A bizarre push by a referee on a player only served to add to SANZAR’s woes as Super Rugby is experiencing arguably its worst start to a season. However, the Sharks 12-6 defeat of the Stormers in an exciting, brutal Round 3 encounter in Durban, breathed life into the lacklustre 2013 Super 15.
In saying that, a lot of the first half of the match was a kick-a-thon, with both sides reluctant to test the defence.
In the end, no tries were scored, but the ball-handling from both sides was excellent, considering the combative defence.
Sharks stars winger JP Pietersen, No. 8 Ryan Kankowski and flyhalf Patrick Lambie showed form that will have national team selectors taking note.
Fan favourite, prop Mendai “the Beast” Mtawarira turned brute force into elegance when he made a covering tackle, stripped the ball and turning defence into attack in a twinkling.
Stormers winger Bryan Habana is back to his hard-working brilliant best, as is his tiny wing partner Gio Aplen.
Last season, the Sharks made the Final and the Stormers won the South African conference.
The poor standard of this year’s Super 15 was epitomised by the Reds 18-12 victory over the Hurricanes in Brisbane.
Both sides played mistake-riddled rugby. Referee Steve Walsh contributed with an inept display.
Walsh started his career as a potentially great referee. However, the New Zealand rugby union sacked him in 2009 over alcohol related issues.
He moved to Australia and worked as a builder’s labourer until he was picked up by the Australian union.
In Brisbane, on Saturday, he shoved Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith, when he asked him about a decision.
Smith laughed the incident off, saying: “I don’t know who they’ll be citing, him or me.”
The centre was less forgiving of Walsh’s whistle blowing, effectively blaming him for the Hurricanes loss.
Walsh has a history of clashing with players and officials. In the 2003 World Cup in Australia he was suspended for three days by the International Rugby Board following an altercation with England fitness coach Dave Reddin.
Last September, British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland said his side would be watching for off-field tricks when they toured Australia in June. He said the then ARU boss John O’Neill was “a master of influence in certain things”.
O’Neill responded by saying if he had influence he would have Walsh “become a New Zealander again and handle all three [Lions] Tests”
SuperRugby’s poor start
Administrators at SANZAR (South Africa, New Zealand and Australia Rugby) must take some responsibility for the poor start to the Super 15. Teams take one or two competition games to find form. But the teams had a staggered start this year.
For example, in Round 1, the following teams had a bye: Blues, Bulls, Cheetahs, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders, Hurricanes, Kings, Sharks, Stormers.
On Saturday, the Crusaders lost 34-15 to the Blues, who were poor last season. So bad, in fact, that coach Pat Lam was replaced with Sir John Kirwin, who has All Black world cup-winning coach Graham Henry helping him.
Improvement would be expected. But the Crusaders were playing their first competition game—in Round 3—which means they weren’t match fit.
In the Super 15, a 1-game penalty is a huge impost.
Then to Round 17 in June. The following teams have byes: Blues, Bulls, Cheetahs, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders, Hurricanes, Kings, Sharks, Stormers.
In Rounds 18 and 19 in June and July the following teams have byes for both weeks. They are: Brumbies, Force, Rebels, Reds, Waratahs.
The final series begins one round after these teams return to the competition.
No one knows the effect of a 2-week enforced sabbatical just before the finals.
Peter Lalanaabaravi is a rugby writer with over 30 years experience.
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