I took a fair bit of stick for suggesting that the Sharks should field an experimental side for tomorrow night’s clash with the Lions. John Plumtree has since come out with some statements which echo my sentiments about this fixture; in the absence of nine regular starters for the Sharks, it is essentially nothing more than an exhibition match.
I’ve been struggling to understand exactly why it is that I’m struggling to get excited about what should be such a huge event – such a massive fixture on the calendar, since it only comes around once every 12 years. The British commentary team on Sky said something on Saturday which made me think, though. Talking about the Cheetahs team, they said “well, it’s really more of a Cheetahs XV this, isn’t it?”, referring to the fact that the Free State team wass not at full strength for the match. Regardless of the fact that it was only Juan Smith and Jongi Nokwe that were missing from the Cheetahs, they nevertheless considered the side suitably weakened that it should not be viewed in the same light as the Super 14 side. I wonder what they think of the Sharks team that has been chosen?
Let’s be honest, if you take two props, a hooker, a loose forward, a flyhalf, both centres and both wings out of a team, you weaken it to the point that you really can’t expect it to still be competitive. That is what has happened to the Sharks and it has turned a match that may have been an even contest into what will undoubtedly become a one-sided rout. Just what the British Lions need in terms of increasing their own confidence levels heading towards the first test. Just what the Sharks and South African rugby are meant to get out of this, I don’t understand.
Plumtree is spot on. If you don’t let the provincial sides play at full strength against the tourists, the crowds aren’t going to come out to support them. The rationale for a long tour thus falls away entirely and we’ll end up with the next Lions “series” in South Africa being a three-match, test-only affair. Is that what we want?
If we follow the current path, it’s exactly where we’ll end up.
SA Rugby needs to understand that its five strong Super Rugby franchises are only a drawcard when they are allowed to play at full strength. Nobody is interested in watching a weakened Sharks, Bulls or WP side get stuffed by the Lions – exact perhaps the small contingent of Lions fans that have accompanied the team on tour. Then again, based on the ludicrous ticket prices, maybe they are indeed SA Rugby’s target market, since few earning a salary in South Africa could ever hope to afford to go the games in the first place.
So go out and play some champagne rugby, Sharks, without worrying about the scoreline. It’s a festival game and you’re on a hiding to nothing anyway.Tweet