Sharks 'SA's best S15 hope'
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
John Plumtree (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The Sharks, rather than last year’s best-performing South African franchise the Stormers, represent South Africa’s best chance of success in the 2012 Super Rugby season.
That is according to the latest (February) edition of Sports Illustrated magazine, which is heavily themed toward the southern hemisphere competition starting next month.
SI has the Sharks finishing second on the overall log behind the Crusaders, last season’s runners-up and the top side in the Super Rugby history, and thus winning the SA conference.
It tips the Stormers, last year’s domestic conference winners and eventually beaten semi-finalists, to end fifth overall and as conference runners-up, thus qualifying again for the playoffs as the only other South African team to do so.
According to the magazine, the rebuilding Bulls will end seventh, just outside the playoffs, cash-strapped Currie Cup champions the Lions 11th and the Cheetahs 12th.
“The Sharks have all the personnel, skills and smarts a team could wish for. Now they just need the belief,” SI said.
It cited favourable aspects for the Sharks like the fact that they don’t meet the Crusaders on the pre-playoff calendar this season, and will play defending champions the Reds at home.
In slightly downgrading the Stormers this year, the magazine said: “They have the goods to take top (conference) spot if they fire on all cylinders, but when they backfire, they do so spectacularly.”
On a broader level, as the tournament faces a record-length year marked by a three-week break for Test rugby, it quoted SARU chief executive Jurie Roux as admitting that the schedule was “challenging not only from a player point of view but also because we have the incoming English tour in the middle of the Super Rugby competition which makes selling both quite tricky”.
He added: “It’s certainly easier to handle the promotion of one tournament at a time. The Test window will put added pressure on the new Bok coach because he’ll have hardly any time to work with the players before the first England Test.”