Quality suffers in long season
At the start of the season there were fears that at some stage the length of the new extended Super Rugby competition would catch up with the players and impact on the quality of the rugby being produced.
While the new format has generated a lot of excitement as we head into the last rounds of the league phase and towards the knock-outs, some of the rugby being produced is looking a bit tired.
Some teams, such as the Bulls, are enjoying a late season resurgence, but looking back over this past weekend it was hard to pinpoint a team that really looked championship quality. Even some of the teams that won would have felt they had under-performed, while the Reds and the Blues, who have long been near the front of the standings, looked a pale shadow of their former selves.
The Blues are in trouble now after having lost three games. The ultra-marathon analogy has often been used in talking about the new 16 match league schedule, and maybe we should borrow from it again by suggesting that the Blues are looking like a runner that just did too much fast running in the early stages and is now being hauled in by the rest of the pack as we reach the later kilometres of the race.
The Highlanders also fall into that group. They are a team that generally needs to front in order to win the big games and just lately they are looking like a team that has just been asked to front too often. As for the Waratahs, injuries have had such an impact that the team that played the Sharks and Bulls bore little resemblance to the one that started the season.
The Reds looked like they picked up a few injuries against the Brumbies, so they are another team that, after playing so well for most of the competition, could just find themselves struggling come play-off time. In that regard, the Crusaders, with so many players set to come back from injury and having just enjoyed a bye, still look the best placed.
But maybe some kind of assessment does need to be made into the impact the longer competition, plus the double round of derbies, is having on the players. In South Africa and New Zealand some of the derby matches have been brutal and too many matches like that could have the effect of shortening the players’ careers and preventing them from being at their best.
As we have argued in this column before, the coaches also have to play their part by managing players effectively, something that is not always happening. A new mindset might be necessary in Super Rugby, with more emphasis on a squad system.
Remember, this is the first year under the current format, so maybe the coaches will get it right when everything is not quite so new in 2012. But we are now at a stage where season would have been over if still played to the old Super 14 format, and yet teams could face another five matches if they want to win the competition. It just seems a bit much.
Predicting what is going to happen over the next few weeks is difficult given the reasons outlined above. So much depends on what injuries teams might suffer now that we have reached the point where all the hard knocks will start tallying up and having an impact.
But the Bulls are gathering momentum. They might not be quite where they were in previous seasons, but their recent win over the Sharks in Durban appears to have given them confidence, and their big clash with the Stormers in Cape Town this weekend will be a decider for them.
The Stormers are on a roll and although they wouldn’t want to lose momentum they are not nearly in as desperate a situation as the Bulls are. For me the big question hovering over the Stormers is their ability to win a crunch match played in front of a full house and which is being seen as a decider.
They have won quite comfortably away from home in recent weeks, but then they were also winning well before they lost to two top teams, the Reds and the Crusaders, at Newlands. If they can win this match, and make it two out of two against the Bulls for the season, it will show they have the temperament to go all the way.
The team that need to do the most improving at this stage are the Sharks. The Cheetahs have largely boxed above their weight, particularly if you consider their injuries, but the Sharks have boxed below theirs, and the backline just isn’t working with the necessary fluidity.
Having said that, as a former winger, my Powerade Chosen One
award for this week has to go to the two Sharks wings, JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo, for showing that wings can still win matches by swinging the last two games for their team with brilliant 80 metre tries.Powerade Weekly Hydration Tip:
A sports drink such as Powerade should be used by athletes during training for events because it provides the carbohydrates that are necessary to help delay fatigue and it replaces the fluids that are lost in the form of sweatBreyton Paulse is a former Springbok player and is the Powerade "Chosen One" expert columnistDisclaimer:
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