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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

It's all down to the Lions, relatively speaking



SuperWrap - Week 17, 2018

“When a pretty girl sits on your lap for two hours, it seems like a minute. When you sit on a hot stove for a minute it seems like two hours. That is relativity.”

That is the line Albert Einstein armed his hapless secretary with for when random people came knocking on his door to learn more about this secret of the universe he had just found.

It is also a line the average South African rugby fan can easily associate with. It’s almost a month since the Springboks sealed a series victory over England in Bloemfontein, but there has been very little for anyone of us to get excited about since. It’s not even been a month, but it already feels like a year.

It is also way too late in the year for any South African Super Rugby team – bar of course the Lions – to turn their 2018 season into a pretty girl for their fans. No, most of us are stove-sitters and the best we can hope for from the last weekend of round-robin action in this year’s tournament is for our teams to switch the heat setting to ‘bearable’.

The Sharks have a chance to sneak into the last wildcard qualification spot with a win against the Jaguares on Saturday combined with a loss for the Rebels against the Highlanders earlier in the day.

It is a scenario that looks far more likely this week than last – but with the treacherously classy Jaguares now acclimatised to SA conditions and not playing at altitude, it is in no way a given.

Even if the Sharks do squeak into the playoffs, their fans won’t be the happiest they’ve ever been. The fixture will be almost unwinnable - being away to the seemingly unstoppable Crusaders, and qualification will put a mask on a season that contained quite a few low points. The Sharks of 2018 had some brilliant wins, but nowhere near enough of them to make this a vintage year.

The same can be said for Bulls fans. The Pretoria side has a chance to chisel themselves off the bottom of the South African conference if they manage to lose by seven points or less against the Lions in Johannesburg this coming weekend, a result that would give us perhaps the fairest statement about where they find themselves at currently: they are barely not our worst.

Bulls fans may one day remember the 2018 season fondly, but that would be because it was the beginning of what may one day be called the Mitchell machine, not because of anything noteworthy achieved in the season itself.

The Bulls had many rugby enthusiasts excited with some of their innovative attacking play this year, but the cold fact is that their set-piece and defence needs a whole lot more work before the team can start to seriously contend for titles.

COULD BE SECOND, COULD BE SEVENTH

Lions fans are the only ones lucky enough to still have no idea of what they are in for.

Depending on results in their own game and elsewhere they can end up anywhere from second to seventh on the log. There is a huge difference between those two positions in terms of both the much-needed gate takings of a home semifinal as well as your actual chances of making the final.

They have their season’s fate still in their own hands, with a win of any sort in their massive trans-Jukskei derby being enough to secure them the conference title and a guaranteed home quarterfinal. To make it a possible home semifinal, however, would require the Waratahs to go down to the Brumbies despite playing in front of their notoriously partisan Sydney home-crowd.

Lions CEO Rudolph Straeuli urged his players earlier in the week to put away their calculators and only focus on the game they will play themselves this weekend. He’ll be the first to pull out the trusty old Casio if results don’t go his side’s way on the day.

The Lions desperately need a big payday or two at the end of this season if they want to stem the tide of franchise stalwarts who have recently become interested in the property market in certain parts of the UK.

But it is not just them. We all need the Lions to be strong in the next month. In fact, we should all clamorously support our log-leaders this weekend.

In terms of stove-sitting, three weeks of average rugby (like we’ve just had) is still a whole lot shorter than three weeks of no rugby (as far as South African interest is concerned).

Every rugby-loving Einstein knows that.

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Here is our look at what happened elsewhere in and around the world of rugby the past week.

TRIES OF THE WEEK

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BEST OF SOCIAL MEDIA


A thought that will console Bulls and Stormers fans also.

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Great Scott! That alone makes one look forward to a Crusaders final win.

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You weren't the only one asking that question this weekend.

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What a wonderful gesture by a very special Springbok captain. As mentioned in the comments, what a sense of belonging those boys must have now. Hats off to you, Siya. You truly are a man of the people.

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SIZE MATTERS

The New Zealand Herald reported earlier this week that New Zealand's much-admired method of selecting school teams based on weight instead of age is coming in for some heavy criticism on home soil.

A study by Wellington data firm Dot Loves Data found that age-group rugby players who have been forced to play with older kids due to weight-restriction rules are more likely to quit the sport.

"This study found statistically significant churn rates for children who do not play with their peers," said DLD chief data scientist Paul Bracewell. "Eleven-year-old children who are playing up a grade by weight are 46% more likely to [leave the sport], compared to a player who is in the same team as their peers."

Bracewell says the weight-banding system in junior rugby is flawed and that player enjoyment for those who are slightly heavier than the norm has been disregarded.

Some players are playing at a grade significantly removed from their age group and this causes anguish as 10-year-olds see the world a lot differently from, say, 12-year-olds.

"Their outlooks are different, their expectations are different and their conversations are different," Bracewell said.

Seems like a one-size-fits-all solution is not as perfect as we were always lead to believe.

SEEING RED

Staying in New Zealand, there seems to be a lot of unhappiness under NZ Super Rugby coaches around the current laws surrounding the issuing of red cards in rugby.

Kiwi coaches Daryl Gibson and Tony Brown have thrown their weight behind earlier calls by Steve Hansen that World Rugby should consider scrapping the red card in favour of a review system such as the ones used in Rugby League and Aussie Rules.

Under such a system the referee has the option of putting a player under review on the field, with his actions and possible sanctions only happening after the game, thus allowing sides to carry on playing with 15 players.

Gibson and Brown both agreed a report system could be beneficial.

"I don't think there's any intent in there. It was just unfortunate," Sunwolves coach Brown said of last week incident involving Sunwolves wing Semisi Masirewa.

"I think it was Steve Hansen said that just put players on report like they do in [rugby] league and play on.

Waratahs coach Gibson said: "I certainly support that. The effect it [the red card] has on the game, it takes away the contest.

"In that instance [with Masirewa], the referee has no option. He's following the letter of the law and that's what he's required to do. Having an intermediary step that's not quite a red card, give him some options - sensible."

Here at the SuperWrap we're not entirely convinced that rugby will thrive if on-field punishment becomes less than it currently is. There is already more than enough cynicism in the game as is.

GOOD FOR THE GOOSE?

Former Springbok flyhalf Johan Goosen has finally opened up about the "madness" when he decided a couple of years ago to walk out on his freshly renewed contract with French club Racing 92.

If you remember, Goosen decided to retire from all rugby at a relatively young age to come work as an executive of a South African horse farm.

At the time it was rumoured that he was offered a much bigger package by Montpellier, something that prompted his bizarre decision.

This week, in an interview with French newspaper Midi Olympique, he came clean about what happened back in 2016. "It was madness. I made a mistake, but that is how life works. I've matured a lot as a person in the last two years and had a chance to clear my head," Goosen said.

"Money had nothing to do with it. Because I was so unhappy (living in Paris) I couldn't possibly stay on for another five years. I needed another life. The sun, wide open spaces, nature... I would have all of that with my new club Montpellier."

Talking about his return to French rugby he said: "I know the people of Racing will whistle, shout and insult me, but I don't care. I'm prepared for that. I know that everybody thinks that I am a lowlife that doesn't deserve a second shot, but I hope that I'll be forgiven one day and that I can play the kind of rugby that Montpellier fans can enjoy."

If only life was that easy, Johan.



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