Mind Games: A not-so-super year for SA rugby

2014-08-04 10:00

The Sharks’ abject exit from the Super Rugby competition has created a flawed mind-set when it comes to analysing the tournament.

The focus on the Sharks’ disappointing implosion in the home straight has deflected attention from what was a pretty dismal showing by South Africa’s five teams.

Since the Super 14 was replaced by Super Rugby in 2011 with the addition of one more team – when the Bulls won the title three times in four years from 2007 to 2010 – South Africa’s overall performance has been substandard.

In what might be an indication that local players have been worn down by continued unequal travel and a system that includes too many punishing local derbies, the Sharks reached the final against the Chiefs in 2012, only to be tripped up by the same jet lag that caught up with them against the Crusaders this year, but in the past two years there has been evidence of an overall malaise.

The most worrying aspect must be whether the style of play preferred by most of our teams, from the Springboks down, is still as effective as we think it is.

Each year the playing of the various schoolboy rugby tournaments provides cause to marvel at the amazing talent, depth and organisation that exists in South African rugby, yet these gifts are seldom reflected in the way our senior teams play.

Some disturbing facts lay hidden in the innumerable statistics generated by the recent Super Rugby tournament.

The five South African teams were dramatically outstripped when it came to scoring tries – 156 to the 219 put down by the New Zealand teams and the 213 registered by the Australian sides.

Naturally, local officials, with an ostrich mentality, will point to the fact that our teams conceded the least tries – 185 to New Zealand’s 202. The difference is not as marked as with tries scored, but this fails to acknowledge that the International Rugby Board has been actively trying to restore the founding principle that the aim of the game must be to score tries.

The disparity is even more marked when one looks at individual try-scorers. This list (in league play) was topped by Israel Folau of the Waratahs with 12 tries, followed by Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders) with 11 and the quartet of Kurtley Beale (Waratahs), Jesse Mogg, Robbie Coleman (both Brumbies) and George Moala (Blues) on eight.

There is a group of six on seven and only then do you get to the top South Africans with Cobus Reinach, Cornal Hendricks and Lionel Mapoe – each on six.

A simple gauge to establish overall performance is to add up the positions on the log of the five representatives of the competing nations to provide a value. Thus the Waratahs (1), the Brumbies (4), the Force (8), the Reds (13) and the Rebels (15) would give Australia a score of 41. New Zealand’s number is 30. South Africa comes in at 49.

Given South Africa’s depth and the standing of rugby in our sporting set-up, it is unacceptable that Australia, where the rugby union takes a back seat to cricket, Aussie rules, and rugby league, should achieve a better return.

SA Rugby Union CE Jurie Roux, obviously stung by criticism that South African teams rely on an overly and overtly physical style of play, exhorted the boys at Craven Week to strive to make the country No 1 in the world by playing “our rugby, not anybody else’s rugby”.

However, this mind-set has been proven to be wrong whenever a team has stood up to us, and one would like to see a greater desire to incorporate the flair that often comes to the fore in the boys’ weeks.

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