SA conference a serious mess
LIVERPOOL — Brendan Rodgers argued that Liverpool’s players rather than his tactical system were responsible for the defeats that have all but extinguished their Champions League ambitions.
The Liverpool manager pointed out that his top scorer this season had found the net only six times in the Premier League, while in the games against Manchester United and Arsenal, the play had been far too sluggish. He added that “solutions needed to be found” for Liverpool’s lack of bite in attack.
In Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool possessed the Premier League’s top two goalscorers last season with 52 between them. This time around the five strikers on Liverpool’s books — Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fa-
CAPE TOWN — In certain ways, the South African Super Rugby conference looking so extraordinarily tight after last weekend’s matches, with a mere two points separating four teams, seems a positive development.
It suggests healthy strength versus strength ... within our own parochial landscape.but the broader context of the competition matters that vital bit more, of course, and it is beginning to look unpleasantly as though a home semi-final may be beyond any outfit from our shores in 2015.
If that happens further up the line, it would be the second successive time that South Africa misses out; last year the Sharks faded into a third-placed finish after league play and their (necessarily more difficult) playoffs phase quite rapidly fizzled out.
New Zealand sides are collectively bossing proceedings to a major degree as the midway point of ordinary season looms for many teams this coming weekend.
If it weren’t for the dodgy, artificial requirement of each of the three conference leaders automatically occupying the top three berths on the overall table come what may, the best-placed SA franchise — now the Bulls — would actually lie sixth. bio Borini have managed 14 between them.
“We are still trying to find solutions at the top end of the field,” said Rodgers. “Our top goalscorer has six goals — we have three players on six — so we have to find a solution to that but when everyone is fit and available we are able to compete with this squad.”
Rodgers also denied that managers like Arsène Wenger and Louis van Gaal had worked out the radical 3-4-3 formation that propelled his side to within touching distance of the Champions League places with 10 wins in 13 games before defeats by United and Arsenal.
“Our possession just hasn’t been good enough; that has been the key to it,” he said. “We have to build the game quickly and there is no excuse for not doing so at the Emirates because the pitch is so wonderful.
They instead unconvincingly command third, with the flying Hurricanes and Australian pace-setting Brumbies ahead of them, but should really be behind all of the Chiefs, Highlanders and Crusaders as well.
Certainly it is going to take a near-miracle, not to mention a massive improvement in playing standards and game-plans by aspirant SA teams, for one of them to power into top spot overall after 16 rounds and boast potential rights to a coveted home showpiece.
The ‘Canes’ have moved to a gaping 12-point lead over the Bulls, and keep in mind that they have already toured South Africa while the Loftus-based side, by contrast, still have to negotiate the always perilous four-match overseas roster — this year they will tackle the Blues, Chiefs, Brumbies and Rebels in that order.
Similarly the pathetically lame Sharks, level on 19 log points with the Bulls but having played one extra match, also haven’t yet pocketed their passports for an even tougher programme abroad on paper that
It was the same against Manchester United and in the first half at Swansea — the speed of our game hasn’t been there and nor has the speed of our passing.
“Against Arsenal, we didn’t start well, got back into it, and then defended poorly. I don’t think it was anything to do with the system; we just didn’t pass the ball quickly enough.”
However, the Liverpool manager knows that once it is over, the club will have to address the question of how an organisation that is fifth in the Premier League in terms of wages and turnover fails to regularly break into the top four in the table.
“That is not the attitude we want at the club,” said Rodgers when asked whether fifth was Liverpool’s natural position. “We have to fight to get in there and, whatever the barriers that are in front of us, we have to do everything we can to break them down.”
Liverpool spent more than £100m in the summer to bolster a squad that had to compete for the title and in Europe. However, too many players have failed to make an instant impact.
“You bring in players with the intention of them all doing well,” said Rodgers. “What you cannot vouch for when they come to a club of this size is how long that adaption process is going to take. involves the Highlanders, Hurricanes, Waratahs and Reds.
For the Durban side, especially, the tour looks a hellish prospect when you take into account that last Saturday they produced one of their most incompetent, listless and ill-disciplined home showings of all time in Super Rugby as they were routed 52-10 by the Crusaders and by eight tries to one.
If you heard a “pop” around Kings Park after the final whistle – no, make that long before it – it was the sound of the Sharks’ bubble bursting. A fourth defeat, without even having travelled long-haul yet, hardly seems a recipe for a concerted crack at the main silverware.
You could argue that they are in full-blown crisis, after deceptive, ugly Kings Park victories over the Force and Chiefs that gave their supporters very little cheer and only delayed a proper implosion which then came against the Cantabrians.
They looked rudderless and tactically naive — two failings which you could not accuse their next opponents, the Lions in Johannes-
“You can be a very good player and not hit it off for some reason, or it just takes time like [it did with midfielder] Lucas Leiva. It didn’t happen for him early on in his Liverpool career but he ended up doing well and the supporters appreciate the role he plays.
“It is just unfortunate that these players need time, and you don’t get that in modern football.”
Rodgers was adamant that despite reports to the contrary, the team meeting at Melwood on Easter Sunday did not turn into a slanging match as to who was responsible for Liverpool’s recent failings.
The meeting, he said, was routine. “This was no different to a whole host of meetings we have had here all year. Those meetings helped us to recover from a bad start and win 10 games out of 13.”
Fixtures April 11: Swansea City v Everton, West Ham United v Stoke City, Southampton v Hull City,
Sunderland v Crystal Palace, West Brom v Leicester, Tottenham v Aston Villa, Burnley v Arsenal. April 12: Queens Park Rangers v Chelsea, Manchester United v Manchester City.
— The Independent burg on Saturday, of having.johan Ackermann’s charges are presently the most admirable South African team, having added the home derby scalp of the Bulls to a three-fromfour win record overseas after this weekend’s last-ditch 22-18 victory.
Most of us acknowledge deep down that the Lions don’t have the depth or array of superstars to seriously contend for the title: from a neutral South African perspective, it would probably have been better for the Bulls, three times champions in the competition, to have held on after seizing an 18-15 advantage late on, only to botch a kick-off receipt that led to the Lions’ replacement hooker Armand van der Merwe barrelling over for the decisive try.
At the same time, you can only take your hat off to their heroic perseverance: a lesser team in terms of courage and unity would have been entitled to lose some steam, rather than only amass it, in the dying minutes of this Highveld grudge game after only returning a few days ago from their exertions abroad.the Lions have now joined the Stormers on 17 points, both two shy of the Bulls and Sharks, to make the conference a great ball of confusion – to the glee, no doubt, of all the better Australasian teams.
Frankly, Warren Whiteley and his merry men may deserve now to be considered favourites for the follow-up derby against the Sharks, and if they do pull it off they will leapfrog them in the conference.
The Bulls weren’t all bad in the narrow reverse in the Big Smoke, and should return to winning ways when they entertain the secondfrom-bottom Reds in the first game of their mini-sa safari next weekend.
For the sake of collective rugby pride in this country, they need to — and preferably convincingly – against the Aussie strugglers.
Full weekend fixtures April 10: Blues v Brumbies April 11: Crusaders v Highlanders, Waratahs v Stormers, Force v Cheetahs, Lions v Sharks, Bulls v Reds. — Sport24
LIVERPOOL’S Raheem Sterling (right) was ineffectual against Arsenal on Saturday.