No clear favorites, as Super 15 takes its toll
By this time in the competition last year, the top 6 were pretty much set with about 8 teams still in the running for the top 6 spots. More or less the same could be said of prior years, with the top teams in the competition being relatively clear between three or four contenders. This year though, its a little bit different. Ask me last year this time who will be the champions, I would have said its gonna be between the Chiefs, Stormers and Crusaders. Ask me now? Well, it can be anyone from the Brumbies, Reds, Crusaders, Chiefs, Bulls, Sharks, Stormers even the Cheetahs. Fact is, the playing field is so level this year, the only certain thing is that the Force, Rebel, Kings and Highlanders will not be making the playoffs. All the other sides are still in with a chance.
I wonder though if this isn’t another symptom of the most idiotic system ever developed by Sanzar? With professional Rugby players playing physically the thoughest and most demanding rugby on this planet week after week, with little or no time to recover and rehabilitate, it is no wonder that several teams are struggling with many injuries, and that Springbok players like JP Petersen, Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Juandre Kruger, to honestly name but a few, are looking to Japan and France where conditions are much more favorable to the player to prolong their careers.
With the number of top quality players getting injured, moving abroad, and teams rotating players more often, the playing field must be getting more level for the top sides, while the bottom sides just can not keep up with the pace and intensity of the tournament any longer. I am impressed with the way the Cheetahs, as a perinial under performer, has stood up this year. But injuries to players like Lappies and Lood this past weekend are a stark reminder that depth is what counts in this tournament. Depth, and luck. Cause if your side doesn’t get hit by injury this season, you are lucky…but it might hit you next season. Ask the Sharks… The Stormers have been there too, but managed to have depth enough to make it to the playoffs. And the Sharks and the Bulls should have too. But does the Cheetahs have enough depth? Fortunately it seems Lappies’ and Lood’s injuries are not too serious, and the bye for them is perfectly timed. So hopefully they can maintain their run of luck in terms of injuries this season.
If I was a top Super Rugby player, I would not have thought twice about leaving for abroad to prolong my career, and earn major bucks while doing it. See how long a player like Joe van Niekerk is still playing in France? In he is a player who has been written off almost a decade ago by the Bok coaches. Ernst Joubert, Neil de Kock, Brent Russel, all still playing some top quality Rugby in the Northern Hemisphere. Had they been playing week in and week out of Super Rugby, their playing days would have been long over.
The Super 15 needs to be stopped. It’s to Rugby sustainability what Trawling is to fish sustainability. But do we think SANZAR gives two hoots about the players? Nope. I mean, as long as there are men on this planet, there will be Rugby players. The key SANZAR is missing though, is that as long as they keep on with milking every drop of energy and muscle out of the top players the Southern Hemisphere produces, they are weakening the opposition against the Northern Hemisphere, while their longevity i vastly better than ours, and when the scales tip with 60% of our Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies opting to play in their side of the planet, England will become the World Champions….even if they do so with Southern Hemisphere born players who gave up their privilege to play for their country of birth, in lieu of prolonging their careers overseas.
Is it any surprise that a brilliant talent like Timo Swiel has given up the privilege and honor to play for the Baby Boks because he is thinking ahead for the long term? No, its not. And as tough as that decision might have been for him, he will reap the benefits if SANZAR refuses to reduce the workload on the players and start looking after them better. Something which is unlikely to happen as SANZAR continue to fill their coffers with loads and loads of cash as the insatiable fans just slobber up everything they throw at us. And one day, we will tell our grand kids about things like the rhino’s which roamed the eart, Cheetahs which were the fastest animal on earth, and something called the Currie Cup…