No playoffs good for Boks?

Gavin Rich

Unless one of the two remaining local franchises that still has an interest in Super Rugby pulls a rabbit out of the hat, South African rugby could 10 days from now be heading into a period that promises interesting ramifications both for what happens later this year and what happens in 2019.

It is a period of nothing. At least in terms of first-class rugby. The Rugby Championship only starts on 18 August. That means that if the Lions and Sharks are out of Super Rugby after the quarter-final round, which takes place the weekend of 20 July, their Springboks will have four weeks to wait before they get called into action again.

As for the Stormers and the Bulls, they have even longer. The Bulls will have five weeks off, and the Stormers are already resting after finishing the Super Rugby season a week ahead of everyone else. With Western Province also out of the Supersport Challenge, the Cape players have plenty of time to catch breath and take stock before their defence of the Currie Cup starts the same weekend as the Rugby Championship kick-off.

In previous years, when the Currie Cup was played over a double round, the rank and file provincial players went straight into the domestic season after Super Rugby. Last year there was even an overlap between that competition and the Currie Cup. But that won’t be happening now that the competition has been truncated into a single round.

On the face of it, that should be a good thing in that it means provincial coaches won’t have the excuse they had in the past that they didn’t have enough time to prepare for the opening round because of the short transition from Super Rugby to the Currie Cup. There should be an uplift in the quality of rugby produced, with defences being better organised than they were at the start of previous Currie Cup campaigns.

Likewise, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus will have time to work with his players that his All Black counterpart Steve Hansen shouldn’t have if, as expected, the final stages of Super Rugby are dominated by New Zealand teams.

There are obvious benefits from a player welfare viewpoint to the down time the players at both international and provincial level could be looking forward to. One of the last things that Erasmus said at the Newlands post-match press conference after the final Test against England was that he might mix and match his selections in the Championship as some players were in need of a rest.

He singled out his skipper for the June portion of the international season, Siya Kolisi, as a player who had played a lot of rugby. Some of us who were there interpreted it as an indication that the captaincy might change for the Championship now that Warren Whiteley is fit again.

We may well see that happen, but by the arrival of the first Championship game, Kolisi should be rested and well recovered from the impact of playing virtually every Stormers game in Super Rugby. Indeed, as he didn’t play the last match against the Sharks because of illness, Kolisi could be under-done rather than over-done by 18 August, by which time he would not have played for seven weeks.

Ditto Pieter-Steph du Toit, who played his heart out against England in the Springbok jersey and also finished the Stormers’ campaign with a flourish but who has been flirting with borderline too much rugby. If he is selected to start against Argentina in Durban, he wouldn’t have played in six weeks. There shouldn’t be any questions about his freshness.

This could all be advantageous for Erasmus. Not only can he call the players up for a month long preparation camp before the Championship starts, the break from playing also means that there is less risk of his players feeling burnt out once they get deep into the southern hemisphere competition, and then beyond that into the end of year tour in November.

The break, which is coupled with a less condensed schedule once the competition starts, will also be good for the Super Rugby players who will be drawn on in the Currie Cup season. Fewer games, more off weeks due to an endeavour not to clash the domestic competition with home Championship fixtures, means less chance of work-load related injuries.

That could have a positive spin-off on the next Super Rugby season, which because it starts a World Cup year and because at least two of the local franchises see 2019 as the culmination of a three year plan – in the words of Stormers assistant Paul Feeney it is time to have “all guns blazing” – is going to be an important one.

There is a caveat though to all the positives. As Bulls coach John Mitchell has noted, the South African franchises have tended to be getting by on the seat of their pants, with the squads lacking enough quality Super Rugby players to mount a strong, consistent challenge across the competition.

That means the fringe players need to be developed, and for that you need quality rugby and quality competition. Are the top provincial players who are on the threshold of breaking into Super Rugby, such as WP flanker Johan du Toit, getting enough good opportunities to develop?


- Gavin Rich

Let's chat

  • Bokfan1

    Unfortunately Gavin, you can copy and paste this article almost every year. I agree with the positive side of it, but lets look at NZ sides again. In the playoffs every year. Last year Saders fly to Joburg and WIN the game. ABs still WIN the RC and ABs still go UNDEFEATED on EOYT.

