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    Wind knocked out of Super Rugby's sails?

    2016-06-29 11:51

    Lloyd Burnard - Sport24

    Cape Town - The South Africa v Ireland series was frenetic, from start to finish. 

    Two weeks of build-up in Cape Town followed by three tightly-contested Test matches ensured that June was devoted almost entirely to the Springboks. 

    And when the Allister Coetzee era got off to the rockiest of starts, public interest in the Boks reached new heights as everyone offered an opinion.  

    By the end of it all Coetzee and the Springboks recovered to claim the series win in the most dramatic fashion. They showed remarkable character in Johannesburg and hardcore resilience in Port Elizabeth to right the wrongs of that woeful Newlands day. 

    The performances may not be complete just yet, but there has been an unmissable excitement accompanying this new-look set-up throughout the series. 

    The Coetzee era is up and running, and it has our attention.

    Super Rugby, meanwhile, has been fast asleep. 

    Throw the SA 'A' mini-series against the England Saxons into the equation, and there were over 50 Super Rugby players devoted to international duty in June. 

    They will all shift their focus back to the 18-team mega tournament this weekend, just seven days after the Boks threw themselves at the Irish in a bruising encounter at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. 

    After the explosion that was the Springbok series, it feels as if the international break has knocked the wind out of Super Rugby's sails somewhat. 

    With only three rounds of fixtures remaining, this is supposed to be squeaky bum time in Super Rugby as teams look to book their playoff spots. 

    The Lions are in the running to top the overall log while the Stormers, Bulls and Sharks all have a lot of work to do if they are to feature in the knockouts. 

    Of those four teams, only one is set to be eliminated in the Group stages. It's all up for grabs and the next three weeks will decide which team misses out. 

    One would think, then, that we would be seeing teams fielding their best players in the run-in. 

    But, thanks to the June Internationals, that is not the case. 

    In fact, all four of those teams look set to be without their captains for this weekend's fixtures. 

    The Lions have lost Warren Whiteley for the season after he picked up a shoulder injury for the Boks, the Bulls are resting Adriaan Strauss for their trip to the Jaguares after the Bok captain played almost every minute of the Ireland series, Frans Malherbe is missing the Stormers' tour to Australia with a neck injury while Pat Lambie's concussion looks almost certain to keep him out of this weekend's trip to Ellis Park. 

    Saturday's clash between the Lions and Sharks should have been a blockbuster. 

    The Sharks are desperate to win and their season could hinge on this match. 

    In addition, the contest was set to dish up a showdown between Lambie and Elton Jantjies - the two flyhalves who are expected to do battle for the No 10 jersey in this year's Rugby Championship. 

    There will still be enough quality on the field to ensure an entertaining game of rugby - Mapoe, Combrinck, De Klerk, Jantjies, Pietersen, Mvovo - but the tie has definitely lost some of its sparkle with Lambie, Whiteley and Willie le Roux (suspension and suspected shoulder injury) out as a result their Springbok ventures. 

    With Trevor Nyakane and RG Snyman also out injured, the Bulls are perhaps feeling the aftermath of the international window more than any of the other South African teams.

    There isn't any blame here. 

    Injuries happen and that is part of the game. But the scheduling of the expanded Super Rugby competition continues to pose problems, it seems.

    Before the break, the run-in to the playoffs was gaining momentum. 

    Now, at the business end of the tournament, franchises who have done their best to manage their superstars all season are left to pick up the pieces.  

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    Saturday, 17 February 2018
    • Stormers v Jaguares, Cape Town 15:05
    • Lions v Sharks, Emirates Airlines Park 17:15
    Friday, 23 February 2018
    • Highlanders v Blues, 08:35
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    • Sunwolves v Brumbies, Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium 06:15
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    • Bulls v Hurricanes, Loftus Versfeld 17:15

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