Don't write off the Bulls!
The fine line between success and failure was once again clearly evident over the past couple of days.
Last Saturday at Loftus Versfeld, Bryan Habana crossed that line, first to the one side and then to the other, in an absorbing Super Rugby game that showed that the Stormers are a serious team this season, even if they are playing rugby from the Bulls manual more and more...
For the Bulls of course, and any other team for that matter, alarm bells must start ringing when another team beats you by taking you on at your own strengths.
I once referred to Western Province (after a Currie Cup loss to the Falcons in Brakpan a couple of years back) as ‘returning to the soft fields of Newlands. Soft fields for soft guys’, I wrote at the time.
Coach Allister Coetzee, with whom I have been friends for a long time, at the time did not like the reference that much and told me as much.
Come Saturday night at Loftus, after the Stormers deservedly beat the Bulls by outmuscling them at the breakdown, Coetzee again reminded me of that line, but this time with a very satisfying grin.
I was so happy for him, because, based on what we saw on the weekend, the Stormers indeed stood their ground - and without their real hard man, Schalk Burger, even present!
Coetzee had to wait a while for that grin, but this will be good for the Stormers as well as the Bulls.
Knowing the character of the defending Super Rugby champions, they will be back, sooner rather than later. You write the Bulls off at your own peril.
Another example of that fine line was seen on Monday night when Maties fell flat on their faces on that cow patch they prepared at the Danie Craven stadium in Stellenbosch.
They suffered the same fate as the Bulls did, being outplayed by a team who ran the ball with great purpose, were clinical on the counter attack and used the pace of their wings.
Yes, I'm referring to UJ and not the Maties!
Their elimination before the Varsity Cup semi-final stage was as big an upset as was the Cheetahs' win over the Waratahs in Sydney.
It is clear that the Varsity Cup is becoming bigger and bigger and is threatening the existence of the Vodacom Cup.
Those two cannot run next to each other any longer and SARU’s game development department will have to look at a different way to structure the season.
Next year we will see the return of inbound tours, an expanded version of the Tri-Nations and of course, the stop-start version of Super Rugby as well.
Speaking to national Under-20 coach, Dawie Theron, just before he took his squad to Argentina a few days ago, he lamented the fact that he needed a tour like this to prepare his side for the Junior World Cup in June.
The ideal would have been if SARU started their junior competitions (Under-19 and Under-21) in February or March as well.
Just imagine the benefits Theron would have as Under-20 coach if all his contenders were playing in a competition in March and April, giving him May to prepare for the June showpiece?
The Varsity Cup is already using a lot of young players and if we have our junior competitions at that time as well, Theron will be a very happy man.
But it all does mean that the rugby landscape, at least at local level, will have to change. And for that, SARU needs to prioritise their list of competitions, how they can feed into the national system and the national teams.
There is no sense in domestic competitions not working towards or benefiting your national sides.
The line between success and failure is too thin for that.
Read JJ every Sunday in Rapport.
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