SA teams lack consistency

Having four South Africans sides in the bottom six of the Super Rugby log is a disgrace, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day

The Stormers again look like a rugby team in a South African Super Rugby season of missed opportunity. And the Sharks, in an end of tournament slump, are unlikely to host a semi-final.

The Waratahs will finish as league winners after demolishing the Highlanders in Sydney. They deserve the finish because they’ve played the most complete brand of rugby and the big wins against the Brumbies and Highlanders show they’re a team in form at the right time. The same cannot be said for the Sharks, whose players look fatigued, laboured and again finished second in the physical gainline battle.

The Sharks have also missed the influence of Pat Lambie at flyhalf. Tim Swiel, in his debut Super Rugby season, has been ineffective and inside centre Frans Steyn at the weekend was not as dominant as he has been in the campaign.

The Stormers, before the international June break, stunned the Sharks with a last-minute win in Durban. They matched the Sharks physically and when teams have done this, the Sharks have battled.

I would be surprised if the Sharks, on form, beat the Stormers in Cape Town. Then again, the two sides have a history of upstaging each other when form would suggest otherwise.

It isn’t the end for the Sharks. Even if they lose in Cape Town this weekend they will finish third and that means hosting a qualifier play-off against whoever finishes sixth. If they are then successful, they’ll have to win in Australia or New Zealand, possibly both, to win the tournament.

Ironically, they’ve found playing overseas teams easier this year and three of their five defeats have come in local derbies.

The South African match-ups are a competition within a competition and there is added mongrel in these contests. How else do you explain how a team in 15th position beats a team in second?

The Cheetahs, at home, are a good side but the quality of their performance in beating the Sharks shows just how awful they were in the early part of the season.

It is infuriating watching the South African teams because this country should have at least two sides in the top six and at least four of the five sides in the top 10.

The Bulls are 10th, the Stormers 11th, the Lions 13th and the Cheetahs 14th. That’s not the kind of return to match the bravado and fighting talk that always comes out of this country. It’s a damn disgrace. It should never be tolerated or excused.

The consistency to finish top six is what has been missing in South African rugby. The majority of our teams get up for every game in three but to be successful the ratio has to be more two from three.

I thought the Stormers were outstanding against the Bulls, as they were in shutting out the Cheetahs prior to the June international season break.

I had the Stormers to beat the Bulls in Cape Town, but not ever did I imagine it would be that emphatic. It was a mauling that started in the opening exchange and there was no let up.

The Bulls, in the first 10 minutes, made 41 tackles to the eight of the home side. Nothing much changed and the only surprise was that the Bulls limited the defeat to 16 points.

Schalk Burger, captaining the Stormers, was colossal, Duane Vermeulen was a monster at No 8 and young flanker Nizaam Carr showed his class. Carr is a special player with an appreciation for depth, width and space. He has an attacking anticipation unmatched among the country’s loose forwards and he won’t be found wanting physically.

His was the performance that made me smile the most at a cold and wet Newlands, while later in the evening it was also encouraging to see Cheetahs and Springbok flyhalf Johan Goosen produce a quality and inspiring display to beat the Sharks.

Goosen, because of inconsistency and injury, has fallen behind Handré Pollard in the national pecking order, but if both are in form then there should be a place for both in the Bok squad.

Goosen’s line kicking was particularly effective in Bloemfontein. He will do well in France’s Top 14 next season.

I have also been impressed with the Lions and it was good to see them thump an overseas team. They are a team who have played with great character but they are also a good attacking unit.

Lions captain Warren Whitely continues to impress and Marnitz Boshoff at flyhalf has been a revelation. The expectation on them has to be a top-eight finish in 2015.

The expectation on the South African challenge in a year’s time has to be greater than what was produced this year.

One team in the top 10 is simply insulting as a return for a nation blessed with so much rugby talent.

Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp/BackpagePix