Time is right for SA champs

Sun, 10 Feb 2013 18:06
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With an ace up their sleeve, the Sharks and Stormers will have their greatest chance yet to end their Super Rugby trophy drought this year.

With an ace up their sleeve, the Sharks and Stormers will have their greatest chance yet to end their Super Rugby trophy drought this year.

So different, yet so alike. That’s how one can describe South Africa’s top two franchises in recent years.

Their gameplans could not be more contrasting, the Sharks thriving off high octane, attacking rugby while the Stormers rely on their near impregnable defence and goal-kickers to get the job done.

For their distinct tactical difference, they share the reputation as perennial bridesmaids and have long been labelled chokers due to their inability to win the big one.

The Durban side have played in four finals in the SANZAR era (in 1996, 2001, 2007 and 2012) while the men from Cape Town reached their maiden final in 2010 and hosted home semifinals in the last two years - with nothing to show for it.

That could all change this year with the introduction of a new foe in the Southern Kings and several law changes that will be used in the tournament for the first time. The farcical manner in which the Kings was included in the tournament has set the Eastern Cape franchise up to fail.  

The newcomers don’t have a squad that even slightly resemble the necessary depth to stay afloat in the deep, shark-infested waters of Super Rugby and consequently, are destined to be the whipping boys of 2013.

Their loss – likely a forgettable one-year Super Rugby stint – will be South African franchises’ gain as instead of facing the traditional defiant Lions in ultra competitive derbies, the Sharks, Stormers, Bulls and Cheetahs will have the opportunity to pick up ten points from their home and away conference clashes against the Kings.

As a result, South Africa are set to have three teams in the play-offs, as they did last year. The Sharks will have an additional and potentially crucial advantage under the implementation of a number of law changes.

The changes, which include the five-second rule at ruck time, have been adopted to speed up the game and therefore play directly into the hands of the Sharks and other attack-orientated sides.

The Stormers have hosted back-to-back semifinals due to their unrivalled consistency. They topped the log after the regular season last year thanks to 14 victories, two more than eventual champion Chiefs.

But they also managed the least amount of bonus points – just two – while the Sharks and Bulls both bagged 11. Contrary to popular belief, the Bulls know their way to the try-line; they scored a South African best 50 five-pointers last season, a tally eclipsed only by the Hurricanes (58).

If the Pretoria side can find an alternative for or speed up the formation of their chain of blockers for scrumhalf Francois Hougaard to avoid being hampered by the five-second rule inside their half, they should be in the top six again this year.

The Sharks and Stormers are the true title contenders, though, and considering that they will profit from a weakened national conference, the Super Rugby title could be on its way back to South Africa this year.

By Quintin van Jaarsveld

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FIXTURE GMT VENUE
Sun, 22 April 2018
Racing Metro v Munster 14h15 Paris
Fri, 27 April 2018
Munster v Ulster 22h00 Thomond Park
Kings v Cheetahs 22h00 Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
Treviso v Zebre 22h00 Stadio Monigo
Dragons v Scarlets 22h00 Rodney Parade
Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors 22h00 Myreside
Cardiff Blues v Ospreys 22h00 Cardiff Arms Park
Connacht v Leinster 22h00 Sportsground
Worcester Warriors v Harlequins 22h00 Sixways
Wasps v Northampton Saints 22h00 Ricoh Arena
London Irish v Saracens 22h00 Madejski Stadium
Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons 22h00 Welford Road
Gloucester v Bath 22h00 Kingsholm
Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks 22h00 Sandy Park
Hurricanes v Sunwolves 07h35 Wellington
Stormers v Rebels 13h00 Newlands
Sat, 28 April 2018
Reds v Lions 05h05 Suncorp Stadium
Blues v Jaguares 07h35 Eden Park
Brumbies v Crusaders 09h45 Canberra
Bulls v Highlanders 15h15 Loftus Versfeld
RESULT SCORE
Sun, 22 April 2018
Brumbies v Jaguares 20 | 25
Sat, 21 April 2018
Ulster v Glasgow Warriors 36 | 15
Zebre v Ospreys 37 | 14
Sharks v Stormers 24 | 17
Leinster v Scarlets 38 | 16
Bulls v Rebels 28 | 10
Reds v Chiefs 12 | 36
Crusaders v Sunwolves 33 | 11
Fri, 20 April 2018
Waratahs v Lions 0 | 29
Blues v Highlanders 16 | 34
Sun, 15 April 2018
Saracens v Bath 41 | 6
London Irish v Exeter Chiefs 5 | 45
Sat, 14 April 2018
Leinster v Treviso 15 | 17
Kings v Cardiff Blues 12 | 45
Sharks v Bulls 10 | 40
SUPER RUGBY
MORE LOGS
Pool AU
Team P W D L Pts
Waratahs 8 5 1 2 24
Rebels 7 4 0 3 21
Brumbies 8 3 0 5 15
Reds 8 3 0 5 13
Sunwolves 8 0 0 8 2
Pool NZ
Team P W D L Pts
Crusaders 8 6 0 2 29
Hurricanes 7 6 0 1 27
Highlanders 7 5 0 2 24
Chiefs 8 6 0 2 26
Blues 7 2 0 5 12
Pool SA
Team P W D L Pts
Lions 9 6 0 3 30
Bulls 8 4 0 4 19
Sharks 9 3 1 5 18
Stormers 9 3 0 6 14
Jaguares 7 3 0 4 12