The Stormers provided South Africans with Super Rugby hope, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day newspaper.
A new Super Rugby competition heralded new faces – and that’s reason enough for cheer in SA’s rugby. Our game needs good news.
And it needed some on-field action after the chaos of a national administration that is too dominant a news item. Newlands – as has become custom – always provides the feel good factor, by way of crowd attendance, atmosphere and traditional values of a north versus south derby.
The quality of rugby at Newlands did not match what was produced in the season’s tournament opener in Auckland between the Blues and Highlanders. But that shouldn’t detract from the occasion. It was good to watch and the match was confrontational and direct.
The Stormers won comfortably and Robbie Fleck enjoyed a splendid Super Rugby debut as coach. Fleck, flamboyant as a midfielder for the Stormers and Springboks, was a surprise choice as coach of the Stormers when Eddie Jones opted out of the job after a week to coach England.
Jones, with all his international experience, would have taken a 33-9 win against a Bulls starting XV featuring seven Springboks. Fleck’s first-up return exceeded all expectation.
Good on him. Good on those who entrusted a local lad with the weight of expectation that comes with coaching in Cape Town.
One emphatic win over the traditional rival will not be the making of Fleck, but it’s as good a start as he could have asked for. It is a good news story and, recently, there have not been many of those in South African rugby. Take it and enjoy it.
Similarly, take the performance of the Du Preez brothers, Robert for the Stormers and Daniel and Jean-Luc for the Sharks, and enjoy that as well.
Dad Robert, an outstanding scrumhalf for the Bulls and Springboks, would have beamed at what his boys produced at the weekend.
Robert junior, man of the match in Cape Town, scored 23 points for the Stormers, but his performance was more than an accumulation of accurate goalkicking. He has wonderful qualities as a playmaker, as he showed in the Varsity Cup for Maties and for Western Province in the Currie Cup. He must be allowed to settle at No10 and he must be excused any stumbles along the way.
There’s not always the patience in SA’s talented youngsters. It’s often a hero-or-zero reaction. It’s time to allow them to evolve through the good and bad days.
Du Preez, like his younger twin siblings, has heaps of potential. Don’t think of them as Springboks just yet. Don’t talk of them as being the 2019 World Cup future. Just appreciate them now. They need to play, week in and week out. Individually, they were the highlight of the South Africans, who in a team context, were more stable than sensational.
The Stormers, as the squad strength suggests, are the most balanced and imposing of the South African competition contenders. Whether they are good enough to win the tournament is a question that can’t be answered on week one of a tournament that will be determined six months from now. But they give hope to a rugby nation that last year knew only darkness.
The Bulls were a disappointment. A team with seven Springboks should have offered more than the nine points in Cape Town.
The Cheetahs were equally disappointing in losing to the Jaguares after leading 24-3. There can be no positive in the squad giving up a 21-point lead at home.
The Lions also didn’t have the swagger befitting their Currie Cup form of 2015.
I expected them to maul Japanese tournament newcomers the Sunwolves. They won with a bonus point, but a 13-point differential put a question mark when there should have been an emphatic exclamation mark.
The Kings will take many a beating in this tournament, which is hardly surprising given the turbulent nature of their preparation.
The national governing body did the franchise a disservice, as did the administration of the EP Kings.
Two years ago, the Kings, in their Super Rugby debut season, averaged 31,000 in crowd attendance. This time round, on the Southern Kings’ return to an expanded Super 18, less than 11,000 made it to the ground.
It will only get worse before it gets better and much of the South African challenge in this year’s competition will be more woeful than wonderful.
New Zealand’s strength is a collective that neither SA nor Australia can match, but there is enough in the Stormers, Brumbies, Waratahs and possibly the Sharks to ensure that an all New Zealand final isn’t a given.
Photo: Shaun Roy/Gallo Images