Su­per stage for places in the Spring­bok team

Sharks and Bulls on the move, while Lions likely to hold steady

Sunday Times - - Sport | Rugby - By LIAM DEL CARME and KHANYISO TSHWAKU del­carmel@sun­day­ tshwakuk@sun­day­

● The uned­i­fy­ing sight of 18 sides strut­ting about un­der the mis­ap­pre­hen­sion they are all “su­per” rugby teams is thank­fully no more.

The slightly more palat­able, 15-team Su­per Rugby setup is rein­tro­duced next week but the cull far from cuts to the chase with the team from Ja­pan still the most likely to op­er­ate as a lone wolf in the com­pe­ti­tion’s cel­lar.

Don’t de­spair though, the South African as­sault on Su­per Rugby may well be more con­certed, if not con­cen­trated, with­out the Chee­tahs and the South­ern Kings.

We are re­minded that there is much to play for. “We will have a new Spring­bok coach and our play­ers will pre­sum­ably want to show him what they are made of,” opined former Bok cap­tain Naas Botha.

Much like the third round in golf is “mov­ing day”, teams with as­pi­ra­tions of do­ing well at the Rugby World Cup try to mo­bilise and or­gan­ise them­selves into po­si­tions of prom­ise in the third of a four-year cy­cle.

“There will no doubt be ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion. In fact, I’d say this year is more im­por­tant than next year.

“If I was a player I’d re­ally look at this as open sea­son,” said the former fly­half.

With only top spot in the con­fer­ence guar­an­teed a place in the play-offs, ex­pect the Lions, the Sharks, the Storm­ers and the Bulls to take lumps out of each other.

“With only four South African teams in the tour­na­ment no one will want to fin­ish bot­tom. You’re gonna stand out like a sore thumb.

“We are so used to see­ing two (lo­cal) teams chal­leng­ing for spots in the play-offs and then the rest towards the bot­tom of the com­pe­ti­tion.”

Botha, who is a long­time TV pun­dit, be­lieves de­spite the de­par­ture of coach Jo­han Ack­er­mann, the Lions will main­tain lofty stan­dards. They reached the last two fi­nals with­out de­liv­er­ing the killer blow and some fear they have blown their best op­por­tu­nity.

Botha be­lieves they’ll ab­sorb the blow of Ack­er­mann’s de­par­ture.

In fact, I’d say this year is more im­por­tant than next year Naas Botha Former Spring­bok cap­tain and TV pun­dit

“Peo­ple have said for a while that Swys (de Bruin, new coach) is re­spon­si­ble for the way the Lions play. I ex­pect them to be the same.”

While the Lions are ex­pected to hold steady Botha pre­dicts the Sharks and the Bulls will im­prove on their per­for­mances from last sea­son.

“The Sharks un­der Robert (du Preez) I ex­pect to go a step higher. The Bulls un­der John (Mitchell) should also be bet­ter.”

Nat­u­rally, the New Zealand chal­lenge is likely to shape the busi­ness end of the com­pe­ti­tion but South African fran­chises can steal the march on them early on. New Zealand’s top play­ers have been wrapped in cot­ton wool in the build-up and will be grad­u­ally phased into the com­pe­ti­tion. South African teams like the Storm­ers, who play them early, may profit, but it’s still go­ing to be a tall or­der to win in Christchurch and Dunedin in rounds three and four.

“Look, with the New Zealand teams you pre­sume that they will do well. You also pre­sume the Aus­tralian teams will be there or there­abouts. With the Aus­tralians we just don’t know.

“Their rugby seemed to be in a bit of trou­ble. The Wal­la­bies lost heav­ily to Scot­land at the end of last year.”

Botha was quick to re­mind, on the other hand, that Su­per Rugby chal­lenges should not be premised on the per­for­mance of na­tional teams.

“We have to dis­tin­guish be­tween Su­per Rugby and the Spring­boks be­cause the lat­ter has been so poor.

“I’m hop­ing for a bit of a sur­prise. I think a num­ber of teams will see this as a clean break. In a South African con­text we cer­tainly can. Our coaches in this year’s com­pe­ti­tion are rel­a­tively new.”

The com­pe­ti­tion kicks off next Fri­day when the Storm­ers host the Jaguares, fol­lowed by the Lions and the Sharks at El­lis Park in the only match next Satur­day.

Pic­ture: Gallo Im­ages

The defin­ing mo­ment from last year’s fi­nal when Kwagga Smith of the Lions, No 7, took out Cru­saders full­back David Hav­ili, earn­ing the loose for­ward a red card which set the home team back.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.