Super Rugby newbies not up for it

The Jaguares, Kings and Sunwolves have done little to justify their inclusion in the expanded Super Rugby competition, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

The Super Rugby newcomers have each played their first six games of the season, providing enough time for some insights into their performances, but unfortunately the results have been far from compelling.

The Sunwolves have made a winless start to the season that has seen them concede 202 points and 26 tries. The Kings have managed just the one win, which came against the Sunwolves, but have been beaten by more than 20 points in every other game. And yet the Jaguares have perhaps been the biggest disappointment of all, having managed just the solitary win during a pedestrian start to their campaign.

Of course the results have to be seen in context. The cash-strapped Kings were always going to be up against it after their nightmare buildup to the season, which saw a makeshift squad put together at the 11th hour.

However, their struggles and poor crowd attendances stand in stark contrast to their encouraging and competitive debut season in 2013. It’s a constant reminder how far the franchise has regressed and what an administrative bungle it was to prematurely bring them into the Super Rugby competition before pulling the rug out from under their feet.

What the Kings were beginning to build in 2013 had all the makings of something special. That playing group, under the guidance of exceptional coaches such as Alan Solomons and Omar Mouneimne, had all the potential to build into a Super Rugby force to be reckoned with.

Instead one of their poster boys from that debut campaign, Sergeal Petersen, is now with the Cheetahs. Another standout, SP Marais, moved to the Sharks and then back to the Kings before bizarrely being deemed surplus to requirements for this campaign. And so there was no shortage of sad irony then when the fullback scored two tries for his new team, the Bulls, as they cruised to victory over the Kings this past weekend.

The current Kings side can’t be blamed for the battles they have and will continue to endure this season. They’re a gutsy group that will undoubtedly continue to make the best of a bad situation, and the fighting spirit they have displayed is testament to their character.

But at the end of the day, their inability to compete against the top teams is a poor reflection of what a franchise from that rich rugby region of the country should be all about. Furthermore, it again illustrates that six South African franchises are just too many to produce a competitive all-round showing. Especially when one of the franchises has been as poorly managed as the Kings have been over the last year.

Then, for Japanese rugby, the hype of the national team’s impressive performance at last year’s World Cup has faded quickly in light of the Sunwolves’ struggles in Super Rugby. Of course they will improve over time, and Japanese rugby will be far stronger as a result of the exposure they’ve been afforded, but the fact remains that the Sunwolves have looked out of their depth to date.

It’s also been really unfortunate to see one of Japan’s stars from the World Cup, Ayumu Goromaru, gaining very little game time for the Reds, when he could have been adding value to the Sunwolves.

Not many knew exactly what to expect from the Sunwolves before the season kicked off, but by contrast, there was certainly no shortage of expectation that surrounded the Jaguares.

Considering the number of Argentinian Test players that formed part of the Jaguares squad, many believed they would be one of the top performers in Super Rugby. Before the season began, more than one coach ventured that they could well be title contenders. Six games and five losses later, that certainly doesn’t look to be the case.

It’s clear that the Jaguares are still coming to terms with the demands of Super Rugby, the pace of the game and gruelling nature of week-after-week competition. Not to mention the travel. But more should certainly have been expected of a side that seems caught between styles of play.

A long season lies ahead, and it’s not going to get any easier for the three Super Rugby newcomers. Unfortunately, up to this point, the three teams have only really served to further dilute the competition in an already saturated season.

Photo: Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images

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