- Nick Mallett and Swys de Bruin expressed concern about the quality for SA’s rugby, but there are mitigating factors and it isn’t all bad.
- SA teams had a longer lockdown layoff to the Kiwis and have played rugby in cricketing summer conditions.
- Jake White’s Bulls have been entertaining, mainly because of innovative positional switches and daring play.
Former Springbok head coach and ex-Bok assistant coach Swys de Bruin weren’t necessarily wrong when they suggested that the South African rugby product was looking dim in the recent Currie Cup.
However, there are plenty mitigating circumstances for the often-stodgy encounters we saw towards the end of the Currie Cup pool stages.
Mallett and de Bruin, both highly respected rugby coaches-turned-pundits, were addressing some of the issues of the South African game since the post-lockdown restart at the end of September last year in their Final Whistle analysis programme last Sunday.
"It's difficult not to be a little bit negative on the performances of our teams quite frankly," said Mallett.
"If you compare it with the way New Zealand cracked on with their Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, with teams really embracing the quick ruck ball and ball in hand [style] ... they were reasonably high-scoring games, but the defences were excellent, and their attacks were great.
"And it was rugby that was worth watching."
Rugby worth watching is a highly subjective view, which perhaps can be challenged.
For one, the resurged Bulls have served up dimes in some of their games en route to the Super Rugby Unlocked title.
Nobody expected them to rout the Sharks and the Stormers at home so soon after their new director of rugby Jake White took over during the height of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The innovative selections White brought, when many expected a throwback to Naas Botha’s Bulls, were in itself something of a marvel.
We are quick to credit New Zealanders when, for instance, they take a punt on Rieko Ioane at No 13 from the wing and it pays off, or an Ardie Savea playing at the back, instead of the side, of the scrum.
But often we are blind to a South African coach linking traditional outside back Cornal Hendricks at inside centre with Sevens speedster Stedman Gans on his outside.
Yes, as Mallett also alluded to, there have been error-prone games but that can be attributed to the lengthier layoff South Africans had in comparison to New Zealanders when they returned to play.
And the Kiwis had the benefit of playing in winter conditions for their Aotearoa tournament, while our boys are deep in the embers of a cricketing summer.
I'd also venture as far as to say the Cheetahs made for some thrilling viewing towards the end of their Currie Cup campaign, when they beat the Sharks and pushed Western Province to a last-ditch Tim Swiel penalty.
Plus, don't forget, Aotearoa was played in front of "Test match" crowds of about 26 000 attendees per game.
Had the vociferous Bloemfontein crowd been there to wave orange flags every time Frans Steyn slotted in a 60m goal kick, it would put a different perspective on the "quality" of the entertainment.
De Bruin pointed out the time in play statistics and compared it to previous seasons.
"In Super Rugby in 2017 and 2018 we had 35 minutes of continuing play on average," the former Lions head coach said.
"We aimed for 40, if we got 35 or 36 we were happy. I spoke to one of the analysts and in the Currie Cup they're hitting 24, 25, 26 (minutes) ... so out of 80 minutes, you see 25 minutes of rugby and that’s a problem."
Again, you must consider the toll on the players who probably needed another pre-season before the restart and didn’t get it, plus having to play and train in foreign temperatures.
Covid outbreaks in teams, which have led to game cancellations and postponements, have also not helped.
Put all that together and maybe we should all be glad there is rugby to even speak about. There’ll be enough time to worry about the quality in 2021.
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