SA sides have it toughest

2013-04-17 10:17
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
We arrived back in Port Elizabeth on Sunday following a more than satisfying maiden Super Rugby tour. In my view, the most pleasing aspect was returning to the Republic with seven log points in the bag.

Right from the outset of my journey with the Kings, we decided that we wanted to create an identity. We adopted the four C’s: Character, Commitment, Conditioning and Courage.

Furthermore, we have placed a strong emphasis on defence, which I believe is indicative of a side’s attitude. We have also worked hard on our setpiece and relish the physical side of the game.

Talking of physicality, I felt the South African derby battles over the weekend where highly abrasive and underlined just how competitive the South African Conference has proved this season.

As things stand, it’s a four-way battle for top honours in South Africa. At this stage it’s impossible to pick a winner and in my view even the bravest betting man would struggle.

While we are all aware that the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers are perennially top performing sides, the Cheetahs’ fine form in 2013 is putting heat on the traditional top three.

At this point in time, the South African Conference is certainly the most competitive of the three nations. At this stage just six log points separate first from fourth.

In the Australian Conference, the Brumbies and Reds are head and shoulders above the rest. In all honesty, the Australians simply don’t have the player depth to field five competitive sides.

While South African and New Zealand derbies are generally more riveting, I expect the Reds v Brumbies clash to deliver the goods this weekend.

While it will be a tightly contested match, I believe home ground advantage and the triumvirate of Quade Cooper, Will Genia and James Horwill will tilt the result in the Reds’ favour.

I statistic which I picked up this week is that the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers have scored the least amount of tries (13) in the competition thus far. However, for me, it does not come as a great surprise.

The Bulls to some extent have tended to play slightly more conservative rugby.

In turn, the Stormers possess some great backs, but have in recent times been defensively-orientated.

Meanwhile, the Sharks have put greater emphasis on a sharp defence this season and to some extent I feel that may well have curbed their attacking ability.

I have no doubt that all three sides will be working hard behind the scenes to implement a more balanced game plan. However, the reality is that modern day defences are far more challenging to break down.

Looking ahead to the weekend’s clashes, while having the Springbok training camp midweek was far from ideal, I believe our sides are mature enough to cope with the brief interruption.

The Sharks host the Cheetahs this Saturday with both sides coming off the back of defeats.

While the Cheetahs are currently playing terrific rugby and can never be written off, I expect the home side to edge the encounter.

As the Cheetahs enjoy giving the ball air, I expect the Sharks to take a stranglehold upfront and therefore dictate the terms of play.

While the Bulls failed to turn early possession and territory against the Cheetahs into points, they proved they remain a force to be reckoned with.

We welcome the Bulls to Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday and I believe our best approach is to front up physically.

The Pretoria-based side pride themselves on direct, confrontational rugby and possess a sound kick and chase. I don’t expect the Bulls to stray too far from that strategy.

While my players will need to be up for the battle physically, I believe it’s equally important that we head into the game in the right mental frame of mind.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

Read more on:    kings  |  super 15  |  alan solomons  |  rugby

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