Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – A fortnight between the semi-finals and final
... that is arguably the best way for the Super Rugby format, as presently
constituted, to maintain a greater semblance of credibility.
Instead it is rightly under fire – there has even been some
significant New Zealand sympathy this week for the Sharks’ absurd travel
schedule – ahead of Saturday’s showpiece in Hamilton between the Chiefs and the
bleary-eyed visitors from KwaZulu-Natal.
Scientists may well argue that an extra week wouldn’t
necessarily aid the Sharks’ prolific, globe-trotting plight that much, given
that jetlag is something with variable “kick-in” times; it can feature delayed
But you suspect Keegan Daniel’s hard-pressed team would at
least feel some sense of mental stimulus, even if it did not automatically
transfer to their limbs and muscles, if they’d had the benefit of an extra
seven days of preparation, which would be likely to include some elements of complete
relaxation and a few relatively “mild” training sessions.
There was just a hint of understandable sarcasm in his
thoughts when Daniel tweeted on Sunday, less than a day after the gruelling
semi-final victory over the Stormers at Newlands: “Loving OR Tambo, here again,
airports are your friend.”
Before the major rugby calendar became so crazily, ever more
progressively jam-packed, there was one merciful instance, in 1996, when the
final was, indeed, scheduled two weeks after the semis – it didn’t aid the Sharks
then, in scoreboard terms, as they were still thumped 45-21 by the Blues in
Auckland, but that may simply have been because that was a genuine heyday
period for that New Zealand franchise and their home advantage was also a
Ironically, this season’s Super Rugby campaign, the second
under the debatable new conference system with its extended playoffs phase, did
start rather later than last year’s – February 24 as opposed to 2011’s February
Of course it is a complicated issue, because there does have
to be an “off-season” – inverted commas intended! -- in some shape or form, and
free weekends within the southern hemisphere season barely exist.
The Currie Cup premier division begins as quickly as next
weekend, whilst the new-look Castle Rugby Championship, at international level,
starts on August 18, and the various Test players involved from the competing
countries deserve a freshening hiatus before they get stuck into each other
But perhaps it is worth contemplating restoring Super Rugby
to a slightly earlier start, if it will allow for a gap between the semis and
final and simultaneously give its feature game that bit more credibility and a
“level playing field” feel?
This week Wynne Gray of national newspaper The New Zealand
Herald joined the chorus of sympathy for the Sharks’ agenda woe.
“Sympathy and South Africa are not always comfortable
companions in the same rugby sentence,” he said on Wednesday.
“However, the Sharks have got a really raw deal as they
approach the (final).
“When they return to Durban, they will have covered 55 000km
during the playoffs taking in Johannesburg, Brisbane, Cape Town, Sydney,
Hamilton and the points in between.
“You’d be doing well to feel frisky with that itinerary on a
holiday, never mind having the physical demands and mental anguish of playing
three sudden-death matches, the pool and gym recovery, time spent over computer
analysis and a bit on the training track.
“That’s playing with an unfair deck, which will always be a
problem in a competition topped with playoffs ... the three-conference system
is uneven and flawed.”
Gray said the Sharks winning would be a “monumental effort”
and added: “Whatever the result, the Sharks’ tortuous finals route cannot be
good for the players or the series.”
And so say all of us?
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