Quality and consistency have been lacking at times this domestic season, but the players and management deserve immense credit for contending with unprecedented challenges, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
When the new-look domestic competition kicked off in October, the return of rugby in any shape or form was warmly welcomed after months of lockdown.
At that time, the worst of the first Covid-19 wave was behind us, and level one of lockdown allowed the newly devised Super Rugby Unlocked competition to get under way with an air of optimism.
But, as time went on, and Covid outbreaks and rising numbers began to impact on the fixtures, the knee-jerk reaction was to lament the negative impact on competition integrity.
Yet, the ability to get a competition off the ground and, more importantly, keep it from crashing and burning – particularly now in the second wave of Covid-19 – has actually been a remarkable effort from all involved.
Despite stringent safety measures, and the rather unpleasant but wholly necessary regular testing, there have still been a number of positive cases.
Players, coaches and management have effectively put themselves ‘at risk’ in order to do what they love and ensure the SA Rugby industry has been able to produce a competition for stakeholders and supporters.
It shouldn’t be taken for granted, and especially not in this current Covid climate.
Just this week Vodacom Bulls coach Jake White spoke of being struck down by the virus, and the widespread impact.
‘I lost friends during this period. Not that we underestimated this pandemic, but I realised again that this virus is serious,’ he shared.
‘That’s what I mean with getting some perspective during my off-time. I just realised again that we’re also so lucky and privileged to do what we enjoy. I’ve really tried to return to the team with the renewed objective of having fun.’
Many players, coaches and backroom staff have endured differing versions of this experience and the impact of the virus, but have continued to jump on planes and busses to complete fixtures.
The effect on the quality of rugby has been considerable, too.
Covid-19 protocols have regularly forced players to be omitted – sometimes at late notice – and there has been very little all-important consistency in selection.
‘It’s not ideal changing your team week after week and we’re losing important people as we go along,’ Sharks coach Sean Everitt explained after making several squad changes last week.
Besides players also having to contend with often training with masks on, there have been considerable alterations to training programmes.
Full team training, and close-contact situations such as scrumming and mauling, have had to be avoided early in the week until all Covid-19 test results have come back.
And, if you speak to the coaches, it’s undoubtedly been one of the most challenging periods in terms of planning and having to remain incredibly adaptable to ever-changing circumstances.
Even playing at this time of year required some flexibility, with more than one match impacted by thunderstorms, and the Sharks and Bulls even having to work together to reschedule one fixture.
Furthermore, with fixtures on Boxing Day, we saw the likes of the Sharks training on Christmas Day, while players have been regularly reminded that they have to vastly change their interactions with friends, family and in public spaces in order to safeguard the competition.
To put it lightly, it’s been an immense effort from all involved on and off the field. Sacrifices have had to be made, while preparations and planning have been impacted and altered like never before.
So, although the rugby sometimes hasn’t been up to the desired standard, it shouldn’t be forgotten just what has been required to keep the game in action.
2/2.Not once did their management or players complain about the change in kick off time,they were the ultimate professionals and they are well deserved leaders of the @TheCurrieCup. I am sure @TheSharksZA and @BlueBullsRugby will meet again before the end of the competition!
— Eduard Coetzee (@coetzee_eduard) December 13, 2020