Derbies, derbies and more derbies, with only the Hurricanes v Stormers to give us a little bit of international flavor.
I did not get to watch all of the matches, but watched enough to form some strong opinions.
1) Yet again the top Kiwi teams will be the teams to beat.
The level of play in the Blues v Hurricanes match versus the other big derbies of Bulls v Sharks and Waratahs v reds was palpable. That’s not to say that the Reds match was dull, it wasn’t, but the Crusaders and Blues were running the ball, passing accurately, following up on the shoulder and kicking on a penny.
Matters were not helped by the fact that South African refs were blowing pedantically and did not allow any of the games played in SA to flow, but the shocking skills on display by the Bulls and Sharks and the horrendous back-line play by the Stormers made me as a supporter very frustrated.
2) The re-interpretation of the rules changing the way the game is played
IF (note the capitalization) the game is blown up as it was for the rest of the Super XV, we could see the type of free-flowing, multi-phase play that the Brumbies made famous all those years ago. With the defenses fanned out across the field and two people committed to the breakdown, it is going to be harder to find gaps. Game-breaking, hard-running centres and holding the ball up for a player coming up at pace could burst through the centre-field defense and forwards mauling the ball up or picking the ball up from the base of the ruck and smashing through the centre for yard gainage you can count on your one hand seem like good strategies.
Don’t expect to see too many fleet-footed wings beating their defender on the outside, one on one though. It’s going to be damn hard to score against a decent defending team.
Who does this favour? Well, everyone to a degree. Let’s look:
1) South African teams
Traditionally we have the meat upfront and then very simple back-line moves trying to find space for a winger outside to beat his man with pace. The meat upfront bashing it up the middle are going to have fun as long as they keep their rucking accurate and the continuity between phases up.
Our back-lines are going to struggle. We don’t really see the guile of an Antipodean back-line in our teams. Looping passes, cross-running, holding the ball up for another player at pace are rare occurrences for a South African Super XV team. The likely source could be Venter and Sadie at the Bulls and De Villiers and De Jongh at the Stormers, where a settled combination could unlock defences.
2) Australian Teams
Lacking in physicality has hampered the Aussie teams over the last couple of years, aside from a stunning season for the Reds last year. This year could spell better times as their super-fit multi-phase play could yield rewards in the form of constructed tries.
The Reds are a good bet with the return of Cooper later on in the Super XV. With the exception of the Waratahs the other teams look like also-rans and if the plucky Lions come last in the South African conference, but above the Aussie also-rans they have a case to turn to SANZAR and say “drop this Aussie team” (which of course will never happen).
3) New Zealand Teams
The Blues and Saders are looking like the teams to beat this year. I think that the Blues will stumble, as will the Richieless and Sans-Dan Saders.
Their skills and pace are great, but their accuracy in the tight is questionable against a technical team like the Bulls.
As for the Kiwi also-rans, I think that the Highlanders flatter to deceive, the Hurricanes are going to struggle for points and the Chiefs look like the show-pony, but have no heart.
It’s all to play for, but does anybody really care that much? Grizzled veterans like McCaw are true professionals and will play till their hearts burst in their chest. Someone like Sonny Bill Williams is more interested in boxing and his career in League next year (all but confirmed).
The South African teams are blooding huge amount of new talent, who are hungry to prove themselves, the Aussies also have a fair amount of young talent and they will be looking to retain the Super 15 and win the first Quad Nations Tournament (whatever they are calling it). The New Zealanders seem to have the least new talent coming through this year and will have to dig deep to find that extra motivation to win these tourneys (considering they have now won the World Cup and have won these tourneys millions of times before).
With 5 games every weekend for the next 8 months, I am going to be hard-pressed to watch every single bloody game and I think everyone feels the same. Southern Hemisphere competition is stale. Argentina should add some spice to the international season, but the Super competition needs a rethink and the one they did last year, to put it plainly, stinks.
Less people in the stadiums, less people watching and only South Africa sustaining any interest in games played outside the territory. The stew is stale and they have just negotiated with Murdoch for four more years. I have a feeling that Newcorp will cut their losses and put women’s volleyball on instead…