SA rugby standards have slipped

The Sharks' win against the Hurricanes did not signal a South African rugby revival, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.

The euphoria of a dominant Sharks victory against the Hurricanes in Durban felt very similar to a home Springbok win against the All Blacks in the past six years.

And that’s not a good thing because it wasn’t too long ago when a side of the Sharks’ Super Rugby standing and quality would be expected to win home games.

Now it’s a cause for celebration because it’s been the exception in this year’s Super Rugby competition when it comes to New Zealand teams.

Enjoy the victory, especially because of the nature of the win and the contribution of so many younger players, but be careful with the barks that reports of South African rugby’s decline (in the challenge to New Zealand) is premature. It is hardly premature.

Sadly we now pump our fists and puff out our chests when the Springboks steal an injury-time win against the All Blacks at Ellis Park. And when we lose three times in four at altitude in Tests, so many take comfort in tries scored.

Standards have slipped in South African rugby. Quality has decreased and the continued exodus to Europe of so many good players has weakened our Super Rugby franchises.

Touring South Africa was once viewed as among the toughest challenges. Most New Zealand teams would target one win out of two, or two out of three, and it was rare for a Kiwi team to head back unbeaten. Now it is all too familiar.

I loved watching the Sharks manhandle the Hurricanes and the manner in which they turned aggressive defence into an attacking weapon. The breakdown performance of the Du Preez twins and veteran Keegan Daniel was also massive on the day.

But it should be the norm when the likes of the Sharks play at home. It shouldn’t be the exception.

Consistency in winning at home is a must for there to be any talk of a South African challenge in the last four. Getting a few wins abroad would also instill more fist pumping than should be the case when winning at home.

My column of last week suggested the Sharks' confrontational, defence-orientated low-risk strategy has greater reward against Kiwi teams than the free-flowing expansive approach of the Lions. The win against the Canes reinforced this view.

But careful analysis of the Canes' season is needed because this is a team that has lost four of their 10 matches and took 50 points in Canberra. They have been imposing on occasion, but when the Canes lineout has struggled and the forwards have failed to gain ascendancy the Canes have been beaten.

The Sharks were powerful but so they should be given the makeup of the team. It is essential Gary Gold’s squad backs up this performance in Buenos Aires this weekend.

The Sharks won but it was only the second South African win in 10 matches against foreign opposition in the last two weekends. That’s a staggering statistic and even more disturbing was the Bulls and Cheetahs' respective lack of attacking potency in matches against the Brumbies and Waratahs.

The Bulls were particularly impotent in managing just six points with the boot. The Cheetahs' six points were probably seven less than expected, but they were never going to win. They simply aren’t good enough.

New Zealand’s dominance in the competition this season is not an opinion but a fact. The Kiwis' five teams have won 81% of matches against Australian opposition, 85% of matches against South African opposition and 100% against the Jaquares.

Four of their five teams have more league points than the best South African and Australian team. This will balance because of the intensity of the New Zealand derbies over the next month, but the South African 15% success rate is starting to resemble the Boks’ one win from eight against the All Blacks over the past four years.

It is said that the Kiwi rugby supporters now remember the Tests lost against the Boks and we in South Africa are forced to remember the ones won because they are so rare.

The reaction to the Sharks' win was uncomfortable in that the 85% defeats over 10 rounds against Kiwi teams seemed to have been forgotten. So too the eight defeats in 10 of the past two weekends.

The Hurricanes are placed fourth out of New Zealand’s five teams. They aren’t the tournament pacesetters.

The Sharks' success in Durban was a relief more than it was a reflection of any South African Super Rugby revival.

Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix