Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Continued haplessness by the Australian teams in the latest round of Super Rugby may only fuel discontent in South Africa over the country having to cull two teams from next season.
The collective Aussie “challenge” is looking so shaky in 2017 that it brings into particularly sharp, fresh focus the SANZAAR announcement earlier this month that two SA franchises – still most likely to be the Kings and Cheetahs – and one from Australia would have to go in a reduced 15-team competition.
It would leave a three-conference 2018 tournament with the customary five New Zealand teams in one pool, four each from SA and Oz and with the Jaguares and Sunwolves latched onto the other two conferences respectively.
But South African enthusiasts are highly likely to increasingly question the fairness of two sides from our shores getting the chop, given the unprecedented weakness of the Aussie group this season.
Following completion of round 10 of ordinary season, the ludicrously superior NZ teams – even including their own basement Blues, who beat the Aussie-leading Brumbies away on Sunday – boast a combined 161 log points, for an average per team of 32.2.
South Africa comes in a distant second, with its present six franchises (130 points total) sporting an average of 21.66 table points each.
But that is still a conspicuously superior tally to the bottom-sawyer Aussies (58 points), who have a flimsy average of 11.6 per team among their five.
An especially galling result for Australia this weekend, when three of their teams lost to foreign foes and the Waratahs were lone victors in a derby against the Reds, was the Melbourne Rebels – under threat of the axe, but tipped to survive as the Force may well be the Oz victims – being humiliated 44-3 in Port Elizabeth by the fired-up and pleasingly fast-paced Kings.
It was ironically the first time in their three seasons of Super Rugby that the embattled Eastern Cape franchise have posted back-to-back victories, as it was a follow-up to their Sydney upset of the Waratahs, the 2014 champions.
Those two outcomes go a long way to indicating the extent to which the wheels have come off Aussie rugby, especially at Super Rugby level.
Sadly the abject turnout in the Friendly City, at a time when the brave Kings playing staff and coaches deserve better, would have done little to aid their bid to stave off banishment from the competition; it is desperately hard to historically justify any of the bigger metropolises of Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg or Pretoria losing a franchise.
The fierce debate around which teams should actually be shelved from Super Rugby, even given the widespread acceptance that fewer teams should help restore seriously flagging standards, simultaneously reminds of the monster SANZAAR were effectively guilty of creating with the ill-fated expansion to 18 teams from last year.
You have the quite laughable situation, at least as things stand, of the Brumbies (three wins from nine starts) artificially still being deemed “second” -- for knockout seeding purposes -- in the 10-strong greater Australasian group, although they are a yawning 23 points behind the still-unbeaten Crusaders.
The Brumbies have a mere 18 points, which in reality should see them as low as sixth in the group: the Chiefs have 37, Hurricanes 33, Highlanders 28 and Blues 22.
If you use form in round 10 as a yardstick, too, there may be further suffering for Aussie sides next weekend in games against teams from other countries.
The Rebels, decimated by injuries before and then again during the Port Elizabeth thrashing, have to fly back across the Indian Ocean to tackle a Lions outfit who held their nerve admirably to earn a bonus-point win against the gritty Force in Perth.
Meanwhile the Reds may struggle to get any joy out of their trip to NZ to play the Chiefs, and the Force will be in South Africa to play a Sharks team greatly revitalised by their splendid 33-25 dismantling of the Jaguares in Buenos Aires – an outcome that is a priceless boost for their playoffs chances.
Robert du Preez’s charges were much more vibrant and energetic on attack this week, and several of their pack bruisers – including prop juggernauts Thomas du Toit and Coenie Oosthuizen, and utility forward Etienne Oosthuizen – also shone for consistent physical endeavour as the Jaguares’ home-town passion was solidly repelled.
Meanwhile 19-year-old versatile footballer Curwin Bosch continued to tick boxes, earning the accolade from SuperSport expert and Bok legend Naas Botha that he put in a “proper flyhalf’s performance” en route to the triumph in a pressure-cooker environment.
Next round of fixtures (home teams first, all kick-offs SA time):
Friday: Hurricanes v Stormers, 09:35; Cheetahs v Highlanders, 19:00. Saturday: Rebels v Lions, 07:00, Chiefs v Reds, 09:35; Waratahs v Blues, 11:45; Sharks v Force, 15:05; Bulls v Crusaders, 17:15; Jaguares v Sunwolves, 23:40. Byes: Kings, Brumbies.
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