Super Rugby: Grim SA outlook

2015-11-16 12:56
Eddie Jones (Gallo)

Cape Town – Thank goodness the bookies aren’t right every time.

If they were, South Africa’s challenge for the Super Rugby 2016 title would virtually be dead in the water before the campaign even starts.

The country has not won the competition since the last of three Bulls successes in 2010. Following the advent of the conference-styled format a year later, domestic cabinets have been notably dry, save for one outfit nominally clinching the lower-gravitas domestic group silverware each time.

Further, controversial expansion of Super Rugby (now featuring 18 teams, including a record six from our shores) for next season hasn’t been accompanied by any great belief in the betting world that South African luck is about to turn for the better again.

Just for example, if you visit you will find that a trio of sides from World Cup-retaining New Zealand – Chiefs, Crusaders, Hurricanes – are already jointly tipped as main title prospects.

Then come a pair of Australian franchises (Waratahs, Brumbies), with last season’s winners the Highlanders a little surprisingly considered only sixth favourites.

You have to wait for seventh in the pecking order, at a reasonably attractive 12-1, for first SA team, in the shape of 2015 local conference winners the Stormers, closely followed by compatriots the Sharks and Bulls in that order.

As for the Lions, Cheetahs and financially embattled Kings, they fall into “rank outsider” territory (particularly the last-named two).

Sadly I have to largely concur with this bleak outlook, even if the arrival of Eddie Jones at Newlands already seems like a substantial breath of fresh air and may give the Stormers not only a repeat of SA supremacy in 2016 but a bit of a shot at the overall honours too.

Still, long-suffering Stormers supporters might do well to remember that in terms of any title prospects, their favourite side suffers from much the same phenomenon that plagues every SA team these days: an annual shedding of quality names to increasingly stronger monetary climes north of the equator.

Simply put, you get the sense that every year teams from our portion of the Super Rugby landscape are more crippled than any others by a constant need to “rebuild” after significant exoduses – as the rand buckles abysmally, do you see the trend stopping any time soon? -- to the United Kingdom, Ireland and France.

You could bundle Japan into that group, although in many cases at least players participating in their Top League do return here for a meaningful chunk of Super Rugby – albeit often knackered and off the pace after a near non-existent off-season.

For all the optimism that has accompanied the appointment of Jones in Cape Town, it will be difficult for him to immediately turn his charges into title material in 2016 – not when the franchise has shed such proven members of its playing intelligentsia as Jean de Villiers, Duane Vermeulen, Steven Kitshoff, Demetri Catrakilis, Manuel Carizza and Michael Rhodes.

The Stormers are better than most SA rivals when it comes both to shrewd recruitment and ensuring vibrancy and feeder potential from their youth structures, but will nevertheless stay vulnerable to a “brain drain” threat at the end of every Super Rugby campaign ... one that may always preclude the ability to create a truly juggernaut squad worthy of marching all the way to the top prize.

By the same token, the Sharks are certainly going to feel, especially at first, the non-presence in 2016 of former stalwarts like Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Willem Alberts, Ryan Kankowski and Francois Steyn (not to mention the switch of loyalties to Newlands of Pieter-Steph du Toit).

And by their raiding the Cheetahs, as it were, for customers like Willie le Roux, Joe Pietersen and Coenie Oosthuizen, it hardly helps the less cash-flush central franchise’s quest to be even reasonably competitive themselves in the looming season.

For all the talk in Pretoria, too, of a bright new world under the coaching hand of Nollis Marais, the Bulls will first have to gradually adjust to life without men like Victor Matfield, Flip van der Merwe, Jacques du Plessis (or read: a mass stripping of their second-row resources), as well as Francois Hougaard and Pierre Spies.

Just as you suspect that a couple of South African sides are on the brink of taking a step forward in Super Rugby, you have to temper your view by taking into the account the inevitable backward step afflicting them at the same time.

Even with the new season three months away, it seems those wily bookies know this only too well ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    super rugby  |  eddie jones  |  rugby

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