After almost more than three months without rugby, the Super 14 will be kicking off on Friday. It feels as though I have been going stir-crazy in the off season. It has felt as though the last three months have been three years. I don’t think being gang-audited in the beginning, middle and towards the end of January has helped any either. But the best part of the year kicks off on Friday morning (SA time) when the Blues take on the Hurricanes in Auckland. And I’m not going to be able to watch it. I have to go to work and earn the dough required for life between the rugby. I don’t think it really matters that much. I have to wait until the very last game in the round before my team plays – The Sharks. They have had a shocking build-up to the Super 14 having lost both of their warm ups against The Western Force and The Stormers. And The Stormers fans have been gloating as though they have won the whole tournament already. They are supposed to be one of the standard bearers of South Africa but a little part of me hopes that they trip up and land on their faces (as usual).
The reasons for everyone writing off the Sharks are simple (and why I don’t think they’re too bad):
- We have no recognised flyhalf. We don’t have a big name in the position as simple as that. He’s supposed to be the lynchpin for the whole team and we don’t have a superstar there. We had signed Juan Martin Hernandez from Argentina to be our flyhalf but he didn’t even make it to the Super 14 after he picked up a back injury in the off season and has had to have a back op and will be out for the whole tournament. We scrambled and signed Steve Meyer from the French team Perpignan. He’s played for the Sharks before and while at Perpignan he played second fiddle and probably learnt a bit from the best flyhalf there is, Dan Carter from The Crusaders. Our backup is Monty Dumond, who is a player who I don’t rate at all and don’t think he makes a proper Currie Cup flyhalf never mind a Super 14 flyhalf. But Ruan Pienaar has recovered from his pre-season operation and he was our starting flyhalf last year although his preferred position is scrumhalf, so he’ll do in a pinch. And before Morne Steyn stepped up in a big way last year, he was the first choice Springbok flyhalf. So we are not in any trouble there.
- Our centres are either too light or just bashers in the view of some critics. Riaan Swanepoel, who is no doubt the starting inside centre is a robust man who will try and force himself over the gain line and while he’s not the most creative force in the backline, he is strong and a good defender. Waylon Murray, our outside centre, is fast and strong and cuts the line like butter. Adi Jacobs (who almost has a century of caps in the Super 14 for the Sharks) can play both inside or outside centre and is quick, creative and a distributor. He can unlock defences like almost no other player but needs a little help with defence (although he showed in 2008) that he does not shirk away from the duty).
- Our tighthead, John Smit, is a retreaded hooker. He’s also the national skipper and the most capped international captain of all time in Rugby Union. Last year, until the semi against the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup and the End of Year tour our front row (which is also the Springbok front row) demolished all who stood before them. Except for Australia in one game, but out of nine games it’s not a bad return. I’ll attribute the end of the season as fatigue.
A lot of people are saying that the loss of Frans Steyn will affect us badly. But I don’t think it’ll make that big of an impact. Let’s not forget that this is the same man who couldn’t kick the ball out in 2007 and cost the Sharks the Super 14 title, who never passed the ball and tried to do everything by himself even though he had a world class backline outside of him.
In the off season, the Sharks signed Willem Alberts and Louis Ludik from the Lions but there have been legal issues with the Lions stating that the players are in breach of contract and have refused to issue clearance certificates for them to play for the Sharks. The contracts state that they need to go to arbitration if either party is unhappy with the contract but the Lions Union refused to go to arbitration and have been insistent on the players returning. SARU had refused to get involved and said the two unions need to sort it out (which the Lions have been uncooperative and have tried to strong arm the players). Eventually the Sharks were forced to play Willem Alberts in one of the warm up games to force SARUs hand. The Lions lodged a complaint with SARU and a mediator was appointed. The hearing happened today and the mediator dismissed the complaint as invalid. Now both parties have to go to court to resolve the issue. With the season starting on Friday, there is not a lot of time before that can happen. Somehow, even though the complaint was dismissed as invalid we (The Sharks) aren’t allowed to play these players. That seems to be so retarded. If the controlling body of rugby says that a complaint is invalid, surely life can move on while the courts sort through the shit.
But I’m sure that the Sharks will do better than anybody suspects or expects.