South Africa’s Super Rugby campaign is on hold for now as the Springboks take centre stage against France from next week.
It’s been yet another fairly depressing campaign as the gap between the local sides and their New Zealand counterparts seems familiarly wide.
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And despite the Lions, Sharks and Kings’ relative success, it’s come against a desperately poor Australian conference.
So, what then have we exactly have we become wise?
The Lions are arguably better than last year
In 2016, Johan Ackermann’s troops were runners-up and beat four of the five New Zealand teams.
This year, they haven’t faced Kiwi opposition yet, leading to complaints that they’re having it easy.
But the Lions can only play what is in front of them and they’re doing it emphatically.
In fact, they’ve improved in virtually every aspect.
Their tackle completion rate (86% as opposed to 84%) is better; they’re winning more line-outs (91% to 88%) and even their dangerous scrum (91% success to 90%) is better.
During it all, the Lions have still scored 64 tries – clearly not neglecting what they do best.
In other words, they’re a more complete team than last year.
Boring Sharks actually show us what Test rugby is about
Everybody loves attacking rugby and everybody talks about it too.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez might not win the public’s hearts with the practical way he wants his team to play.
But he’s going to win rugby matches.
You see, the ironic thing about the Durbanites’ way of playing is that it’s actually far closer to Test rugby than you think.
Say what you will, international rugby isn’t as open as Super Rugby.
There, you need a solid scrum and line-out – something the Sharks manage brilliantly – and, most importantly, watertight defence.
Du Preez’s troops are the best defenders in this year’s tournament and when the going gets tough, their organised tackling could be more valuable than dangerous attackers.
It’s been proven at World Cups before.
Stormers need to tick the boxes one at a time
“People are expecting us to in three months what the Lions did in five years.”
Coach Robbie Fleck wasn’t making excuses, he was being realistic.
If anything, the Stormers’ biggest mistake this season was starting so well, winning six out of six.
It created unrealistic expectations.
The Capetonians want to play skillful, attacking rugby but it’s going to take time.
Take the Lions for example.
In 2013 and 2014, they focused on finding their style and developing skills.
In 2015, they formulated their pattern on defence and concentrated on executing it.
Last year, they refined their attack and worked towards becoming a complete team.
This season, they are one.
The Stormers would do well to tick the boxes one at a time.
Good coaching is better than good players
The Bulls boast talents like Jan Serfontein, Handre Pollard, Jesse Kriel, Adriaan Strauss and Lood de Jager.
The Kings have, well, promising no-name brands.
Why are the men from the Eastern Cape doing better?
Simple answer: they’re actually coached well.
Deon Davids has done a sterling job at the Kings, cultivating a great team spirit and developing a game plan that’s well executed by his players.
In contrast, Nollis Marais’ Bulls look hapless.
There’s little evidence of a plan, they keep knocking on balls and their set-pieces are a mess.
Marais isn’t solely responsible for the Bulls’ messy situation but he’s a large part of it.
The Currie Cup isn’t a measure for Super Rugby success
This point is a simple one.
Franco Smith’s Cheetahs exploited last year’s provincial competition brilliantly to win the title.
A few months later, they struggle to cope with the demands of Super Rugby.
The Currie Cup’s standard is only going to get worse…