The Super Rugby 2019 tournament is over for the South African franchises. The Stormers and Lions didn’t make the playoffs, and the Bulls and Sharks both lost their quarterfinal matches.
Super Rugby 2019 over for SA franchises
It will be of little solace to South Africans that a team competing in the South African Conference, the Jaguares, are favourites to win their upcoming semi-final against the Brumbies in Buenos Aires. That would be like asking the Australian rugby public to celebrate the successes (if any) of the Sunwolves.
The bounce of the rugby ball never seemed to quite go the way of four continental sides. The ball escaped them; not without effort, but simply through tactics, option taking, and when it came to the crunch – all sides were left wanting.
We take a brief look at each of the local teams seasons.
The Lions suffered the loss of a number of senior players at the beginning of the season. They managed to be very competitive throughout Super Rugby 2019, ending up 4th in the very tightly contested South African Conference. This was only two points behind the Sharks, who qualified for the quarter-finals in a wildcard position. A big positive for the Lions was the number of young players who made the step up to Super Rugby level. As is often the case with a team blooding youngsters, consistency was an issue. It can be said of all the local teams that consistency was a serious issue.
Dissent in the camp?
There does appear to be some level of dissent within the Lions camp which will need to be addressed. Flyhalf Elton Jantjies was stood down from the squad after their game against the Sharks in Durban for ignoring captain Kwagga Smith’s on-field instructions. Jantjies is out of contract in October and he and the Lions have yet to agree to terms.
Inconsistency was the Stormers middle name this year. They confounded their fans with their inability to string consistent performances together. Their biggest failing in 2019 was the lack of a coherent pattern of play. It was a diet of bashing through the midfield, with little variety to make that diet palatable. Pieter-Steph du Toit played himself to a standstill with his ball carrying in the mid-field and a tackle count far too high for one individual.
The Newlands faithful have been crying out for change in the coaching structure for two years. At last they get their wish. Robbie Fleck vacates the hot seat, to be replaced by the highly rated John Dobson. Many wanted Dobson to take over the reigns mid-season, but he quite rightly did not do so. To take over a squad lacking in confidence, riddled with injuries and using a pattern of play that he would need to change mid-season would have been a disaster in itself.
Starting with a clean slate in 2020 would be best for the coach, team and supporters.
The Bulls ended their season with a display that mirrored the start. In week 1, they hammered a hapless Stormers team at Loftus Versveld. No-one will want to celebrate a loss, but the spirited fight they put up in losing away to the Hurricanes does show that there is quality in their squad.
Unfortunately, the Bulls squad will once again be decimated by a mass exodus of players at the end of September.
What hurt the Bulls?
The Bulls will rue a poor mid-season. Consecutive home losses to the Chiefs and the Jaguares, followed by an away loss to the struggling Stormers prevented them from making a serious challenge to top the South African Conference.
Cell C Sharks
The Sharks qualified for the quarter-finals of Super Rugby 2019 and some would regard that as a level of success. It should be remembered that the Sharks were nearly dumped out of the playoff rounds by the Stormers in their final round robin match. It took a moment of brilliance from Lukhanyo Am to run the perfect line to score after the hooter and win the game.
It is this writer’s considered opinion that the Sharks possibly have the best squad of the South African teams. This is the view of many pundits and fans around the country. Sneaking into the playoffs via the back door and then being at the receiving end of 38 points to 13 thumping away to the Brumbies was not on the agenda in the Sharks boardroom.
The game plan
Call is what you want. Game plan. Pattern of play. The Sharks didn’t have it. Unless we call shifting the ball to the big bloke with the low number a game plan. The talent the Sharks have out wide deserved much better than that.
The Du Preez factor
This has been covered ad nauseum, but remains relevant. Robert du Preez (Snr) has been quoted as saying that his sons select themselves. That is incredibly disrespectful to any other loose forwards or flyhalves in the Sharks squad and amounts to a shut out for them. The Du Preez boys have their fan club, but they have their failings too. A more critical coach would be calling out Jean-Luc and Dan for their upright carrying of the ball, or their laziness to get off the ground at ruck time to take up their defensive positions.
Robert du Preez (Jnr) has generally been preferred above Curwin Bosch at flyhalf. When Bosch was given the starting 10 jersey, there was a visible improvement in the Sharks attacking play. Even when given the starting position, the predictable change came at 60 minutes. Bosch would be moved to fullback and Du Preez would take over the flyhalf position, mostly to the detriment of the Sharks attacking play.
To be fair to Du Preez (Jnr), he has been over played and is in desperate need of a long break. Instead of taking the traditional December and January break South African players enjoy, he was playing for the Sale Sharks.
The end of the cockroach coach?
Robert du Preez (Snr) has not endeared himself to the Sharks squad, Executive or fans. The game they are playing is limited and surely frustrating for the players to execute. Very few would disagree that he has favoured his sons when selecting his starting team. The final nail in the Du Preez coaching coffin might just be his comments regarding the South African rugby media, referring to them as “cockroaches”. Those cockroaches talk to the fans when they publish their thoughts and opinions. Alienating the press is one of the worst mistakes any coach or player can make.
Never a dull day in South African rugby.
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