CAPE TOWN - What do the worrying results of South African Super Rugby teams mean for the Springboks?
It might be easy, and definitely not unfair, to say that the results we’ve seen from the SA sides early in the 2018 competition represent nothing good for the Boks. After all, that’s where the Springboks and the Bok hopefuls are rated. That’s where they build confidence.
With Springbok coach and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus seemingly not keen on limiting his selection pool by closing the door on overseas-based players, regardless of experience, Super Rugby is of course not the only competition that the national coaching group will have their eyes on as they prepare for Test duty against England in June and Wales in Washington before that series.
A lot has been said about England’s "slump" after three defeats, and those talks have been linked to the Boks a number of times - sometimes hinting, or even directly stating, that the Springboks’ chances of beating Eddie Jones’ team are better because of their Six Nations failures. But as coaches will often tell you ahead of a match - be it a round-robin outing or a final - you have to focus on yourself. And the same applies to the Boks. So those Super Rugby performances are important.
During round six, the Lions went down to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires for the third time. The team at the bottom of the SA conference beat the conference-topping Johannesburgers 49-35. That’s concerning, and even more so if you consider the Lions - SA’s Super Rugby pride over the last two years - were also far from impressive against the Sunwolves (40-38) and lost to the Blues. Their only other positive results came against the Bulls and the Argentinians at Ellis Park.
And then there’s the Sharks, who were thrashed 46-14 by the Rebels - the second Australian team they succumbed to after they failed against the Brumbies. So far they have only one win, over the Sunwolves, while they drew with the Waratahs and lost to the Lions.
The Bulls’ weekend included a 33-14 defeat to the Crusaders - one week after they stole the show with their superb first-half performance against the Chiefs, which resulted in a 41-28 defeat. But apart from those two "acceptable" defeats to the New Zealanders and even an impressive win over the Hurricanes, they also lost to the Reds and Lions. Then there’s the Stormers. They beat the cheating Reds, Blues (after a disappointing tour to New Zealand which included defeats to the Waratahs, Crusaders and Highlanders), and survived a Newlands fightback from the Jaguares in their opener.
The Bulls and the Stormers’ results don’t exactly warrant panic. Yes, the Stormers lost three on tour, but they’ve also produced some good performances, while the Bulls have showed positive signs of being an evolving team under John Mitchell. But in general, those results don’t paint a very promising picture for SA rugby.
Obviously things aren’t going as well as they should, and with each team there’s a different reason for their malfunctions. But I don’t think it automatically means the Boks’ Test chances are done with.
Sure, a lack of good results will surely influence the players who form part of the Bok group’s confidence. It might not be good for their mind set. Super Rugby results might cost individual players some confidence, but how they fare in Bok camp will come down to that environment.
How well they prepare, how much freedom they have, how their confidence grows while they’re with the national side. That will determine how the Boks do, not how badly they lost to the Kiwis or Aussies or their fellow South Africans with their respective Super Rugby sides.
I’m not going to try and guess or work out what percentage of their Super Rugby woes will leak into their Bok performances. But I believe it will be bigger than that.
Sure, it’s not lekker to see these kinds of results, and what makes it even worse is the fact that we’re not just seeing these results against the Kiwis.
But when the Boks get to work under Erasmus, how they go against England won’t be a direct result of their Super Rugby disappointments, but rather what Rassie & Co get right in the build-up.