With only the Sharks likely to contest the play-offs of Super Rugby for South Africa, Jacques van der Westhuyzen asks: what has happened to South African rugby? Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images

What has happened to South African rugby? It is a question being asked more frequently as only the Sharks look like contesting the play-offs of Super Rugby.

But if Jake White’s men have as miserable an overseas tour as the Stormers and Cheetahs had, and the Bulls are currently experiencing, then even they may struggle to secure a direct passage to the semi-finals.

It is a situation that has made many rugby fans ask several questions about their teams, players and coaches. Right now, at the halfway mark, only the Sharks, who are top of the standings, have a realistic chance of featuring in the play-offs; the Bulls (9th), Lions (10th), Stormers (14th) and Cheetahs (15th) have either mountains to climb to finish in the top six or are possibly already out of the running.

Last year the Bulls finished second, the Cheetahs sixth – both were in the knockout rounds – while the Stormers and Sharks finished seventh and eighth overall, just missing out. The Kings finished in last place. Overall, it was a good Super Rugby season for South Africa.

What has gone wrong? The easy answer is that injuries to a number of key players has hurt a few teams very badly, while statistics show winning away from home has been extremely difficult this year.

But there are other statistics that require examination. Only the Sharks have a positive points difference (104); the Bulls, Lions, Stormers and Cheetahs are all in the negative, a clear indication that the defences are not as tight as they should be.

The Sharks have let in nine tries in eight matches, but the Bulls have let in 18 from nine, the Lions 21 from nine, the Stormers 14 from eight and the Cheetahs a whopping 36 from nine.

In total, the SA sides have conceded 98 tries; the Australians teams have let in 83. And the local teams are also battling to keep up with their counterparts in the scoring stakes – they’ve scored a total of 77 tries, the New Zealanders have scored 85 and the Australians, somewhat surprisingly, 96.

On only five occasions this season have local sides scored five tries or more in a match; the New Zealanders have done so 11 times and the Australians on eight occasions.

But at least the Sharks are bucking the trend. Their stats are very impressive: They’ve lost the least number of times (once), they’ve scored the second highest number of points, they’ve conceded the least number of points and the least number of tries.

White’s men are streets ahead of anyone else in South Africa – let’s just hope they can keep it up.

If they don’t, the 2014 Super Rugby season could be a disaster for South Africa. - The Star