The so-called Preparation Series wrapped up on Sunday ahead of the start of the Rainbow Cup towards the end of April.
These are the five things we’ll remember of the “competition”.
The youth policy was controversial, but also innovative
The youth policy adopted by especially the four teams who are headed to play in the Rainbow Cup wasn’t always welcomed with open arms, but it gave valuable exposure to the next generation, and it gave the top four teams the chance to widen and strengthen their squads.
It, however, didn’t always produce the required results as shown in the big defeats the Bulls and Lions suffered in the final round to the Sharks and Stormers respectively.
Incentives to speed up play worked to a certain extent
SA Rugby invented a method to speed up play to ensure the ball in play increased from 25 minutes to 38 minutes, for example. Only 30 seconds was allowed for a scrum feed, just 90 seconds for a conversion to take place and just 30 seconds for an attempted penalty at goal.
The plan worked to the extent that ball in play time was considerably higher, but some players weren’t very impressed by referees who ordered them to run and not walk to the next lineout or scrum.
The series allowed for conditioning of the top players
With the younger players mostly used in the openings two rounds the coaches could give their senior group time off to rest and condition for bigger challenges that lie ahead. Many though couldn’t return to action, with someone like Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen using the opportunity to undergo surgery.
Most of the Springboks who’ll feature against the British and Irish Lions later this year only played the last two matches of the series, and they’ll now have another four weeks “off” to condition properly for the Rainbow Cup.
No trophy at play took the must-win scenario away
Not having a trophy to play for confused many fans. Some have even suggested the series was about teams preparing against teams they’re going to come up against again in the Rainbow Cup – which is not far off the mark.
But without a trophy or log points at stake the teams were able to play with a lot more freedom; it wasn’t a win at all costs approach. Most coaches welcomed the opportunity to field the young players and certain coaches also remarked that the series was more about the process than the result, while for the four teams outside the Rainbow Cup there was a chance to prepare for the next competition and the Currie Cup.
Did the EP Elephants gain anything out of the series?
It was a noble idea to include the Elephants in the series – to give them a chance to adapt to top-flight rugby after a long drought – but they suffered massive losses against the Bulls, Lions, Griquas and the Cheetahs. These teams didn’t even field their best players.
It was clear throughout the series the Elephants, who were made up of mostly club players, didn’t belong.
While it is important for EP to play top rugby again they need to first get their conditioning and fitness up to scratch and sort out their defence and set-pieces before considering taking on any of the so-called “big boys.”