Being the Kings, they ask for two presents
Christmas time is here and like many of you, Super Rugby franchises hope to receive the present they desire most from the fat man in the red suit.
Whether it’s finally winning the elusive title, avoiding relegation, greater depth or key players side-stepping injury, each team long for a gift that will help them achieve their respective season objectives.
Here, then, is a rundown of what each team wish to find under their tree at their headquarters this Christmas.
A new-look Blues side will seek redemption after falling from grace in 2012. Earmarked by many to reach the semifinals, a star-studded Blues outfit were quickly reduced to also-rans and ultimately condemned to a 12th place finish this year. The arrival of John Kirwan will bring about fresh ideas and a sense of a new beginning, which the franchise will welcome with great optimism and look to use to set about a turnaround of fortunes.
Brumbies: A play-off spot
Jake White’s no-name collective surprised all and sundry only to lose out on the Australian Conference title and a home play-off by the narrowest of margins in 2012. Although they sported an identical 58 championship points and a superior points-difference than the Reds, their final round 30-16 defeat to the Blues at home saw the Reds take all the spoils by virtue of 11 wins to the Brumbies’ 10.
Bulls: The return to form of Morné Steyn
The men from Pretoria desperately seek for Santa to sprinkle some goldust over the head of their fallen flyhalf Morné Steyn. The Bulls and Springbok veteran endured a nightmare 2012 in which he relinquished the Green and Gold No.10 jersey he held since 2009 after his previously dependable golden boot began to misfire. The spectacular loss of goal-kicking form and self confidence reduced the one-dimensional Steyn from captain of the ship to mere passenger. While the Bulls have adequate depth at pivot, with the acquisition of South African Under-20 IRB Junior World Championship-winning flyhalf Handré Pollard and the promising Louis Fouché, Steyn remains the linchpin of the Pretoria side around which their gameplan is formulated.
Cheetahs: Better defence
The Cheetahs have consistently been their own worst enemy. All their eye-catching attacking endeavour is undone by their frail defence, which leaked 47 tries and a whopping 458 points in the 2012 campaign. This defensive deficiency is the primary reason why the Cheetahs have been unable to better their all time best 10th place finish in the tournament. If they can somehow plug the gaping holes in their defence, they could become play-off contenders in the not too distant future.
Chiefs: Staying at the top
The defending champions will have one objective in minds and that is to ensure the silverware stays in Hamilton. The Chiefs will find themselves in unchartered waters as they enter the tournament with a bullseye on their back and it won’t take long for them to realise that it is easier to become champions than to stay champions.
Crusaders: Reclaiming the title
For the most decorated Super Rugby franchise in history, reclaiming the coveted title they last won in 2008 is the top priority. They set about their 2013 crusade with the mantra the ends justify the means. It matters not how they get there or how they do it, the Christchurch faithful are hungry for success and won’t settle for anything less than Super Rugby’s holy grail.
Highlanders: New star signings delivering
Jamie Joseph’s extensive and much criticised recruitment drive portrayed a message that new blood was needed for the Dunedin outfit to clime the ranks and perhaps even end a 10-year play-off drought in 2013. The acquisitions of a number of big-name players see the franchise boast just shy of a dozen All Blacks in their 2013 vintage and points to a promising campaign. To set the wheels in motion, however, it’s imperative that star signings Ma’a Nonu, Tony Woodcock and Brad Thorne deliver on the pitch.
Hurricanes: A better home record
Conrad Smith’s young Hurricanes shot themselves in the foot by underperforming at home in 2012. Whilst the inexperienced squad punched above their weight, their dismal 50 percent home win record dashed any play-off aspirations the Wellington side might have harboured.
Kings: A win … and a foreign freebie
Being the Kings, Cheeky Watson and company feel they are entitled to
demand ask for two presents. The newcomers’ first request is for a maiden Super Rugby victory, as to spare them the embarrassment of a winless debut campaign. Secondly, the Kings kindly ask that the status quo of two foreign players per franchise not apply to them. Their aim, after all, is to bolster transformation in the Eastern Cape? (If you were wondering why the Kings didn’t ask to avoid relegation, it’s because they know Santa hands out presents and isn't a miracle worker.)
Melbourne Rebels: A general
The Melbourne franchise’s greatest setback is their lack of a competent, game-managing flyhalf. England pivot Danny Cipriani was a major flop and despite possessing two of the brightest young talents in the game, neither Kurtley Beale nor James O’Connor has showed a willingness or ability at this stage of their careers to dictate matches tactically. For the Melbourne Rebels to break into the top 10, one of their prodigies will need to take on the role of general and lead his team around the park.
Reds: No Quade Cooper drama
After the soap opera that was Quade Cooper’s attacks on the Wallaby gameplan and environment and threatening to quit the sport, the Reds - and new coach Richard Graham - will be hoping for a drama free 2013 regarding their playmaker.
Sharks: Shaking the chokers tag
After reaching and losing their third Super Rugby Final this year, in addition to losing a home Currie Cup Final, the Sharks want nothing more than to win the big one and finally rid themselves of the unenviable chokers tag.
Stormers: An injury free season for Schalk Burger
The Stormers cruelly lost their blonde-haired talisman for the entire year in their 2012 season opener and with it arguably their most valuable player. The likes of Deon Fourie and Siya Kolisi did an admirable job of filling the void, but there’s only one Schalk Burger - a tough-as-nails, all-action juggernaut and a man whose mere presence lifts a team to greater heights.
Waratahs: New direction
After a franchise worst 13th place finish and just four wins, it was obvious at the end of the 2012 season that things had to change in Sydney if the Waratahs were to become a force in Super Rugby again. Michael Cheika is the man entrusted with the rescue job and those in Sydney are hopeful that the European Cup-winning coach can lead their team back on the right path.
Western Force: Avoiding being the ‘weakest link’
Above all else, the men from Perth will want to avoid being the last-placed side in the Australian Conference for the second successive season. The Melbourne Rebels won just four of their 16 matches. Unfortunately for the Western Force, though, two of those came against them, and the narrow 30-29 and 32-31 defeats at Nib Stadium and AAMI Park consigned them to the bottom of the Australian Conference.
By Quintin van Jaarsveld
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