S15: SA’s challenge the best?

    2013-07-15 13:24

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – Even bearing in mind that the Super Rugby finals series “sprint” still awaits us, there is a good case for saying that South African teams have best bossed the more gruelling conference-phase “marathon” in 2013.

    Let’s face it, the knockout phase consists of a mere three weekends, so perhaps for consistency of collective challenges by the three competing nations, the 16-round ordinary season is really the best yardstick.

    Using that template, then, the combined log throws up strong suggestions that South Africa has ruled the roost for quality and competitiveness across the bulk of its five teams.

    It is true that the Kings do the national cause no special favours on paper by their gradual recession – after some spells of notable promise – to the wooden-spoon berth on the overall table, but they were always considered most obvious favourites to bring up the rear in their maiden campaign and have not disgraced to nearly the extent prophets of doom felt they would.

    Three wins and a draw in their 2013 baptism, whether they eventually survive for another campaign or not, represents a pretty good effort by the outfit masterminded by Alan Solomons and Matt Sexton.

    But the more established quartet of South African teams have ensured this country the not insignificant honour of boasting four of the top eight teams on the combined log (as opposed to only two each in that upper-reaches terrain from New Zealand and Australia).

    In the end two sides from each country made the six-team playoffs cut – the second time that even split has occurred in three years of the new conference system – although South Africa had the satisfaction of knowing that the late-clicking Stormers and coastal domestic stable-mates the Sharks were the two teams immediately bubbling under the qualifying zone in seventh and eighth respectively.

    Both of those two franchises were especially bedevilled by injuries this year, suggesting that with better fortune on that front the South African playoffs representation might have been even more buxom.

    SA sides won 42 matches overall in ordinary season, New Zealand ones 38 and Aussie teams 37.

    Last year, teams from our shores accounted for three of the six playoffs slots – Stormers, Bulls and Sharks – and this may also serve as ammunition for venturing that South Africa tops the SANZAR pile for sheer depth of playing resources.

    A determined counter argument from New Zealand, in particular, might well be that they hold the more important World Cup and continue to comfortably hog No 1 status on the IRB Test rankings ... at least as far as their national “first team” is concerned, the All Blacks remain the envy of the rest of the planet at present.

    But South Africa’s collective Super Rugby assuredness, for the most part, also suggests that the Springboks, provided that they pick wisely and based on the broad talent pool available, are well capable of mounting an increasingly credible challenge to the New Zealanders’ Castle Rugby Championship mastery when that premier southern hemisphere competition gets under way in mid-August.

    Indeed, if South Africa were to put out a second XV for a rare challenge of that nature against New Zealand counterparts, might smart money best be placed on the Bok “reserves” prevailing?

    That said, it is also true that since the advent of the conference system, no South African team has yet gone all the way to glory, with one title each having gone thus far to Australia (Reds in 2011) and NZ (Chiefs in 2012).

    Maybe the three-time Super 14-winning Bulls – easily the more likely candidates – or maiden playoffs-contesting Cheetahs will a little belatedly set that drawback right?

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    Read More On:  sanzar super 15 rugby

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