A SEASONED Hollywood scriptwriter couldn’t have done a better job. Last weekend’s final Super Rugby round robin matches produced the sort of twists and turns of thrillers Alfred Hitchcock was famous for directing.
Now at last the guessing game is over. After marathon spells behind their microphones, SuperSport’s TV experts have reached a tipping point where they can take a deep breath and reveal the following:
The elite Top Six (in the order they appear on the overall log) are: Stormers, Chiefs, Reds, Crusaders, Bulls, Sharks. The two top teams Stormers and Chiefs earn the bonus of a direct route to the semifinals. The four remaining teams have to fight it out in two “quarterfinal” matches: Bulls v Crusaders in Christchurch, and the Sharks, courtesy of a gutsy second half display against the Cheetahs in Durban (34-15), take on the Reds in Brisbane.
There’s little doubt the Bulls face the more difficult task. Richie McCaw’s Crusaders hardly contain a single weak link.
Though the Reds are the current holders of the Super Rugby trophy, the Sharks if the “right” team pitches up on the day should have the easier ride. But as the Sharks have demonstrated so often, how they play on any given weekend seems to depend on which side Keegan Daniel’s men get out of bed on the morning of a match.
They have been that sort of team this season.
On their day they are capable of beating the very best. But when it’s not their day, anything can happen. Witness the mishmash they served up against the Lions at Ellis Park less than a month ago.
Looking at the bigger picture, so far it has been a great season. Even “intense” is hardly an adequate word to describe it. And it’s soon to become more so, as the new southern hemisphere Four Nations season (now including Argentina) looms.
Amid all the excitement have you perhaps missed one specially significant aspect of the Super Rugby season? Take a look again at the six teams left in the tournament. Have you noticed that no fewer than half the teams in that top six are South African? If Springbok coach, Heyneke Meyer, isn’t rubbing his hands in anticipation it would be surprising.
Injuries, of course, present a problem specially those to loose-forward marauder Heinrich Brussow and the unflappable Patrick Lambie now that steamroller Frans Steyn has been declared ineligible for the tournament.
But these hiccups aside, critics who keep harping on the lack of flair about the probable Bok lineup should remember that test rugby is an entirely different kettle of fish to the game at any other level.
They keep complaining about the Stormers having scored so few tries. But why are they top of the Super Rugby log? The answer is simple: they keep on winning, having lost only two of their 16 games.
Remember, too, that consistency is the real secret of success in the international arena. So keep an open mind, the Boks could yet present their country with a proud surprise.
As you read this today spare a thought for Mark Boucher, with best wishes for a full and speedy recovery from his eye injury. Let’s hope, too, that his Proteas teammates can make him proud in the first cricket test against England, starting at the Oval tomorrow.