Cape Town – The Sharks to boast the most comprehensive arsenal for a serious South African assault on the Super Rugby 2018 title.
That could be described as the most pertinent outcome of an extensive, six-part position-by-position examination by Sport24 – the series run over the last week or so -- of the playing resources of the four SA sides to take part in this year’s more streamlined competition.
Conducted by this writer, I fully admit to it being a subjective exercise; there will, inevitably, be many conflicting views over my judgements in each category.
People would also be entitled to regard the overall tallies with just a pinch of salt, given that some teams might fare spectacularly well for riches in one position, for example, but then see their overall score dragged down by the weakness I have perceived there to be in another.
Just as an example, the Bulls, who bring up the rear in this exercise for depth of talent – even they may quietly admit the big emphasis in 2018 is on gradual regrowth and improvement – earn a stellar rating for their lock stocks, yet generally get pretty humdrum ratings everywhere else.
But the Sharks, especially, scored solidly and consistently enough in virtually every category, by my judgement, and that is reflected in their final tally of 41.5 out of 60, which sees them top the whole survey by a whisker from the Lions (40.5), tournament runners-up in both 2016 and 2017.
Expect a welter of protest from Johannesburg, and maybe those people will have the last laugh on me; Saturday’s derby sizzler against the very Sharks at Emirates Airline Park ought to provide forceful early pointers.
It should also be noted that bookies generally would be at odds with my “Sharks first” theory; they still lean the Lions’ way for premier SA onslaught.
The Stormers, superbly staffed in some berths (especially when/if an early injury virus abates a bit) but rather more bare-boned in others, come in third here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe they have the intelligence and adaptability through absentee crises and the like to still surprise plenty of people.
In summary, there should be three SA teams pushing quite strongly for the knockout phase, with the Bulls primarily aiming to greatly better last year’s showing of 15th overall among the then 18 teams in a more swollen tournament.
Here is the full scoreboard from the exercise:
Bulls: 6/10; Lions: 7/10; Sharks 8/10; Stormers 6.5/10
Bulls: 5.5/10; Lions 7.5/10; Sharks 7/10; Stormers 6/10
Nines and tens
Bulls: 5/10; Lions 6/10; Sharks 6.5/10; Stormers 6/10
Bulls: 5/10; Lions 6.5/10; Sharks 6.5/10; Stormers 7/10
Bulls: 8/10; Lions 6.5/10; Sharks 7/10; Stormers 6.5/10
Bulls: 6/10; Lions 7/10; Sharks 6.5/10; Stormers 7/10
1 Sharks 41.5/60 (69.16 percent)
2 Lions 40.5/60 (67.5 percent)
3 Stormers 39/60 (65 percent)
4 Bulls 35.5/60 (59.16 percent)
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing