David Moseley

What we learned from all SA Super Rugby semi

2012-07-31 08:41

David Moseley

I was at Newlands the night Western Province last won the Currie Cup. At this rate, it’s a story I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren such is the Cape side’s current aversion to silverware.

Still, on Saturday the Stormers were beaten by the better team. It’s as simple as that. Some numbskull ‘fans’ (the people who generally want to sack a coach when his season-long winning strategy fails in one game) have called the Newlands outfit out for choking, but that’s disrespectful to both the Stormers and the Sharks.

The Stormers gave it their all on the weekend, they’re just not a championship winning side right now (something I’ve been saying all season). The Sharks totally and utterly obliterated the SA Conference winners upfront and in all the key areas. Choking had nothing to do with it.

Strength in Sharks rugby aside, what else did we learn from an absorbing semifinal?

1 Ryan Kankowski should have left for Japan sooner

From the instant the fluffy haired loose forward announced that he would be moving to Japan for six months following the conclusion of the Super Rugby season he’s been playing like a man possessed.

What happened? Perhaps the Sharks have been moving forward more effectively, allowing Kankowski more time to do his thing. Or perhaps the knowledge that he’s out of here for a while has allowed to him to play more freely, opening up his game to the full range of skills he showed in his earlier days for the Sharks.

Whatever the cause for change, he’s become South Africa’s number one number eight. For such a skillful player, he’s been infuriatingly inconsistent for some time. Not so this season. Kanko, take a bow.

2 JP Pietersen is untouchable

It’s hard to believe that Pietersen was part of the Springbok’s 2007 World Cup winning team, not because he’s undeserving or untalented, but rather because he seems like such an unassuming presence, going about his business in the Bok jersey with minimal fuss.

This year, however, anyone with any doubts regarding his abilities would have been put in their place. He’s moved from wing to centre, back to wing and back to centre barely breaking a stride in 2012 except, of course, when he’s galloping towards the line. He’s always been strong and deceptively quick, but he’s added a welcome touch of elusiveness to his game this year, regularly ghosting past defenders.

We’re always gushing about the fluidness of All Black wings, but JP’s given us something to gape at in awe with his performances this year. Long may it continue.

3 Springbok rugby is in rude health

There was much agonising last year and earlier this season regarding the state of Springbok rugby. With a number of grizzly veterans retiring or moving overseas the common consensus concluded a lean spell for Springbok rugby. That appears unlikely now, provided, of course, the Bok boss gets his team selection right.

The Sharks and Stormers have too many standout players to mention, but consider too the state of the Bulls. They said goodbye to some serious talent before the start of the season, yet somehow they remained in Super Rugby contention right up to their weak capitulation against the Crusaders. That’s not a bad effort when you’ve just lost the likes of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.

If we look at the Super Rugby tournament as an international gauge, it’s quite obvious that New Zealand and the Boks will be tops in international rugby this year. However, too long have our Super Rugby teams performed well, only for the Boks to drop off the pace come Tri-Nations (now Rugby Championship).

That shouldn’t be the case this year. For once I think we’re going to see a Springbok rugby team (a young, new, lively team) play without fear overseas and reward fans at home with dominant displays, rather than patchy and scratchy ‘we’re building for the World Cup’ wins.

Or so one would hope.

4 Jaque Fourie isn’t being missed

I think Fourie is my favourite rugby player of all time. And who’s to say, had he been part of the Stormers squad for 2012 he might have added the extra oomph they needed to win the Super Rugby tournament. From a Bok perspective, though, it looks like he won’t be missed (too badly). This is not to say the replacement talent is in the same quality, but in Tim Whitehead, Paul Jordaan and JP Pietersen (the centre version) we look to have some thrilling centre skills. Let’s not forget that Juan de Jongh’s early season Bok exclusion was nothing short of scandalous.

5 The drop goal is alive and well, and essential

Freddie Michalak. Where did he come from? The wee Frenchman has been sublime in the latter half of the season, his form and confidence confirmed by two deadeye drops against the Stormers in the semifinal. The drop goal has long been a key part of the Boks arsenal, and long may it continue. There’s nothing better than a tight game clinched by an accurately executed drop on the fly. Or how about a whopping Frans Steyn howitzer from the middle of nowhere? It keeps the opposition honest and, more importantly, it lets them know that in tight game three points could be all the difference.

- Follow @david_moseley on Twitter.

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