…what do we have?
    STEYN at 10!
    And that’s not something I want to see anytime soon…

  • Comment 18, posted at 10.02.09 13:18:49 by blackshark Reply

    blackshark - I'm back!Super Rugby player
  • And therein lies the major problem… to take the Lions series we are going to need all those ‘key men’ resting a few S14 games here and there…

  • Comment 19, posted at 10.02.09 13:31:03 by bryce_in_oz Reply

    bryce_in_ozCurrie Cup player
  • I see the Sharks game is NOT on Sky!! :sad: :mad: :mad:

  • Comment 20, posted at 10.02.09 14:42:14 by Villie Reply
    Competition Winner
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  • @Villie (Comment 20) : You seem surprised. :razz:

  • Comment 21, posted at 10.02.09 14:44:00 by McLovin Reply

    McLovinAssistant coach
  • @MorneN (Comment 5) : Yup I agree. Lock is one position we don’t have great depth in. Hargreaves has not really stepped up to the plate and developed as expected and I haven’t seen enough of Johan Snyman yet (although he did get rave reviews for the U19′s. However it doesn’t seem we are alone there. Look around the country none of the SA teams are flush with locks of quality!

  • Comment 22, posted at 10.02.09 14:45:56 by Villie Reply
    Competition Winner
    VillieCurrie Cup player
  • @McLovin (Comment 21) : I am…I know I shouldn’t be…but I am!

    Hopefully MyP2P will have it online!

  • Comment 23, posted at 10.02.09 14:46:45 by Villie Reply
    Competition Winner
    VillieCurrie Cup player
  • every year we waffle on about not having quality locks, and every year it is the backlines and props that let saffa teams down. i think our lock depth isn’t that dire.

  • Comment 24, posted at 11.02.09 08:25:26 by try time Reply

    Super Rugby player
  • THere is Matfield and Bakkies, Muller and Bekker.

    Who else?

  • Comment 25, posted at 11.02.09 15:31:27 by Villie Reply
    Competition Winner
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  • BTW As the Crusaders look to make do without Carter, Stephen Brett has been left on the bench by Todd Blackadder, the run-on number 10 is Colin Slade.

  • Comment 26, posted at 12.02.09 05:19:20 by stanpilecki Reply

    Academy recruit
  • hmmmm

  • Comment 27, posted at 12.05.09 14:22:57 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
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  • @robdylan (Comment 27) : you are the prophet of doom :evil: Now predict some success :wink:

  • Comment 28, posted at 12.05.09 15:39:47 by JarsonX Reply
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