If South African rugby had to cut its participants in Super Rugby based only this weekend’s matches, only the Kings would’ve survived.
Deon Davids’ brave and eminently skillful group of fighters provided the only local highlight with their win over the much-fancied Waratahs in Sydney.
But the rest, frankly, was dross.
Sharks and Andre Esterhuizen deliver the inexplicable
When coach Robert du Preez was asked if he had some harsh words for his players after a horrendous 9-all draw with the Rebels, he gave an ironic smile.
“The players should go out and refund every member of the public that came out to watch this game. It was really that bad,” he said in the calmest of fashion.
“It’s just not good enough. If you represent a proud franchise like the Sharks, this performance must rate as one of the worst I’ve ever seen.”
The Sharks mentor mentioned how it was frustrating that the hosts only conceded six penalties – to the Rebels’ massive 18 – yet felt the pinch more because their indiscretions were so crucial in the context of the result.
But what really got to him was centre Andre Esterhuizen’s needless red card for a tip tackle.
“That was disappointing, especially because it happened after the whistle had gone,” said Du Preez.
“That’s just plain poor.”
Lions have a winning off-day
Johan Ackermann’s troops weren’t great against the shrewd Jaguares in a narrow 24-21 win on Friday evening.
Yet even if the visitors finally showed why they can be considered an international side, the Lions actually created more than enough opportunities not to have made this such a tight squeeze.
“It was frustrating because we didn’t play the rugby we wanted to. There was a lot of opportunities in the first half that we should have taken. The Jaguares shouldn’t have been in the game at half-time,” said Ackermann.
Winning sides though prevail even if they don’t deserve it and the men from Johannesburg are still in a fine position going into their Australia tour.
“The important thing is we still have our destiny in our own hands,” said Ackermann.
“We’re going to play sides fighting for their Super Rugby survival and that’s challenging. But we’re hoping to see it as a period where we can also bond as a group.”
Small victories for struggling Bulls
A 20-14 victory over the Cheetahs at Loftus was timely but hardly confidence-inspiring for a Bulls side that still looks off the pace.
However, they have a bye now to try and put things into perspective.
And given how bad 2017 has been, maybe one could forgive coach Nollis Marais for not worrying about their structural weaknesses now.
“If we didn’t show any belief in ourselves and our ability‚ we should have lost this game by more than 30 points‚” he said.
“I’m proud of how the boys came out of the fight. We shouldn’t be in this position but we are.
But his not naive.
“Our forwards aren’t getting their act together. We’re not getting the set-piece correct. We should be getting better ball and we’re not giving our backs a good opportunity to attack,” said Marais.
Cheetahs are afraid of traffic lights
Franco Smith really must be wondering how his men are losing games they should be winning.
Yes, it’s a growing group but to spill the chance of an away win at Loftus is frustrating.
“Playing out there is like a yellow light at a traffic light‚” he said.
“Its either go or stop. You have to do one of those and if you hesitate‚ you’ll get into an accident and that’s where we are now.”
This analogy is a simple one: the Cheetahs urgently need clarity on their Super Rugby future.
“There’s a big monkey sitting on our backs and we’re making panic decisions,” said Smith.
“At vital periods in games, we start looking at the scoreboard and wonder about the futures of the union and the fans. When you talk about it from Monday to Saturday‚ it sinks into your subconscious and we’re playing not to lose instead of wanting to win.”
Kings create a talent show
It’s unlikely the Kings will keep a place in Super Rugby.
As a result, priorities are kept rather simple: provide talented players with a platform to catch the eye of bigger teams.
Coach Deon Davids is certainly achieving that with gems like Makazole Mapimpi, Malcolm Jaer, Andisa Ntsila and Chris Cloete.
“We know there’s a lot of talent in the Eastern Cape,” said Davids.
“It’s about giving these players the chance to perform consistently at this level with the right structures and support. They’re improving so quickly and testament to what they can do with proper opportunity.”