S15: SA’s challenge the best?
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”
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
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?
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