Sharks, Stormers lack mettle

2013-05-29 10:03
Pierre Spies (Gallo Images)
In February, prior to the start of the 2013 Super Rugby competition the two South African teams most favoured to have a successful campaign and get to the playoffs (based on last year’s performances and the strength and depth of their squads which of course included an influx of talented Lions players) were the big coastal franchises of the Sharks and the Stormers.  In addition, the controversial Kings were written off completely as the whipping boys who would be an embarrassment to SA Rugby.
Move forward just three months and the overall picture is completely different – how wrong most of us were!  The Sharks and Stormers have both had miserable campaigns that they will quickly want to forget and to the dismay of their long suffering, dedicated and passionate supporters and sponsors.  While the Bulls and Cheetahs with nine wins each proudly and deservedly carry the hopes of SA rugby fans into the business end of the world’s toughest club rugby competition. 
There may be many and varied reasons for the current situation, nevertheless, serious questions need to be asked at the two big coastal franchises and they certainly cannot hide behind a few injuries which is common to all squads given the resources available to them.
Without doubt the biggest disappointment has to be the way the Sharks have simply imploded this season.   When you consider the herculean effort they made last year to get to the final, the quality of their high tempo, multi phase rugby when they really clicked and the well organised determined defence when it really mattered, they are now a pale shadow of themselves and when you consider the size and depth of their squad filled with experienced internationals, a strong back up Vodacom squad and the biggest academy in world rugby, not forgetting a few extra players from the Lions – some serious questions need to be asked as to what is going wrong? 
As for the Stormers, well it is simply business as usual for them.  It is nothing new for the Stormers to underperform, there is clearly consistency in this regard and they too have huge playing resources available to them bolstered by the arrival of some highly talented top Lions players.  
At the same time, the Bulls as usual, continue to grind out the wins better than any other South African franchise.  Their ‘culture of winning’ is well founded and still as strong as ever.  They are tough and proud and have a tremendous unity of purpose that prevails throughout all of their provincial teams.  They certainly know how to get to finals. 
The attack minded – never say die Cheetahs are still South Africa’s most entertaining team and have at last addressed their weaknesses by improving vastly their discipline and defence, making them genuine contenders for a playoff spot.  If ever a team deserved success it is the Cheetahs and when you consider the limited resources available to them in comparison to the big coastal franchises they are clearly punching well above their weight and do not lack self belief or confidence.
If we are all truly honest, put politics aside and look at the Kings objectively, they have most certainly surpassed all expectations but will undoubtedly still finish bottom of the SA conference.  Nevertheless, they will have learnt a great deal from their Super Rugby experiences and will be in a much better place for the promotion/relegation playoff against the Lions than many expected.  They have been competitive and made opposition teams work hard for their victories with their aggressive defence putting the opposition under continuous pressure.  If they are not too exhausted from the physical demands from so much defending they will certainly give the Lions a run for their money.
In conclusion, although the Sharks and Stormers will have a major say in the final outcome of the South African conference, we need to return to the original question – Are South Africa’s two big coastal franchises lacking the mental and physical toughness of their Northern counterparts?

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