Defeat was inevitable in the Champions and Challenge cups for the remaining sides from the Republic, given their need to travel abroad, according to GAVIN RICH.
The South African challenge in their inaugural season of playing in Europe’s premier club knockout competitions came to an end on Saturday when the DHL Stormers, Sharks and Lions all lost in the quarter-finals of their respective series.
In his SuperSport column, Rich suggests that while the Lions fared better than most expected them to in their defeat to the Glasgow Warriors in Scotland, all three games involving the SA teams were lost by a convincing margin, and predictably so, and can be attributed to having to fly overseas on the last minute.
“Perhaps most particularly to the Stormers, who’d initially planned to fly out for their clash with Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park by a direct route last Monday but then had their plans scuppered by logistical complications,” he writes.
“But while not clashing with a holiday will make flights more accessible, and might ensure they avoid a repeat of the situation whereby the Stormers pretty much had their entire training week reorganised by the travel problems – instead of going out direct on Monday they flew indirect in batches on Tuesday and only got to Exeter late on Wednesday – it might need to go a bit further.
“Both teams [Sharks and Stormers] had to wait until Sunday evening before knowing where they were playing their quarter-finals the following Saturday, and the problems with that are too obvious to need much explanation.
“The Sharks’ journey to Toulouse wasn’t completely different from that faced by the Stormers to get to Exeter, but what was different was that the Durban team appeared to follow the timing and schedule that had been planned. So they got two training sessions in at Kings Park before they flew out and there was a lot less disruption.
“Both the Sharks and the Stormers also started the quarter-final round missing perhaps their most important respective players in Eben Etzebeth and Deon Fourie.
“But as with the Sharks, the question that should be asked is: how would they have gone had it been them waiting for Exeter at home all week rather than the other way around? They might well have got by even without Fourie.
“For the message from the first season of South African participation in the Champions Cup is a clear one, and that is that getting home-ground advantage in the playoffs is critical.
“And the words of television commentator Martin Gillingham after the Sharks’ initially quite impressive challenge to mighty Toulouse might have aptly summed it all up: ‘For the Sharks it was maybe one flight too many.’”