The 2014 Scrum Down Begins


 

The Lions fan saw her coming. As the young twentysomething in the dark blue jumper edged closer to him, with her cameraman in tow, he began to protest. “No, no, please take that camera away,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about the Lions.” He looked stern with his goatee. She smiled and pleaded. “Have you seen the score?” he asked, pointing to his right at the giant score board. It was 31-0 to the Sharks, a few minutes before the end of the first half. “There is a Sharks fan. Talk to the Sharks fan,” he offered in consolation. The young presenter skulked away, the Lions fans settled back into his chair. If Friday night’s warm-up game between the Lions and Sharks is anything to go by, it’s clear that it’s going to be a tough Super Rugby season for the Johannesburg side and their coach Johan Ackermann.

The Lions are back in the competition in 2014 in place of the Southern Kings, a decision that is clearly not in the interests of the transformation of South African Rugby. But, hey, when did the powers that be start caring about that? The South African Rugby Union (Saru) recently took a vote not to include the Kings in the Currie Cup in 2014, even though the Eastern Cape franchise was offering up its right to a play-off to play in the 2015 Super Rugby tournament. The decision is to be put to a vote again soon. The Kings, with one of the most transformed rugby sides and supporter bases in the country, have been left out in the cold in a shameful act of self-interest.

The Lions continue to be repeat offenders, only having two black players in their match-day squad, namely Namibian national left winger Chrysander Botha and flank/lock MB Lusaseni, who was drafted in from the Leopards this year and came on off the bench on Friday night. The side also featured the infamous Bees Roux, who in 2011 was given a suspended sentence on charges of culpable homicide and drunken driving after he allegedly beat Metro police officer Ntshimane Mogale to death. Roux paid R750 000 to Mogale’s widow. “I admit I exceeded the boundaries of private defence and although I had no intention to murder the deceased, I assaulted him and negligently failed to foresee my actions might cause death,” Roux said at the time.

The Lions team that was eventually walloped 57-14 by the Sharks was mostly made up of fringe players, so nobody is expecting the equivalent Super Rugby match to be as easy a victory for the Sharks, but the teams are in a different class for sure. Things started looking bad for the Lions in the first half, as Sharks flyhalf Patrick Lambie and inside centre Frans Steyn cut through their defence with rapier runs into space that created numerous tries. The Lions seemed to have no answer to creative players like Lambie and Steyn (one try), and finishers like Odwa Ndungane (two tries), Lwazi Mvovo (one try) and S’bura Sithole (two tries). To be fair, though, when the Sharks made wholesale changes at the start of the second half to what was close to a full-strength team, they didn’t dominate as much, but they still pulled off a comprehensive victory.

The Sharks’ Springbok front row of Beast (Tendai Mtawarira), Jannie du Plessis and his brother Bismarck looked very good, but once the changes were rung in the reserve front row of Lourens Adriaanse, Monde Hadebe and Dale Chadwick looked less impressive − Chadwick in particular. Flanks Marcell Coetzee and Jean Deysel were not at their best, but eighth man Lubabalo ‘Tera’ Mtembu impressed in the rucks and in his link play and line running. An area of concern for the Sharks’ is at lock, where the young Pieter-Steph du Toit is still making a name for himself. But on this occasion Anton Bresler joined him in the middle and they looked solid enough. But on the whole, Jake White’s team looked a bit underdone, having had very little pre-season match time.

On the coast, the Stormers faced up to the Kings on the same night. They scored six tries in a 40 points to 7 rout at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. Schalk Burger and Siya Kolisi (two tries) starred for the Stormers, with hooker Scarra Ntubeni also powering over the line for a try. Burger played against the Bulls last weekend in his first game back from injury for the Stormers, who beat the Pretoria side 26-19. Victor Matfield made his return to competitive rugby in the same game. It’s no secret that the Stormers have a weakness on the wing after the departure of Bryan Habana to France and young fullback/winger Cheslin Kolbe out injured. Coach Allister Coetzee has told the media he is on the lookout for a signing. But with Jaco Taute returning to play fullback, Gio Aplon will be freed up to play on the wing for now. The Stormers were dealt a further blow at centre this week when Juan de Jongh was ruled out for six weeks.

The Sharks and Stormers definitely go into the Super Rugby competition as the form South African sides. The Bulls are in a rebuilding phase, the Lions are set for a long and difficult season, and if the Cheetahs can remain injury free they could easily snatch a spot in the top seven. It feels a shame the Kings are not going to build on a successful first season of Super Rugby, but hopefully sanity will prevail at Saru and the Eastern Cape outfit will get a spot in the Currie Cup to continue building a formidable team that’s able to challenge the best in Super Rugby in the years to come. With one week to go, the South African rugby public is eagerly gearing up for another season. Let’s hope South African rugby is a more transformed sport at the end of this season. It’s time to stop making excuses and get down to the hard work of making rugby a truly representative sport and secure its future in South Africa at the same time.


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