Dream debuts and derbies

2013-02-27 13:10
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
It was very important that the Southern Kings got off to a good start in Super Rugby. What was most pleasing for me was the manner in which we achieved the victory on our debut.

I have always believed that if you want to see a side’s attitude and commitment you need to look at how they defend. I thought our defence was outstanding and a tribute to the team and our defence coach, Omar Mouneimne.

While our approach is to take one match at a time, I do believe that our victory over the Western Force entitled us to a measure of respect.

One man on the lips of many this week is man of the match Sergeal Petersen. His story is an incredible one. He is an exceptional talent and was recommended to me by former Kings player Rory Duncan.

Duncan said to me last year that he felt Petersen was ready to play senior rugby straight after leaving school. On that basis we brought him into the squad and he has settled in very well.

The way he’s developed, I certainly felt he deserved an opportunity to play Super Rugby and his performance on the day proved he’s ready.

We have a bye this week, which in retrospect isn’t a bad thing as it allows us to come down to earth and also affords us a short break before our clash with the Sharks.

Turning to the rest of the tournament, I don’t feel we can read too much into the opening rounds. Most sides go into the competition somewhat underdone with their internationals have played on end of year tours.

The Brumbies have certainly started well this season and have impressed with two wins on the trot. Jake White’s men will no doubt be aiming to build on a solid showing last season.

It’s fantastic to see Clyde Rathbone playing again having initially hung up his boots in 2009. The 31-year-old is still a superb player and his comeback is quite remarkable.

In the first big local derby of the season, I felt that the Bulls-Stormers clash was a typical pipe-opener. The Stormers had their work cut out for them as it’s never easy to head to Loftus for your season opener.

Morne Steyn played particularly well on the day and was on song with the boot. The Bulls forwards also dominated the exchanges.

It will be interesting to see how the Bulls’ season develops. I feel that they would have learnt a lot from 2012 and will be right up there challenging for the trophy in 2013.

The local clash of the weekend sees the Stormers travel to the Shark Tank. While the outcome of this game is very difficult to predict, I believe home ground advantage tips the result slightly in the Sharks’ favour.

As in most matches, the forward battle is set to prove pivotal. The key to this clash will be momentum. The ability to generate it on attack and the ability to stop it on defence.

On paper, the Stormers have an incredible backline and certainly have the capability of causing damage on attack. They are already a very strong defensive side with a good kicking game and may well find balance if they add an attacking string to their bow.

New players always take at least three games to settle into a system. I feel we shouldn’t judge the Stormers on one performance. There is no question they are missing the presence of Springboks Eben Etzebeth and Schalk Burger. Etzebeth is a tremendous lock forward and Burger is their leader and talisman.

The Sharks too have a number of injuries to key men. However, like the Stormers they are a top-flight team and have sufficient strength in depth.

Moving to the New Zealand Conference, the Blues-Crusaders clash should be massive. There has been a shake-up in the Blues’ ranks with former All Black great John Kirwan now coaching the side. Graham Henry’s involvement will also make a significant difference. Their victory over the Hurricanes already shows the shot in the arm the franchise has received.

I believe the Crusaders will be in for a testing game. There is plenty of pressure on the men from Christchurch having last lifted the trophy in 2008. How they respond to that pressure this season will be interesting and how many games Dan Carter plays will be telling.

While I believe we will need to revisit the impact of the new law variations over the next month, in my view the ‘use it or lose it’ rule at ruck time doesn’t seem to have made a massive difference in the Northern Hemisphere.

In any event, the game in the Southern Hemisphere is played at a much quicker pace, which Ronnie Cooke testified to this week having plied his trade in the French Top 14.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.

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