That was the story yesterday as the Crusaders and the Jaguares went at it for the Super Rugby title. South Africa’s best were reduced to miserable bystanders after yet another year of what-might-have-beens. It’s been nine years since a SA team last cracked the code.
We might quibble about Super Rugby and its byzantine format, but the rugby is always high-octane and much of the handling and finishing reflect the philosophy embraced by Southern hemisphere teams in particular. SA teams had their moments; they just couldn’t string enough of them together.
The Jaguares reached the final because they finally sorted out their disciplinary nonsense and carried the ball with panache. Given their status as nationals in disguise, they will arrive at the World Cup as easily the best prepared squad.
What odds on them knocking over France in their opening World Cup match?
The Crusaders cracked on because their class is marrow-deep. They are resilient and imaginative and possess the most intriguing and interesting coach in Razor Robertson, whose high-energy style is mimicked by his players.
Notwithstanding the disappointment of a local side failing to win Super Rugby, there were several gains. RG Snyman was easily the best SA player on show week after week, a freak of nature who fired up the Bulls engine.
Given that he’s headed overseas after the World Cup, we should enjoy him while we can.
There were others, too, like Herschel Jantjies, the remarkable scrumhalf find from the Stormers, equal parts stroppy and scorching; Lizo Gqoboka, who more and more looks international class; and Handré Pollard, the general of the Bulls and the man upon whom so much expectation rests for the World Cup.
A word, too, for ageless Beast Mtawarira, who now holds the SA record for most Super Rugby appearances. Too bad about the book.
Those looking for light amid the gloom will also recognise the benefit of SA players enjoying two weeks’ rest while the rest were knocking lumps out of each other. Serial also-rans take their gifts from where they can get them.
If Super Rugby led to questions about the depth of SA rugby, it should. The player drain means that squads are threadbare in some positions, although it is heartening that the Boks can still scratch together a formidable match-day 23.
The trouble is the layer beneath, where there isn’t the talent or experience of five or six years ago.
The inclusion of several overseas-based stars in the Bok mix is meant to mitigate this failing, but who is there to keep the local talent pool vibrant and high-quality when the cream is scooped off the top? It can’t be done by remote control, which is why having someone like Duane Vermeulen in the system was so important.
His stats never stacked up this season, but his influence at the Bulls was massive.
The same will be true of JP Pietersen, who has made his way back to Durban.
Soon, the Rugby Championship will roll around. Phoney war or not, the Springboks must start flexing their muscle. Super Rugby was a bust. It’s time to pick up the pieces.
There’s a World Cup to be won.@ClintonV