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    S15 ‘recession’ for SA sides

    2014-04-15 12:22

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – If the South African conference in Super Rugby could be compared to a property – or properties -- you owned, you’d be labouring right now in a depressing situation of “negative equity”.

    To continue with economic parlance, the outlook doesn’t look too bright, either, for four of the five teams in the group ... although the Sharks could be described as the redeeming, lucrative mansion on the hill in your portfolio.

    A glance at the latest overall table for 2014 shows the Durban-based franchise still proudly out in front of the 15-strong pack, but otherwise there is unusually little to cheer about from a collective South African perspective.

    In recent seasons, there have usually been at least two and often three SA outfits among the hot tips for playoffs berths: unless the lower mid-table Bulls and Lions get their acts back together again fairly smartly, the danger exists this year of the Sharks being the lone domestic representative when the six-team finals series phase begins.

    Sadly the SA challenge is also marked thus far by the Stormers and Cheetahs conspicuously occupying the bottom two rungs of the ladder, which isn’t the ideal situation considering the controversial (especially in Antipodean climes) likelihood that the country earns an extra spot from 2016 onward when the competition gets its next reshuffle.

    Both strugglers were infinitely more competitive last season, when the Cheetahs cracked the playoffs for the first time – behind conference-topping compatriots the Bulls –and the Stormers missed the cut by just one position.

    This year the collective SA campaign, if you take away the hitherto steely and ambitious Sharks, has been infinitely less convincing as we reach roughly the midway point of ordinary season, with a big gap to eighth overall to find the next best-performing domestic unit in the shape of the Bulls.

    The last-named team are still in the midst of their tricky overseas leg, and probably require at least one victory from the Australian-staged games against the Waratahs and Force if they are to retain realistic hopes of reaching the playoffs.

    Apart from the obvious South African struggle reflected in the very pecking order overall, closer examination of the table further confirms the problems most of our teams are having.

    The Sharks are the only side among the five who are in positive territory for points for and against – they are a healthy 93 in credit.

    But all of the other quartet are in “minus” status, with the Bulls five shy of par, the Lions 25, Stormers 66 and Cheetahs 90 (theirs the worst of any team in the competition).

    A little strangely, Naka Drotske’s charges find themselves the best SA side in “tries for” terms, with 21 – putting them narrowly behind pace-setters the Chiefs and Brumbies on 22 each in that department – but they are also the leakiest outfit in try concession by a great distance.

    The Cheetahs have conceded 35, at an average of over four a game from eight completed fixtures, and there is a big gulf to the next worst, the Highlanders with 21.

    South African teams also collectively have the fewest tries to show at this point: 73, as opposed to 93 by the Australians and 97 by New Zealand franchises.

    The Lions and Stormers have done especially little to aid that tally, with only 11 and 10 respectively to make them the most try-shy sides overall.

    But apart from labouring to score five- and seven-pointers, the South African teams are now also the most expensive of the three nations’ outfits in try concession – 93, as opposed to 89 by the New Zealanders and 81 by the Aussies.

    It is statistics like these that will almost certainly need to be improved over the coming weeks if the Sharks aren’t to stand alone with our national flag, as it were, in the finals series ...

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    Read More On:  super 15 naka drotske rugby

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