Rob Houwing - Sport24 chief writer
There have been some glaring stragglers in Super Rugby down the years.
In recent times, think the Kings, now shifted into the different terrain of the PRO14 and not exactly setting that alight either … or the Sunwolves, officially binned from next season.
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Certain, generally stronger outfits have had their grim years, too: the Sharks may have been leading the 2020 pack and playing a sparkling brand of rugby before the coronavirus-linked suspension a few weeks ago, but in both 2000 and 2005, for example, they were 12th and last.
And yes, even the best team historically by a country mile for title successes, the Crusaders, know all about wooden spoons - they had that dubious status in the first year of Super Rugby-proper, 1996.
But here is our choice of three South African sides to have plumbed the depths the most conspicuously in specific years ...
Here was proof, if you ever needed it, of a coach learning the hard way, gritting his teeth ... and bouncing back a few years later to take the same outfit to maiden SA title glory in 2007.
That coach, of course, was Heyneke Meyer, later also to become a Springbok mastermind with a very decent, almost 67 percent win record.
But in 2002, a competitive Bulls side in Super Rugby wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye: instead they became the first instance in the tournament of a team losing every single fixture: all 11 ordinary-season games were surrendered, with a solitary log point to show.
Meyer was an unusually young 34 for a head coach at the time, and had even had a prior spell in the Loftus hotseat as a more callow individual in 2000, so he certainly got healthily accustomed to the school of hard knocks early, while admirably not losing his self-belief at the job.
His charges leaked exactly 500 points that season, clearly indicating defensive shortcomings, while posting 232 for a points differential of minus-268: the overseas tour was especially depressing as they lost 49-15 to the Crusaders, 48-12 to the Reds, 65-24 to the Blues and 53-24 to the Chiefs.
With Victor Matfield in only his second season at Loftus and Danie Rossouw and Bakkies Botha first-year novices (no sign yet of Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies or Bryan Habana, either), the Bulls lacked genuinely big names in their midst … although they did fight back notably in the domestic Currie Cup that year to hint at better times ahead, thumping neighbours the Golden Lions 31-7 in the final.
Wing legend of the 1995 World Cup triumph he may have been, and usually the wearer of an infectious smile, but (the late) Chester Williams didn’t always have it so easy as a franchise-level coach.
He was at the strategic helm in this awful year for the Cats, although an instant defence would be that the strange alliance between the Golden Lions and Free State was never a marriage made in heaven.
They brought up the rear, with only one win - a tight 23-21 Ellis Park outcome against the Chiefs – to show, and that despite some formidable enough names in their ranks like Os du Randt, CJ van der Linde, Ricky Januarie, Andre Pretorius and emerging other future Test stars like Juan Smith and Jaque Fourie.
Their heaviest reverse was in conceding 10 tries to eventual champions the Brumbies in Canberra, where the final score was 68-28.
This having been the era of an already expanding, 14-team competition, the Lions remain dubious holders of the record - based on this disastrous season - of worst year statistically for a “duck” team in the results column, with nought from 13.
Under a short-lived coaching tenure by Dick Muir, the cerebral former Springbok and popular Sharks midfielder, these Lions never left the blocks.
Then under Eugene Eloff, they’d finished a humdrum enough 12th out of 14 in the previous season, but had at least registered four victories.
But the year of the momentous soccer World Cup on these shores only proved an enduring nightmare for the 2010 Lions crew, the points differential of a scary minus-315 saying plenty; they also ended as many as 14 log points adrift of the next worst Western Force.
A season in which imports like Carlos Spencer and Todd Clever couldn’t make a massive difference to Jo’burg fortunes, perhaps the one very minor “positive” was their contribution to a record-breaking, quite remarkable nine-tries-all spectacle at home against the Chiefs - who nevertheless still won the breathless affair 72-65.
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