With the 2019 Super Rugby season less than two weeks away, rugby fans are champing at the bit at the prospect of their weekends getting a whole lot more exciting.
A packed Cape Town Stadium for Superhero Sunday was an indication that South African rugby fans are eager for the season-proper to start.
Yes, I know the Cheetahs and Kings have been slugging it out in the PRO14 and the Blitzboks have already (albeit in stuttering fashion) kicked off their World Rugby Sevens Series defence, but the season will only properly get under way on the weekend of February 15-16 with the commencement of Super Rugby.
Added to the excitement is the fact that the season will build towards the much-anticipated Rugby World Cup in Japan scheduled for September 20-November 2.
Looking ahead at the 2019 season, I have drawn up a wish list for local rugby fans:
Steps toward privatisation of SA franchises
Jannie Durand, the CEO of investment company Remgro, told a local newspaper over the weekend that the only way forward for South African rugby is the privatisation of franchises.
He's absolutely right!
The constitutions of the unions currently dictate that they cannot be wholly owned by a private company or person.
What this means is that amateur administrators remain largely in charge and it's no wonder most of South Africa's provinces are struggling to keep head above water.
The recent documented woes of WP Rugby is a perfect example of how the struggle for power between the professional and amateur arm of the union has left it crippled.
It's time for constitutions to be amended in order for our unions to be run in a professional manner.
Imagine if one of South Africa's unions could be impacted in the manner Mourad Boudjellal has done with Toulon in France?
This will also help stem the flow of many top players leaving these shores for greener pastures.
Reduce number of professional teams in SA to 8
The above-mentioned point will add substance to this argument. There's no way SA Rugby can sustain a model of 900 professional players. We simply need fewer professional teams.
In late 2017, SA Rugby announced that Griquas and the Pumas had earned franchise status which gave them the opportunity to play in competitions abroad.
There were talks that the two unions could enter Europe's Anglo-Welsh Cup, but there's been no official announcements.
Along with the four Super Rugby and two PRO14 franchises, Griquas and the Pumas should complete the eight-team professional line-up in South Africa.
The other remaining unions - Boland, SWD, Border, Griffons, Leopards and Valke - should become like the old country unions from way back. Remember the likes of Vaal Triangle, Stellaland and North East Cape... ?
A Super Rugby final in South Africa
The Lions have been Super Rugby runners up for the past three years, but sadly have not been able to get over the line when it really mattered.
For a South African team to win the event they need to host the final. Yes, the Lions hosted the 2017 final against the Crusaders, but the game was spoilt as a contest when Kwagga Smith received a red card in the first half.
Apart from the Lions, the three other South African franchises were below par in 2018, all losing more games than they won. The Sharks finished eighth, while the Stormers and Bulls had to be content with 11th and 12th places, respectively.
My wish is to see a South African team top the overall standings and host the final, with at least one more local team making the semi-finals.
It was perhaps no coincidence that the last time South Africa won the Rugby World Cup - in 2007 - the country also had two teams contesting the Super Rugby final...
South Africa to (at least) make Rugby World Cup final
It's a tough ask to simply call on the Springboks to win the Rugby World Cup in Japan. I reckon making it to the final would be a significant achievement.
The Boks are pooled alongside the All Blacks and a second-place finish would mean a possible quarter-final against Ireland, who are currently ranked second on the World Rugby rankings.
A semi-final date with one of Australia, Argentina, France, Wales or England awaits and for the Boks to make it all the way to the final would surely be a pass mark for Rassie Erasmus.
I know the last team New Zealand would want to meet in the final is South Africa...
Improved efforts from Cheetahs and Kings
After making the playoffs in their debut season in the PRO14, the Cheetahs started the current campaign slowly and it was clear that losing several frontline players had hurt them.
However, in recent weeks Franco Smith's charges have shown improvement and they have won four games on the trot in 2019.
Things are about to get a whole lot tougher as they will play their next four games overseas against Connacht (February 16), Llanelli Scarlets (February 24), Leinster (March 1) and Glasgow (March 22).
I'd like to see the Cheetahs show some mettle on the road and start winning games in treacherous European conditions to possibly sneak into the playoffs.
The Kings, on the other hand, are having another torrid season, winning just two of 14 games. They can only improve and let's hope the recent new sponsorship and ownership announcement will finally bring some stability to the troubled franchise.
Blitzboks to sneak a win, or two, over Fiji
The Blitzboks have made a stuttering start to the defence of their World Rugby Sevens Series crown and it has become clear that they won't be crowned champions for a third season in a row.
They have simply lost too many key players to the 15-man code, but there's still lots to play for in the remainder of the season.
For starters, the South Africans need to man up against their bogey team Fiji. Even in last season's victorious campaign, the Blitzboks were more often than not undone by Fiji and getting a couple of wins over the islanders should take priority, even if it means not claiming the overall gold prize.
Coach Neil Powell is building a team for the future and the 2018/19 campaign should be used as a building block for the future.
Don't worry about the Rugby Championship and Currie Cup
In a World Cup year, the outcome of a shortened Rugby Championship doesn't count and should mainly be used as preparation for the showpiece event in Japan.
The All Blacks will tell you that in 2011 and 2015 the Wallabies won the Rugby Championship and the Springboks will tell you that New Zealand won the 2007 Tri-Nations.
No one remembers those winners, but we all know who the world champions were in those years!
Meanwhile, the Currie Cup will be an even more watered-down affair in this World Cup year. The Boks won't play and no one will care who wins...
Herman Mostert is a long-time Sport24 employee...
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