CAPE TOWN - With the final round of Super Rugby league matches and the Craven Week final having taken place this weekend, there is much to both rant and rave about.
1. The most enjoyable South African rugby performance of the weekend came in Paarl from Western Province at the Coca Cola Craven Week. Province were emphatic in smashing KwaZulu-Natal’s best U18s 47-8. It completed a tremendous day for hosts WP, whose second team, WP XV, beat the Bulls first team, 20-16 and whose Academy team crushed Free State 73-0. Province, along with Border, were the best two teams at the tournament. Paul Roos, currently ranked No 1 in South Africa, had seven starting players in the WP team - and this Magnificent Seven seamlessly made the transition from their famous maroon schools’ jersey to the equally famous blue and white hoops of Province.
2. Warren Whiteley’s comeback is gaining momentum. Whiteley’s been bedeviled with injury for the past year but that’s now three successive matches in which the knee, groin and ankle have proven strong enough. Whiteley’s leadership will be essential to the Springboks’ collective in the Rugby Championship, but his form also means he will be the obvious choice at No 8 to replace the unavailable Duane Vermeulen. It was great to see Springboks Whiteley and Malcolm Marx playing with authority.
3.The Bulls, as a team, were poor and took a beating but despite the 38-12 defeat the individual performances of centre Jesse Kriel and flanker Marco van Staden merit applause. Kriel has learned to run with the ball in two hands, which keeps the defenders on the inside and outside guessing. His brilliant try early in the match was also a result of this ability to keep two hands on the ball when attacking space. Van Staden’s five turnovers in a losing cause were exceptional.
1. There is still one more season of the farcical conference system to endure, but from 2020 it simply has to change. No tournament can have integrity or credibility when the team that finishes on 46 league points is given all the advantages of potentially two home play-offs (because of conference nationality) and the team that finishes on 51 points has to travel for the next fortnight to make a final. The Sharks, with just seven wins from 16, have made the quarter-finals. They travel to Christchurch to play the Crusaders, who have won 14 from 16 and who have 27 league points more. What a contrast in reward for the magnificent and the mediocre.
2. The Bulls and Stormers, combined, won two less matches than the Crusaders this season. Last year it was even worse, yet these franchise supporters are expected to invest financially and emotionally in teams whose coaches hide behind the tiresome mantra of a three-year plan. It is among the obvious in differentiating the champs from the chumps. Scott Robertson, in applying for the Crusaders job, was emphatic that the title could be won in his first year in charge. Not only did the Crusaders win but they created history in being the first overseas team to ever travel to South Africa and win a final. Now they look likely to defend the title.
3. I applauded the WP Schools success of the past week, but I should be talking about Boland rugby’s schools’ success. Paarl Boys High, Paarl Gymnasium, Boland Landbou and Paul Roos geographically are situated in Boland. The four schools represent Boland in all other provincial sporting codes, except rugby. It is just wrong and it amazes me that the Boland Rugby Union can’t, doesn’t or won’t challenge the status quo in ensuring the best from within their province actually plays for their province.