Mind Games: Slim pickings indicative of Super Rugby stagnation

2014-05-04 15:00

An inescapable aspect of this year’s Super Rugby competition has been the empty seats at every stadium.

But the terraces are not the only indication that this is a sparse season – there’s also a paucity of players. By this I don’t mean the long list of crocked soldiers. Rather, the almost complete absence of exciting young players coming up in the ranks.

Whether it is a general malaise of a tournament that has become tired or the fact that international coaches are moving their pieces into place for next year’s rugby World Cup, it is difficult to call to mind someone who, to use a sporting cliché, has burst on to the scene.

In South Africa, the focus has tended to be on who’s hurting rather than on who’s shining, and I had to rack my brain to find a newcomer of whom it can be said: “That boy will be a Springbok...”

Lions fly half Marnitz Boshoff caught my attention with his kicking exploits early on in the season, but he has since been caught up in the turmoil of a side battling to be competitive and has not been able to show whether he has the other tools to be a test number 10.

The Sharks’ young stand-in ­fly half Tim Swiel is clearly promising but has not made the entrance that suggests he will soon vault to the leading role, while

the likes of Bulls hooker Bongi Mbonambi and fly half Handré Pollard, Lions scrum half Faf de Klerk and Sharks centre Sibusiso Sithole have had their moments, but are all locked in the queue behind more established players.

Bulls flanker Jacques du Plessis, a former champion javelin thrower, is arguably the only genuine newcomer to attain a regular starting position. But while he might have caught the attention because of his size, which would enable him to double up as a lock, he is not yet the finished product.

When it comes to rugby, Australia is very much like South Africa in that no youngsters with star quality have come to the fore; but the Wallabies, like the Springboks, will still be able to pick a decent test team by combining the best qualities contained in their provincial teams.

That leaves New Zealand to provide the one player who might this season go all the way from outback to All Black.

Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa has emerged as arguably the most exciting three-quarter in a country that abounds with them with his bewildering stepping and powerful defence.

The 22-year-old former schoolboy and sevens international looks to be the one player who might turn his debut season in Super Rugby into an All Black call-up.

The Kiwis also have potential in Ardie Savea, the brother of All Black wing Julian and a former captain of the New Zealand schoolboy side. But although the young Hurricane has immense potential, it is unlikely his All Black turn will come this season.

Others who have made blips on the radar are Crusaders loose head prop Jordan Taufua and high-scoring Highlanders’ fly half Lima Sopoaga. But arguably the biggest impact has been made by a player not (yet) eligible to play for New Zealand – giant Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo.

The latest in a long line of wings to earn the epithet of being “the next Jonah Lomu”, Fijian Nadolo at least has size on his side.

He is as tall as Lomu (1.96m), but at 125kg is in fact 5kg heavier than the Tongan-born winger was in his prime.?Nadolo made a slow start in Super Rugby but has become a key contributor in the Crusaders’ resurgence and you can be sure the NZ Rugby Football Union has tasked a clerk to check his credentials.

At 26, though, the itinerant Nadolo – who has had spells in Australia, France and England – does not have time on his side to become eligible for the All Blacks through naturalisation.

So, for the exception of Fekitoa, it seems unlikely there will be any new caps in the line-ups of the three Sanzar partners when the midyear tests are played next month.

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