South Africa’s Vodacom Super Rugby franchises must discover unique ways to overcome the odds this season, writes SIMNIKIWE XABANISA.
If the many mysteries unique to South African rugby, the reason momentum is such a non-negotiable catalyst for success is difficult to unravel.
Momentum has always been behind the spark – or indeed confidence – that drives team performance in any sport, but when it comes to SA rugby sides, its importance seems a little more exaggerated.
For some reason, significant achievements by our rugby teams almost always have to be preceded by others, to the point where success appears impossible without the stimulus of triumphs which have gone before.
The 1995 World Cup victory had its roots in the confidence the Springboks gleaned from Transvaal and Natal having been in all three of the Super 10 finals before that upset against the All Blacks, while the 2007 win could be traced back to the Super 14 final being contested by the Sharks and the Vodacom Bulls that year.
With his finger on the pulse of what makes local rugby tick, Rassie Erasmus conceded before last year’s World Cup that the reason the Boks went so hard at winning an abridged Rugby Championship was for the placebo effect, creating a sense of momentum after a less than convincing Super Rugby.
No team had ever won the World Cup after winning the Rugby Championship in the same year, yet that ‘curse’ didn’t apply to the Boks because all they needed for a bakery of momentum were the crumbs of victories in a tournament rendered all-but insignificant by how short it was.
But after confounding the world by winning the Webb Ellis Cup, the question is whether the Boks’ World Cup victory will filter down to their Super Rugby sides this year.
When one considers that the 2007 world title delivered two Super Rugby titles, a British & Irish Lions series win and the Tri-Nations, there is a temptation have lofty expectations of this Super Rugby season.
But there are several reasons this may not necessarily be the case.
It has been 10 long years since a South African won Super Rugby; a significant number of the World Cup winners, who would have been paramount to imparting that winning know-how, have left for greener pastures; and the franchise coaches are a touch on the green side. Three of the four Super Rugby coaches will be in their first season of coaching at this level.
The Stormers’ John Dobson will be weighed down by the burden of showing his domestic reputation is well-deserved, Sean Everitt has to prove he is not a career age-group or assistant coach at the Sharks, while Ivan van Rooyen has to shake the suspicion he’s a conditioning coach dressed in a head coach’s clothes.
Looking at the teams, the Stormers haven’t lost as many players as the rest of the franchises, the Sharks are brimming with new but untested talent, the Lions look explosive and gifted but are entirely too young, and the Bulls have lost their spine in Schalk Brits, Lood de Jager, Duane Vermeulen and Handre Pollard.
Pote Human’s team do get overseas returnees Juandre Kruger, Josh Strauss and Morne Steyn back, but at 34, 33 and 35 respectively, nobody knows whether the Bulls are getting players who still have something to offer or are over the hill.
The good news is there is talk that Erasmus, having decided to focus on his director of rugby role, is keen to embed each of his Bok assistant coaches in the franchises, meaning there’ll be a constant sharing of information of how the national team got its success.
But after a decade of being also-rans, the local franchises will find unscrambling that egg particularly difficult.
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Photo: Gallo Images/Archive