Johannesburg – If the big teams didn’t know it already they know it now: no one is to be underestimated in this year’s Super Rugby competition.
Going into this last weekend’s round of matches, the Cheetahs had made their mark, enforcing the notion that any team can beat another, whether at home or on the road, but after several more surprise results at the weekend, it is now fair to say this year’s competition is the most competitive yet, with no clear-cut favourites.
If the Cheetahs have been the unexpected form team so far in South Africa, then the Southern Kings have been the revelation. Abroad, with the Western Force getting one over the Crusaders at the weekend, things are just as tightly contested.
Super Rugby 2013 may have made a fairly uninteresting start, but now as we head towards the halfway mark, the competition is as good as ever. The quality of rugby has, perhaps, not been all that enthralling, but for sheer excitement value and not knowing what is going to happen from one game to the next, it is up there with the best we’ve seen over the years.
In South Africa, the big winners at the weekend were the Stormers and Bulls, who were desperate for the points after a few weeks of slipping up badly. Neither outfit was particularly clinical or convincing in picking up wins over the Sharks and Cheetahs, but both showed a fighting spirit, hunger and desire and their victories have at least seen them get back into the mix to challenge for the play-offs later in the competition.
Winning home games is crucial and for once both the Stormers and Bulls made playing in familiar surroundings count. But while back in the winner’s circle, coaches Allister Coetzee and Frans Ludeke will need their teams to show far more consistency and all-round accuracy if they’re to stay in the hunt for the title this year.
The “feel-good” performance came from the Kings who, after drawing with Australia’s strongest outfit, the Brumbies, the previous week, delivered another stunning defensive effort to pick up a second win this year and their first on the road, against the Rebels – the very team that beat the Western Force seven days earlier.
And everyone knows who beat the multiple champions, the Crusaders, on Saturday: the Force.
Flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis was the big hero for the Kings, slotting a last-gasp drop-goal for the men from the Eastern Cape, but it was another 22-man effort that saw the Kings come away with the points.
The Kings have shown not even they can be taken for granted anymore, not when they refuse to give up and are prepared to put so much passion into their performances.
The Force’s win was, of course, the other surprise result of the weekend. Not too many people would have expected the men from Perth to down the Crusaders, but, like the Kings, they’re a side who, when they get it right on the day, make life extremely difficult for their opponents.
The Blues, yet to really convince this season, also pulled off an unlikely win against the Hurricanes, while the Chiefs, probably the most consistent performers this year, were rocked by the Reds, and that in Hamilton.
It really is a case of anyone being able to beat anyone else and you can be sure we’re going to see plenty more surprises in the coming weeks. Hell, try figuring out who’ll start as favourites in this weekend’s games, with the big ones locally the derbies between the Sharks and Cheetahs – both losers this last weekend – and the Kings and the Bulls, in front of what should be 40000 fanatical home fans in Port Elizabeth. Enjoy.
Bulls 26 Cheetahs 20; Stormers 22 Sharks 15; Force 16 Crusaders 14; Rebels 27 Kings 30; Blues 28 Hurricanes 6; Chiefs 23 Reds 31; Highlanders 19 Brumbies 30
Friday: Hurricanes v Force; Waratahs v Chiefs
Saturday: Crusaders v Highlanders; Reds v Brumbies; Sharks v Cheetahs; Kings v Bulls