Patrick Baume writes:
As much as we may feel uneasy about it here on the Pacific rim, it does seem clear that the two best teams have ended up in the Super 14 final and yes, they are both South African.
The potential Springbok first XV, you would expect made up almost entirely of Bulls and Stormers plus a couple of Sharks, looks a mighty daunting prospect. Meanwhile, it was undoubtedly a sub-par year of Super 14 for the Kiwi teams, finishing in fourth, seventh, eighth, 11th and 12th, and there remains a fair bit of angst about the All Black line-up for this year’s Tri-Nations.
But what about us?
A few weeks ago there was still a rough chance of three Australian teams in the finals, and a good chance of two. We ended up with just the Waratahs, who capitulated without much of a clue or a fight against the Stormers in Cape Town, with the Brumbies and Reds ending up fifth and sixth, one underperforming on expectations, the other massively overperforming, yet both having ultimately frustrating seasons, while the Force’s season was over before it began.
Overall undoubtedly an improvement for the Australian teams on a mediocre 2009, and some exciting new and developing talent in every position apart from lock, but the killer instinct is still clearly lacking, and if you were taking bets right now on what country the inaugural Super 15 champion will come from, Australia would most likely be on the third line of betting, i.e. last.
North Gauteng Bulls (SA) v Western Cape Stormers (SA) 1.05am (Sun) (all times AEST)
Let’s not get this wrong, the Stormers defense was truly awesome last weekend, and they underlined their claim as easily the best defensive team in this year’s Super 14, and possibly in any year’s Super competition.
But the Waratahs most definitely did not stretch that defense to its limits, with an extraordinarily ponderous, to the point of timid, performance from the halves Burgess and Barnes and an overall lack of cohesion in attack that this correspondent has to put down to a lack of talent in the coaching box.
On playing talent the Waratahs are undoubtedly a top four team, but they looked like they didn’t belong anywhere near the finals last weekend, and the buck has to stop at the bloke with the clipboard.
Anyhoo … back to the game at hand. The Bulls comprehensively proved me right and Robbie wrong about playing in Soweto (not that I’m skiting, of course), the travel plus the inexperience of the Crusaders backs proving too big a hurdle for the Canterbury trophy factory.
This week could be different however, as it is far more neutral a venue for two South African teams, and if the Bulls go into their shell and try and out field-position the Stormers, rather than rely on their far superior attacking ability, then they could well lose the arm wrestle.
Ultimately though, it should be their finals experience that will get the Bulls over the line and continue their claim to be as much of a long term Super rugby powerhouse as the team they beat last weekend.
Bulls by 6
Pat’s Super 14 side for 2010
Finally, just for fun, here’s my all Super 14 side for 2010.
- Brok Harris (Stormers)
- Tatafu Polota Nau (Waratahs)
- Owen Franks (Crusaders)
- Andries Bekker (Stormers)
- Nathan Sharpe (Force)
- Schalk Burger (Stormers)
- Duane Vermeulen (Stormers)
- Pierre Spies (Bulls)
- Will Genia (Reds)
- Quade Cooper (Reds)
- Drew Mitchell (Waratahs)
- Wynand Olivier (Bulls)
- Rene Ranger (Blues)
- Joe Rokocoko (Blues)
- Israel Dagg (Highlanders)