CAPE TOWN – With the 2019 Super Rugby season finally underway, Mark Keohane shares his Rants and Raves after the first weekend's action.
1. Robbie Fleck’s four-year plan with the Stormers is a week into his fourth campaign as head coach of the Stormers. But the Stormers season is already over. We’ll have to suffer through another failed season when changes could and should have been affected long before the 2019 season started.
Where else in professional sport does such coaching mediocrity get tolerated with contract extensions? Only in South African rugby. Never have I known so many coaches to be employed and give so little back by way of winning. Fleck’s contract won’t be extended beyond this season, but he should never have been given the job four years ago. Where is the accountability from those who employed him? The Stormers in Pretoria were shambolic. They were outcoached, outthought and outplayed.
2. Harry Plummer, New Zealand’s Under-20 captain in 2018 and one of the stars of Auckland’s domestic campaign last season, has been given huge raps. But in his first big moment in Super Rugby the flyhalf fluffed his lines. Plummer, introduced in the second half, had a chance to level the Blues match against the Crusaders but choked with the conversion kick to make it 24-all with six minutes to go.
He then got a chance to win the match with a 78th-minute penalty. The kick was 45 metres, but he had the wind behind him and the angle also wasn’t acute. He again bottled in the moment. Commentators were raving about his big-match temperament before the kick, but what should have been a famous win for the Blues turned into another of those near misses.
3. Each year the referees get given a certain aspect of the game to focus on. Ditto the television-match officials. They tend to be unrelenting for the best part of 160 minutes of the season in applying this and then we predictably get all the usual inconsistencies in the application of the law. It took less than three minutes for the first controversial refereeing decision of the year.
Glen Jackson, as referee, sent the call upstairs as a confirmed try, but he was overruled by the TMO Aaron Patterson. The officials then combined, with 15 minutes left, to red card Sio Tomkinson for a dangerous tackle on All Black and Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick. It was a ridiculous decision, but be guaranteed it will be the first of many that will be made this season.
1. It’s only week one but Handre Pollard’s individual performance was the most significant in the context of the Springboks’ World Cup. Pollard is without doubt South Africa’s number one flyhalf. He showed this at Loftus with the most commanding of performances. The control of his game was a delight. His goal and line kicking were world class. His vision was a joy, and his rugby intelligence and understanding of situations were obvious.
His forwards, with veterans Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits prominent, gave him the foundation but Pollard still had to deliver. Pollard’s chip kick to set up Jesse Kriel’s try just after halftime was a personal favourite from the weekend.
2. Embrose Papier has a magical quality. He combined brilliantly with Pollard in the Bulls emphatic dismantling of the Stormers. Papier, starting at scrumhalf, has Joost van der Westhuizen-like athletic qualities. He must be given the maximum game time this year to make the Boks’ World Cup squad and provide an X-factor to the Springboks’ challenge in Japan.
No player can impress if not given minutes on the field. Papier was done a disservice in 2018, both in Super Rugby and with the Boks, when it came to opportunity. The kid has it - and now he must be backed.
3. The Highlanders, before Super Rugby kicked off, were given bookies’ odds of 9/1 to finish the league season in first place. SA’s leading sports betting analyst Kevin Ferguson, writing for Independent Media as Money Man, encouraged punters to invest in the Highlanders. Well, they flourished in week one against the Chiefs to get an away victory, despite being a man down and having a try disallowed.
Any win in Hamilton is a good one. To do it in these circumstances was exceptional.