Key Thoughts After Super Rugby Round 15

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JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 01: Jaco Kriel of the Lions scores during the Super Rugby match between Emirates Lions and Sunwolves at Emirates Airline Park on July 01, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The key thoughts after Super Rugby Round 15 for this scribe is where the South African Rugby Union (SARU) are headed with the Super Rugby competition.

Key Thoughts After Super Rugby Round 15

This is not a discussion about the complexity of the current format. We know it is a mess. The competition is too long and viewership is declining. Player resources in South Africa are spread too thinly across six franchises. SANZAAR have decided to cut three teams from the competition, with the likely unlucky losers in South Africa being the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings and in Australia the axe will fall on either the Western Force or the Melbourne Rebels. Nothing new. We take a look two possibly controversial key thoughts coming out of this.

Who selected the teams to be culled?

The decision to cull two South African and one Australian Super Rugby team was based on one simple fact. Playing resources are too thin to sustain the current number of teams in both countries. That is fair enough, but how does a team like the Sunwolves, who have won only one game this year and were two massive hidings from the Chiefs (83-17) and the Lions (94-7), still justify their spot in the competition? They are weaker than the teams that are being dropped due their lack of competitiveness and their future outlook is no brighter.

The Jaguares have flattered to deceive. They started off well in both 2016 and 2017, but have faded horribly. They have a large contingent of Puma internationals in their squad, a strong title sponsor, a decent coaching team. Why can’t they make it work?

In South Africa, the Cheetahs have a rich history in producing Springbok after Springbok. They always struggle to retain this talent as they don’t have the financial resources. How would not having a Super Rugby franchise impact on this hotbed of talent in South African rugby?

The Kings have a history that is not well understood. They failed dismally in embracing the birth of the professional era back in the 1990’s, being side tracked by political bloodbaths in the boardroom. This had a negative impact on their marketability and have not had a significant sponsor since the inception of the professional era. Similar to the Cheetahs yet very different, the Kings have access to an untapped, undeveloped player base. A five year stint in Super Rugby, with the finances required to contract and retain local talent, would be beneficial for South African rugby. The Kings Academy, under the tutelage of Robbie Kempson, has already produced results. This included an under 19 Currie Cup title against all odds. SARU have also painted themselves into a corner, having promised National Government to bring top class rugby back to the Eastern Cape region. Having recently demoted the Kings to the First Division of the Currie Cup, how do they keep to that commitment if the region does not have a Super Rugby franchise?

Does SARU have a hidden agenda? 

After agreeing with SANZAAR to cull two teams based on the fact that the country is unable to sustain six Super Rugby franchises, they have been in negotiation with the organizers of the PRO12 tournament. Why? To find a competition to accommodate both the Cheetahs and Kings. If SARU agreed with SANZAAR’s thinking, they would surely never have looked for alternative competitions for their affected teams? So why on earth would they do this? Are they possibly looking at having one foot in the Southern Hemisphere and Super Rugby and the other in Europe in PRO12 with a view to joining the PRO12 with all their teams in future?

Could they possibly be testing the waters in Europe before withdrawing all their teams from the Super Rugby competition to compete in European competitions? The call has been there for a long time to compete in competitions in a similar time zone to South Africa, both for spectator and player convenience. The draw of the Pound is a major attraction, as is the possibility of qualifying to play in the European Rugby Championship.

Doing this would mean the death knell of the oldest and one of the most respected provincial rugby competitions in the world and turn the local rugby calendar on its head, but the positives may just be worth it.

SARU has earmarked Friday 7 July to make known their plans in terms of Super Rugby and possibly European participation as well.

Super Rugby Round 15: The Results

Cell C Sharks 17 Vodacom Bulls 30

Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Nic de Jager and Warrick Gelant 3; Conversions: Tian Schoeman 2; Penalties: Tian Schoeman 2

Cell C Sharks – Tries: Thomas du Toit and Curwin Bosch; Conversions: Curwin Bosch 2; Penalty: Curwin Bosch

The Bulls pulled of a minor surprise by claiming their first away win of the year against the Sharks in Durban. Springbok center Jan Serfontein carried his superb form against the touring French rugby team over into this game and showed all the promise he did as a Junior Springbok. He displayed the full set of skills and and set the Bulls backline on fire, creating a number of opportunities. The Bulls also fed off a number of Sharks errors, with Nic de Jager’s try as well as one of Gelant’s being a direct result of Sharks mistakes.

For the Sharks, scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, flyhalf Garth April and fullback Curwin Bosch were mostly disappointing. Reinach was slow on the ball and his passing was erratic. April and Bosch’s kicking game was sub par. The reality though is that the Sharks are the team moving forward into the playoffs and have every motivation to work on these shortcomings.

Toyota Cheetahs 34 – DHL Stormers 40

DHL Stormers – Tries: Cheslin Kolbe 3, Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla and Sikhumbuzo Notshe; Conversions: Cheslin Kolbe 4 and SP Marais.

Toyota Cheetahs – Tries: Reniel Hugo, Elandre Huggett, Clinton Swart and Raymond Rhule; Conversion: Niel Marais 4; Penalties: Marais 2

The Stormers had to fight harder than expected to defeat a determined Cheetahs team in Bloemfontein. Both teams played an expansive running and offloading game. The Stormers were simply better at it than the Cheetahs. They passed to players who were in a better position than themselves as opposed to the more frantic passing for the sake of passing that the Cheetahs displayed.

The Cheetahs tried too hard to run out of their own quarter instead of playing for position first.

Jaguares 30 Southern Kings 31

Jaguares – Tries: Juan Manual Leguizamon, Emiliano Boffelli, Nicolas Sanchez, Joaquín Tuculet 2 Conversions: Sanchez Penalties: Sanchez

Southern Kings – Tries: Luzuko Vulindlu, Makazole Mapimpi 2, Wandile Mjekevu Conversions: Lionel Cronje 4 Penalties: Cronje

The Kings traveled to Buenous Aires to take on Super Rugby’s underachievers, the Jaguares. The Argentinian side has a large contingent of Test players in their ranks and were beaten at home by the thrown together team from Port Elizabeth. The Kings relied on a solid first phase to claw themselves back into the game after falling behind by 11 points.

The Kings are lucky that Jaguares flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez had a poor day off the kicking tee.

Emirates Lions 94 – Sunwolves 7

Emirates Lions – Tries: Ruan Combrinck (3), Jaco Kriel (2), Kwagga Smith (2), Ross Cronje, Elton Jantjies, Akker van der Merwe, Courtnal Skosan, Faf de Klerk, Sylvian Mahuza, Ruan Ackermann Conversions: Elton Jantjies (7), Ruan Combrinck (4), Faf de Klerk

Sunwolves – Try: Uwe Helu. Conversion: Jumpei Ogura

What can be said about a 94 points to 7 thumping? The Lions fans will be celebrating their teams’ victory. The rest of the world will be wondering what the Sunwolves are still doing in the competition as they offered nothing. For the Lions, it was a great hit-out after a month layoff. The unfortunate thing is that they go straight into a bye and the momentum they gained out of this game will not carry through to a tougher test of their title credentials.

Commentator Gcobani Bobo made the comment of the night, stating that the Lions had given their media partners, 94.7 Highveld Stereo, extra mileage with this 97 to 7 win.

With this victory, the Lions were confirmed as Conference champions.

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