Can’t score tries, can’t kick for toffee: We’re doomed
Sounds harsh, but going by the form of SA Super Rugby teams, the Springboks will be no better than average
The Crusaders might be considering a name change, but that’s about the only thing that will alter at the franchise as they continue to make Super Rugby history by marching inexorably towards a 10th title.
They are running away with it and the next best team from New Zealand is well ahead of the rest. That’s not an unusual scenario in pretty much any season for the last decade in the southern hemisphere’s premier competition.
World Cup years, though, are picked apart and put under the microscope for signs of Kiwi weaknesses, or indications of strength from the other participating nations. And on the evidence of this year, there are hardly any chinks in the Kiwi armour four months out from Rugby World Cup 2019.
After round 10 of the competition the Crusaders are top of the pile with 39 log points and the Hurricanes in second with 32. So if the All Blacks are well set, how do the Springboks look based on Super Rugby form in 2019? The short answer is: not good.
The Sharks, who play the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday, are third on the Super Rugby standings with 26 points. By the end of the weekend they are unlikely to have moved off 26 points and will have dropped a few places.
The Bulls have 24 points, the Stormers 23 and the Lions 22. More tellingly, the Sharks have lost five and won five. The Bulls, with one fewer game, have lost four and won five. The Stormers are five and five after 10 games, as are the Lions. Basically SA teams are winning 50% of their matches across the board.
There have been eight local derbies so naturally the win/loss ratio is not a flawless determination. Against each other SA teams are all blood and thunder and matches are as unpredictable as they are limited. But the SA conference underlines the mediocrity of the competition within the competition.
So how about SA teams’ form versus non-SA teams this year? A collective 12 wins in 23 matches indicates that when it comes to mediocrity, SA’s Super Rugby franchises are, well, excelling.
It’s not just results – it’s also about skills and game intelligence. Across the board SA teams are being out-thought by NZ sides in particular. The most basic measurement of skill and execution is the ability to score tries and every NZ side, barring the perennially struggling Blues, have scored more tries than any SA team.SA teams are also still kicking inaccurately. They are not necessarily kicking too much, because astute use of the boot is a valuable commodity, but they are often kicking without purpose.The Crusaders in 2019 have kicked the least, showing the value of ball in hand with 45 tries this season, but that is slightly unusual because the nine-time champions have never been afraid to kick the ball. In 2018 the Crusaders registered the second most kicks from hand and the Hurricanes the most. The Crusaders won the tournament at a canter and the Hurricanes were second.They are both great examples of the best multidimensional teams in the southern hemisphere and perhaps the world. The ability to adapt their play with the same squad and coaches underlines the high level of skill and rugby intelligence they, and NZ rugby players in general, possess.SA teams are either viewed as forward dominated, kicking teams (Bulls and Sharks), or running teams (Lions and Stormers) but never both. The Crusaders, Hurricanes and Highlanders are adaptable and skilled enough to execute when they are challenged to play in different ways.
It is not a coincidence that the All Blacks have dominated the Test arena for nearly a decade at the same time as their franchises have dominated Super Rugby with six wins in the last nine years. It’s also no coincidence that the Boks’ best post-isolation years were between 2007-10 when the Bulls won Super Rugby three times and the Sharks and Stormers were finalists.
Super Rugby success doesn’t necessarily translate to Test dominance, but it’s as close to a guarantee as you can get. And SA’s Super Rugby teams are too mired in mediocrity to expect anything other than average performances from the Springboks in the coming months.