You have got to love the raw enthusiasm of our new Springbok coach in suggesting that we will see three South African sides in the Super 14 semi-finals this year.
If he really believes that, I want a lot of what he has been smoking on his trips round the country to visit the respective franchises...
To my mind, we are more likely to see two sides fighting to stay out of the basement of the log, one side hoping for a position on the correct side of the mid-table morass, and the other two scrambling for a semi-final spot.
The loss of players by the various SA franchises has been well documented so I will not dwell on that, but for a side that came 11th last year to lose players like Os du Randt, Jannie du Plessis, Ronnie Cooke, Marius Joubert and Willem de Waal, along with their coach, Rassie Erasmus, the Cheetahs are going to be seriously up against it this year. In fact, anything above 13th or 14th on the log has to be seen as a success.
Do not have the depth
Casting an eye over a Lions squad that is missing Andre Pretorius and has a youngster who struggled to make the UCT Under-20 side just a few years back in place of the powerful tighthead prop, Brian Mujati, and one is again forced to wonder how clever the decision was to have a fifth South African franchise in the competition.
We actually just do not have the depth to support a fifth franchise.
Having four relatively competitive franchises in which we actually recognised all the names in the squads would be so much better for SA rugby. Thirty less players to pay hopelessly inflated salaries for one, but given that only 22 can play for the Boks, and as a nation we are judged on how those players do every four years at the Rugby World Cup, what is the point of having 150 players contracted every year?
One argument could be about casting the talent net as wide as possible, but that holds no water given that our problem lies in the fact that we lose our talented players after school or age group rugby. That net needs to go deeper rather than wider, and new competitions such as the Varsity Cup which starts on Monday next week are the way forward in terms of retaining talented rugby players.
We need to create "reverse funnels", if you like, where systems are put in place that enable the rugby fraternity to have a look at all exciting young players coming out of school and age group rugby, and then funnelled upwards toward the Super 14. Not another Super 14 franchise where journeymen players like Johann Ackermann are put on standby.
The Stormers are again potentially a very exciting franchise on paper, and with Brian Mujati and Adriaan Fondse amongst the squad, the money spenders have at least attempted to plug what has been a gap for a number of years now - the tight five. But just one injury at the back, to Conrad Jantjes, sees the fabulously exciting, but hopelessly tiny (at this level), Gio Aplon in the mix. So a general lack of depth, and confidence, given the performances in previous years, will see them lose a few games they should have won, and have them finish in mid-table.
So again, I believe, it will be down to the Sharks and Bulls to fly the SA flag.
Frederic Michalak has stated, amazingly, that French rugby was becoming a little stifling for his creativity, so he has chosen the Super 14, and in particular, the Sharks, as the place to ply his trade. It could come amazingly unstuck, but given that he will have the likes of Kees Lensing, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis forming the platform up front, he could just be the ideal man to unleash the likes of JP Pietersen and Frans Steyn...
Sure the Bulls have lost their lineout kingpin, but in Bakkies Botha, provided he is not too grumpy about not being released from his contract, and Danie Rossouw, you might actually have two locks better suited to the new rules. Given the increase in free-kicks, in place of full penalties, we should see fewer lineouts awarded, and lock forwards good with ball in hand, could be the new flavour.
Someone as capable
They have, amazingly, not been a strong scrummaging side for a while, but have always been able to hold their own, and if the likes of Pedrie Wannenburg, Wikus van Heerden and Pierre Spies can play enough games, they will be able to get the monumentally dangerous Fourie du Preez and Bryan Habana into the action.
But it will be a different, and fairer, playing field this year with the All Blacks back in the competition. Yes, they have also lost a large number of players to the UK, but unlike us, and using the Pacific Islanders at will, they seem always to be able to replace the great players with someone as capable or exciting. So I think we will be back to a tournament dominated by the Crusaders, Blues and Hurricanes.
Tank is a former WP tighthead prop and now Sport24 editor and the author of the blog, Front Row Grunt.
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