Bleak Super Rugby showing doesn’t have to be a Bok drag
Generally one is insignificant to the success of the other
The nature of coaching and professional sports is that downsides are inevitable, and losses and setbacks are part of the landscape.
Just ask Germany, Spain, Portugal and Argentina at the Fifa World Cup in Russia. Only one of them could have won it, all the coaches and players knew that, but none expected to be ousted so early in the 32-team tournament.
If professional players, and particularly coaches, can’t learn and carry on after defeats and, to use the old cliché, “take the positives” from difficult times, then competition would be futile.
Which is why Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus won’t dwell too long on the tepid form of South African teams in the Super Rugby competition.The Lions will, barring some massive upset in the last two rounds, have a home quarterfinal and semifinal if they progress that far. But they aren’t likely to win the tournament if they have to travel to New Zealand for a final. History is emphatic about that. It has never happened.
The Lions, South Africa’s best team currently, have also lost seven of their 15 games this season, which underlines how average they have been in a sea of mediocrity that is the SA Super Rugby conference.
The Sharks could squeeze into the top eight, but even if they do their playoff stay is unlikely to last longer than one round. And the Stormers and Bulls are so far behind that the top teams don’t so much need a mirror but a telescope to see them.
Erasmus could be gravely concerned about SA’s poor form against players that will staff the squads of New Zealand, Australia and Argentina in the Rugby Championship, which is the Boks’ next assignment. But he won’t be because Super Rugby form and international success are seldom aligned for the Springboks.When the Boks went on a 17-match winning streak, which included winning the 1998 Tri Nations, SA teams occupied three of the bottom four positions on the 12-team Super Rugby log that year.
In 2004 the Springboks won the Tri Nations again but only the Stormers made the Super Rugby semifinals with the Cats propping up the log and the Bulls and Sharks finishing mid-table.
In one of SA’s best seasons in Super Rugby – 2010 – when the Bulls beat the Stormers in the famous final at Soweto’s Orlando Stadium, the Boks were poor. It was statistically the Springboks’ worst year in the Tri Nations in which they lost five of six matches in the tournament. They also lost 21-17 to Scotland in November 2010.
There have been years such as 2007 and 2009 when Super Rugby and Springbok success have aligned, but generally one is insignificant to the success of the other.Erasmus’s job is to find 31 players out of 180 (including the Cheetahs and Kings from Pro 14 and overseas-based players) to do Bok duty, which is a reason why there is no need to become hysterical about the Boks’ fortunes in 2018.
The Springboks have already beaten England 2-1 in the series that mattered in June and set out their stall in terms of playing style and selections in those matches. That is the foundation Erasmus is going to build the Boks on, and not what is happening at franchises in a separate competition.
Another upside of collective Super Rugby failure is more recuperation time for key players before the Rugby Championships.
The Lions contributed only five players to the Bok squad in June, so even if they make the final the bulk of the national team will be preparing without the distraction of flying across the world to be beaten in NZ.
It’s likely that besides a handful of players, SA’s best will be out of Super Rugby by July 21, giving them a full month off before the Rugby Championship starts.
So while John Mitchell, Robbie Fleck and Robert du Preez feel the pressure of struggling, Erasmus will see a positive side to the results, if not the performances, in Super Rugby.
Taking the positives from a bleak Super Rugby picture is all the Boks can do.