Rob Houwing - Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The
SA conference is like that garish beach-scene painting Aunty Mabel so doted on
for years before she died … nobody in the family wants it.
there’s some pretty distasteful “art” in the Australian bunch, too … the only
compelling oil on canvas, increasingly so, is the New Zealand one.
round of Super Rugby 2018 was marked yet again primarily by a tightening
stranglehold from NZ franchises, several of whom seem destined to be absurdly cruel
victims of the tournament structure disallowing them from ending ahead of the
SA or Aussie group winners even if they sport a significantly superior haul of
clean-swept games against outfits from other countries on Saturday, the
Highlanders taking out the fast-fading -- but still SA “best” -- Lions in
Dunedin, a weakened Chiefs being too wily for the Stormers at Newlands and the
Crusaders staging a thrilling recovery from 0-29 down to pip the Waratahs 31-29
the Hurricanes’ anticipated Friday derby victory over the Blues, the current
situation sees four NZ teams effectively bossing the overall table in terms of
points accumulated: Crusaders on 42, Hurricanes 41, Highlanders 32 and Chiefs
Yet with the
mandatory need for the other two conferences to have a lofty say in
proceedings, the Lions (31) occupy second spot and the Waratahs (26) third;
they should really be fifth and sixth respectively.
the collective, rank mediocrity of its five participants, including the
relatively surprise-packet Jaguares from Argentina, the SA conference does, at
least, keep building a head of steam in the almost “second division” scrap for
any of the other two groups (in New Zealand, for instance, the lowest-lying
Blues are a gaping 14 points shy of the fourth-placed Chiefs), the South
African one is truly still up for grabs – all five franchises cannot be written
off for ending at the helm.
developments on Saturday that did absolutely nothing, once more, to suggest
that a side from the conference is capable of vaulting clear to clinch top
seeding after ordinary season this year – it is now a seriously forlorn
likelihood and may quite soon be buried mathematically – the SA claustrophobia
only cranked up a notch.
surrendering a sixth match from 12, which seems to say so much about the
decline of the competition runners-up for the two previous years, the Lions
could not bank even a losing bonus point in Otago, and return home from their
tour (one win from four) in the knowledge that three teams in their conference
are now all within seven points of them, and each with a game in hand.
That will be
enough to keep all of the Jaguares, Bulls and Sharks (24 points from 11 outings
in each instance) still interested in reining them in, whilst the now-basement
Stormers (23 from 12) also can’t quite be deemed lame ducks yet.
say it is a really damning statement about present South African rugby that the
Jaguares, the “guests” in the conference, are the only team in it boasting more
wins than losses (6-5).
But they are
impeded, and limited to mid-table overall, by the fact that they are the only
team in the competition without a single bonus point at this stage.
trend among the four SA-specific teams is the abject lack of consistency, even from
one week to the very next.
against the Highlanders in Durban last weekend, the Sharks were deservedly
beaten this time at Loftus (39-33) although the consolation was that it was a
rousing, high-tempo and often constructive contest.
Mitchell’s up-and-coming Bulls, the result was a banishment of their memories
of Newlands a week before, when the Stormers outmuscled them in another derby.
Capetonians, for their part, also displayed split-personality tendencies by
showing a blunt, all too predictable attacking script against the Chiefs and
paying a price for it.
also bedevilled by their scrum, so potent a week earlier, not coming to the
party against opponents missing some gnarly regular members of their
front-five, especially, but playing as though their lives were at stake at the
Zealand winner of Super Rugby again this year? It seems almost set in stone …
Next round of fixtures (home teams
first, all kick-offs SA time):
Hurricanes v Reds, 09:35. Saturday: Sunwolves v Stormers, 07:15; Blues v
Crusaders, 09:35; Waratahs v Highlanders, 11:45; Sharks v Chiefs, 15:05; Lions
v Brumbies, 17:15; Jaguares v Bulls, 23:40. Bye: Rebels.
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