The Bulls and Stormers host the Crusaders over the next two rounds and Super Rugby fans in South Africa are hopeful that the Sharks have opened the door for Captain America and Thor to give an excellent account of themselves against the Thanos of the rugby universe!
The Sharks left Sydney after feeding on the Waratahs in Round 11 and then held the Crusaders to a thrilling draw in Christchurch last week. But these excellent results on tour are misleading because they’ve been the exception in an exceptionally unpredictable season.
It’s been rubbish for almost every SuperBru enthusiast who has not only seen their Grand Slam Points hopes disappear down the drain like clockwork, but also experienced spectacularly rubbish rounds of 50% (or less) prediction success rates regularly!
For context, no team in the Australian conference has a +50% win rate (the Rebels and Reds are tied on five wins out 10 games). The SA conference boasts two teams with a 60% return – Bulls and Jaguares at six out of 10.
Apart from the table-topping Crusaders and Hurricanes (eight wins apiece) everyone else in the Kiwi conference is on an uncharacteristic four wins or less.
For the neutral observer, this unpredictability makes for highly entertaining viewing. Truthfully, uncertain outcomes are what bring us back to the stadium seats or the couch at home on weekly basis, so that can never be a bad thing. But it’s the distinct lack of quality in a majority of the upsets, and there have been plenty, that grates me.
It would be disingenuous to ignore the fact that teams have had to rest players in line with plans to cotton-wool national assets ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
When you remove a Barrett, Kerevi or Vermeulen from a team, it feels like the loss of 20% in playing ability such is the quality of blue chip players in the competition. What I don’t understand is the alarming drop in quality and intensity across the board when teams do dip into their reserves, with the exception of the Cantabrians and Wellingtonians.
There have been seemingly legendary local derbies and mouthwatering inter-conference clashes devolving into something that would not be out of place in the Mitre 10 Cup, the Currie Cup or the National Rugby Championship.
I could have spent my time more productively receiving a hiding from some kid in the Korean Republic on FIFA 19 FUT Squad Battles than watching the dross served up most of the season!
Naturally, chemistry is affected by squad experimentation, but perhaps we might have overrated the depth in player quality in New Zealand. Any game that has seen the Chiefs, Highlanders or Blues crash unexpectedly or struggle to an unconvincing win has been preceded by a new-look squad being selected.
I am pointedly ignoring Australia because they have been in trouble for the longest time, trying to keep afloat a sport that struggles for participants at all levels in that country. I’ll give them a pass.
Back home, only the Stormers and Bulls have a three-match winning streak. Beyond that, two wins on the bounce is the most local sides can hope for. The Sharks and Bulls contrived terrible reversals against the Jaguares at home, the Stormers went out of their way to lose matches they should have won against the Hurricanes and Blues, and the Lions collapsed to the shockingly unpredictable Sharks.
Why are 80-minute performances beyond almost every side, especially in a year where fringe players would be eager for any opportunity to emerge as a bolter for their national team?
The dip in performances would have seemed unavoidable had the Crusaders and Hurricanes also been dragged into the logjam below, but it appears that the grand final in early July will be contested by these two teams – so much for the unpredictably of the whole competition!
While one cannot begrudge their ruthless professionalism when swatting aside incompetent outfits, as someone who feels increasingly satisfied watching the absorbing European Rugby Champions and Challenge cups (which have been improved by the southern influx) I can’t help but feel uninspired by Super Rugby at the moment.
But all will be forgiven, and the 2019 Super Rugby season saved, if the Bulls and then Stormers knock the Crusaders out of the saddle. We sit in hope!
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