    That is the level the Boks should be at, not searching for a silver lining on ANOTHER disappointing season

    • Dr Hoffman

      No bok fan, ol gav just copied and pasted this non sense article from another site. s a rugby. co. za

    • Dean

      I agree with Bokfan1. Always clutching at straws, scratching around trying to find a positive in an otherwise dark cloud that hangs over SA rugby. In response to Gavin – The last time we had 2 teams in the final of Super Rugby, we went on to win the World Cup. Go figure.

      • Dr Hoffman

        I think Gav is buds with the great mark keohane, the same guy who reckons the boks are going to win the RC after their amazing win against the red hot poms.

  • Bokfan1

    Should be “Last year Saders fly to Joburg for the SR final and WIN the game against the #1 ranked side on their home ground.”

    • Herman Schroder?

      Bokfan 1, Thanks only to Jackass Peyper’s knee jerk reaction in giving a red card. That’s why NZ and especially the Crusaders love the guy. Refer to this years SR clash at Emirates and the same incident with the Crusaders fouling and Peyper not even giving a penalty, go figure. Cheers.

  • Barry Smith

    I am a realist, so unfortunately I do not expect the Sharks to either get into the playoff’s , or progress beyond Christchurch if they do. However, assuming the Lions win this coming weekend, I think they stand a good chance of progressing beyond quarter finals. They will be at home after all!
    I do nonetheless accept the point that the rest of those not involved will be beneficial! A warm up trials type affair with Springbok A&B teams would be a good idea to keep players sharp and assist with selections!

    • Humblepie

      Good points Barry.
      I can also not see how a player that doesnt play matches for 7 weeks can be described as a positive. Such a break is comparable to the end of season break.

    • Barry Smith

      Rest for those not involved…

  • Dean

    I’m more interested to see who will take Nkosi’s place in the RC squad now that he is injured. Will Combrinck make a return? Or will Rassie go for a new player like Kobus van Wyk? Mvovo? Ishmael? Ulengo? JP?

    • Barry Smith

      Mpimpi was one of the few that did well in the Wales test and may get a shot. Also Skosan back from injury. Will be interesting!

      • Dean

        True, but who is most capable of stopping Rieko Ioane?

  • Humblepie

    I assume the author refers to the Stormers when he mentions a 3 year plan?
    This would in fact be Fleck s 4th year if he survives. The 3rd year saw him ending in 11th place. You really have to be an extreme optimist to see good prospects for the last year of this plan.

  • Herman Schroder?

    Well said Humblepie, how much more time do these guys need ? This is really trying to extend one’s career one more year when clearly there has been NO progress at all. With NZ’s Feeny as backline coach and a supposedly mercurial flyhalf in Willemse and a ‘star studded’ backline the Stormers have scored the least tries in the entire SR competition with a miserable 46 compared to the Lions 77 and NO ‘three try’ bonus points compared to the Lions 6. Spot the difference.

    Fleck has always been out of his depth especially when one considers his oh so long ‘apprenticeship’ with that other ‘coaching challenged’ chap, Alistair Coetzee which should have given him some experience along the way. Add to that these past few years in charge and I’m afraid there is no place for the feller to hide. I’m sure he’s a nice enough guy but just like his forerunner the nuances of modern expansive rugby escaped both him and Toetie.

    The sum total of this WP Rugby debacle leaves us with a chronically ill Stadium together with a bankrupt Union, incompetent administrators, inferior coaches and creditors ready to knock down the castle walls. But according to Rich and Co and others this is just a hiccup and all it needs is one more year and all will be well. Einstein’s often quoted theory on failure and repetition must surely be applicable here and in it’s purest sense.

    The solution may just be for WP to take a leaf out of the Lions book. Shut down this entire mess and withdraw from SR for next year like the Lions were FORCED to do 5 years ago. Clean out the old guard and bring in a body of suitably qualified persons with experience and a strong rugby background to stabilise the situation. Settle the court cases one way or the other and with the savings from Wakefield’s entertainment budget go shopping for real coaches and some headline players to draw the crowds. Sometimes to move forward you need to take a step back.

    What we do now know for certain is that the current guys in charge have not got the necessary skills or expertise to turn this ship around and like the Titanic the iceberg has already been struck. I can just picture Wakefield seated on deck sipping his Dom Perignon as the SS Newlands slowly slips below the waves. Oh loyal fans how you have suffered. I at least had the good sense to give up on these incompetents way back in 2014 and threw my lot in with the progressive Lions before they even became successful and have been rewarded ever since. Heaven only knows what you guys can expect next year but good luck anyway. Cheers.

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