2019 must be the year in which South African fans across the country have fought with each other most for the bragging rights that come with being top of the table. In what seems to be nothing more than a trip on a merry-go-round, the fans never know where their team is going to be, come Saturday night. A frustration shared by the Coaches I’m sure.
As things presently stand, the Blue Bulls sit at the top of the log on 23 points. A bye this weekend for the men from Pretoria and only 5 points between them and the last placed Lions means that in theory, they could find themselves at the bottom of the conference only a week after reclaiming top spot. The Sharks and Stormers sit on 21 and 18 points respectively and could easily find themselves back on top or just as frustratingly on the bottom of the log at the conclusion of the weekend.
2019 has been a confusing year for anyone playing prediction games, fans, coaches and selectors alike. We have seen games where a team really gets it right, think of the Sharks demolishing the Lions (42-5) two weeks ago, before coming completely undone against the Jaguares (51-17). Such inconsistency baffles everyone.
We’ve seen the Bulls put in a good showing against the Reds (32-17) after failing to close out an easy game against the Jaguares (20-22). Not to mention their well-constructed win against the Sharks (37-14) before the Chiefs came to town on the back of a terrible losing streak to put them to the sword by a record margin (56-20). The Johannesburg based Lions are no better after they were completely outplayed by the Bulls (30-12) to come out the next weekend firing on all cylinders to put the Jaguares to bed (47-39).
In a season as long as Super Rugby a team can afford a slip up here or there and still make it through to the play offs. The issue comes in that any of the teams making it to the play offs will likely be doing so with very little momentum behind them, not to mention the fact that they’ll likely face a touch travel schedule as a result.
Various comments have been passed about South African players lacking mental resilience and based on the evidence at hand there are grounds for such a belief. Teams could definitely benefit from some sessions with a Sports Psychologist, as well as various other interventions so as to allow them to perform optimally on a consistent basis. The error rate drastically increases for these teams when they are under pressure and the pressure is only going to increase as the tournament approaches the business end. Although the impact of professional intervention may not bear fruit immediately, it will surely assist the Boks for their season.
My guess based on present form or lack thereof is that no South African team will make it past the quarter finals of Super Rugby and we will be left watching an all New Zealand affair from there on out. Whilst the rest the players would get is beneficial, it should be used to up-skill and mentally prepare them for what lies ahead in Japan.
The inconsistency in South African Rugby should be of grave concern to Springbok Coach, Rassie Erasmus as come the World Cup, he will be expecting his players to perform for 7-8 weeks on the trot with no slip ups.
Written by: Nicholas Halsey
Image credit: SA Rugby