Super Rugby

Super Rugby in 2019: Crusaders too strong for SA's Super Heroes

Pretoria - In a year that promised much, there was one 80s flashback that all South Africans could do without - the breakdancing.

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Because in Super Rugby 2019 breakdancing meant another title for the Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, and another reminder that the South Island franchise is simply in a class of its own when it comes to success in the competition.

Not that Robertson is a bad fit. Even to South Africans on the other end of the winners podium the blond surfer coach is a breath of fresh air in a stale rugby arena. He is forthright and honest, and knows how to have fun. And man he can coach.

But that wouldn't be considered a highlight in a year where the Springboks dominated the headlines. The important bit was always going to be the Rugby World Cup, but Super Rugby has a way of tangling with the emotions and reminding us that while we have immense rugby talent around these parts, putting it together in four top teams against some of the best opposition in world rugby can be a challenge.

So in looking back on a 2019 Super Rugby season the standards we judge ourselves by probably aren't fair in comparison to the all-conquering Crusaders, but there was enough hope and joy to put together a blueprint for Rassie Erasmus to take to Japan and return home with the trophy.

But considering the drain of players to overseas clubs, and the fact that there are more professional South African players playing abroad than in Super Rugby currently, there still were some exceptional highlights for the teams involved.

Puma Rugby on the way up

The surprise – and perhaps not so much to those who had followed the side through the last few seasons – was the rise of the Jaguares and their ability to win in South Africa. Almost unbeatable to South African sides in Buenos Aires, their fallability was always their away game. But in a suicide moment at Loftus Versfeld they scored twice in the last five minutes to down the Bulls and pulled off a massive win over the Sharks at Kings' Park.

It was no wonder they were the first foreign winners of the South African conference and well-deserved as well, showing that Puma rugby is on the up and their depth is increasing thanks to some well-versed management of their resources.

And while the Pumas and Crusaders dominated proceedings, the Brumbies won a lopsided Australian conference, which again provided more questions than answers. It was almost a foregone conclusion as the play-offs arrived that the Argentinean side and the defending champions looked to be the top teams in the competition with home ground advantage counting plenty once again when it came to the final.

Looking ahead

And of the South African sides, the Bulls looked the best, thanks to their Springboks and the acquisitions of the evergreen Schalk Brits and hardman Duane Vermeulen. They won five out of their six derbies, including big wins over the Lions and Stormers in the process and were the most consistent of all the South African sides.

But like all the other franchises, they were fallable, and lost games that they should have won, ensuring their spot in the play-offs but a nightmare trip to Wellington in New Zealand where they performed admirably but fell ultimately short.

The Stormers said goodbye to Robbie Fleck, and even though they had the most depth of any team, found a way to end the bottom of the SA conference log. The Lions lost Swys de Bruin midway in their New Zealand tour and found the going tough as they started to bring through some unbelievable young talent.

The Sharks also won themselves a playoff spot, but had to deal more off field with coach Robert du Preez, who likened critical journalists to cockroaches, than success on the field.

In all it was mildly disappointing year for the South African franchises, and one where World Cup success would cover up the cracks. With the Bok exodus, 2020 will present a young, inexperienced and fresh look to the South African franchises and open up new challenges against old foes.

Some may well say 2019 went to script. Everyone played and in the end the Crusaders won.

And then there was the breakdancing.

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