Blown away by the Hurricanes

Ultimately, it is the Hurricanes who must accept the blame. One of the most consistently inconsistent sides in Super Rugby over the years suddenly decided to show us all how the game should be played. The franchise that gave us Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu, Tana Umaga and a host of other greats has won nothing in 20 seasons of Super Rugby. This year they will not be denied.

Before the ‘Canes can lift the trophy and the competition expands to 18 sides next year, however, the other five sides need to decide who will be whipped in Hamilton in a fortnight’s time. It’s not easy to predict, for if you were to take away the ‘Canes, whose 14 wins and 66 log points saw them finish 14 points ahead of the second-placed Waratahs, this was the closest Super 15 ever.

Just seven points divide the sides finishing between second and seventh, all of whom won between nine and 11 matches. Sadly, even if you could wish away the ‘Canes, it would not change the fact that South Africa has only one team in the play-offs.

In the real world, the Stormers would have finished seventh and missed the play-offs altogether. In the artificial world of Super Rugby, they end third and host a play-off with the Brumbies at Newlands this week. They will be narrow favourites, even without talismanic captain Duane Vermeulen, having beaten the Brumbies at the same venue in log play earlier this year.

But the Stormers have developed a bad habit of losing home semifinals. The Crusaders were way too good for them in 2011 and the Sharks created a major upset the following season. The Brumbies have everything to gain and nothing to lose, and if there is one predictable aspect of the game it is that entertaining a full house will not be high on the priority list for either coach.


Dour defensive unit
The fact of the matter is that this Brumbies side is a completely different kettle of fish to the one that consistently hunted the title in the 1990s. The attacking flair of George Gregan, Joe Roff and Stephen Larkham has been replaced by a dour defensive unit with a predilection for grinding down opponents with the driving maul.

It is highly unlikely that their attacking instincts will be encouraged by the Stormers, who have reached the final stages thanks to a powerful pack and the infallible boot of flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis. The Cape side only managed a four-try bonus point twice in the whole competition, which suggests a dysfunctional link between forwards and backs.

Should the Stormers prevail on Saturday, they will have to travel to Sydney to play the Waratahs. In the circumstances, it is hard to believe that they can win.

The only South African happy with only one local side in the play-offs will be Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, who has more time to mould his players into a unit that could win the World Cup. Indeed, for the vast majority of the national squad, Meyer now assumes the mantle of mentor thanks to the comprehensive clear-out of coaches at franchise level.

The Stormers, Bulls, Sharks and Cheetahs will all be under new management next season, and the Kings, South Africa’s nascent sixth franchise, are still looking for someone to guide them into the Super 18. Only Johan Ackermann, head coach at the Lions, will resume franchise duties in 2016, assuming nothing unforeseen happens between now and then.

A chance to reinvent itself
It is, of course, a chance for our rugby to reinvent itself. New laws will be in place by next February and a new four-year cycle to the next World Cup will stretch ahead. The numerous experienced players heading to France, Japan and elsewhere will force franchises to adopt a youth policy, while the as-yet unnamed new coaching teams will have a blank sheet of paper on which to make their marks.

History suggests, however, that the ball will be dropped. The recent defeat of the Baby Boks in the under-20 world championships offered a harsh lesson. South African teams grow up accustomed to being bigger and harder than their opponents. When they are matched physically, as they were by the England juniors in Italy, they turn in on themselves.

As a rugby-playing nation, we should have learned our lesson by now. Opponents do not fear one-off ball carriers crashing into defenders; what they fear is big, strong runners swiftly moving the ball away from the point of contact. When our best sides do that, they are unstoppable, but it requires a leap of faith for players who have been brought up to pick and drive, pick and drive, pick and drive.

The success of New Zealand teams in this year’s Super Rugby has coincided with a concerted effort to play an expansive game. It may backfire on the All Blacks at the World Cup, where the side that makes the fewest mistakes tends to win – but imagine if it did not? New Zealand might win the tournament with, metaphorically speaking, as wide a margin as the Hurricanes.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Busy Bee continues to sting despite challenges

Cape Town’s oldest Black rugby club personifies the problems Black rugby faces, including attempts to have its history erased, being affected by apartheid and struggling financially for good resources

Lala kahle Kaunda Ntunja

South African rugby has lost a gentle giant in Kaunda Ntunja. His commentary in isiXhosa poetically ushered in the Springboks’ first black captain and ‘popped champagne’ after Mapimpi’s magic

The grey areas in Jake White’s coaching career

The World Cup-winning coach has an impeccable CV, with an illustrious coaching career that has taken him all over the globe. But he has a reputation problem

How Schalk Brits built his fantasy

The Springbok hooker built his long career on his ability to adapt — and will likely do so again now that he’s finally retired from rugby

Sport audit 2019: How SA’s national rugby team performed

The highlight of South Africa's year was the Springboks Rugby World Cup victory

Rennie: All Blacks left it too late to offer me coach job

New Zealand has said its new coaching team will be named before Christmas, but it has now missed out on at least three high-profile candidates
Advertising

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

Journey through anxious Joburg

A new book has collected writing about the condition of living, yes, with a high crime rate, but also other, more pervasive existential urban stresses particular to the Global South

Football legend Maradona dies

The Argentinian icon died at his home on Wednesday, two weeks after having surgery on a blood clot in his brain

Covid vaccines: Hope balanced with caution

As Covid vaccines near the manufacturing stage, a look at two polio vaccines provides valuable historical insights

Under cover of Covid, Uganda targets LGBTQ+ shelter

Pandemic rules were used to justify a violent raid on a homeless shelter in Uganda, but a group of victims is pursuing a criminal case against the perpetrators
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…