CRAIG LEWIS looks at five things that would be good to see emerge from this Super Rugby season.
Local scrumhalf to dominate proceedings
The untimely passing of Joost van der Westhuizen and the recent retirement of Fourie du Preez have served as poignant reminder of past players who have dominated the world game in the Bok No 9 jersey.
However, in recent years, it’s been a struggle to find a locally-based scrumhalf who automatically demands inclusion at a higher level. From Francois Hougaard to Cobus Reinach to Rudy Paige to Faf de Klerk, these are players who have shown glimpses of potential to settle into the No 9 berth, without really kicking on.
At national level, it’s a position that remains unequivocally up for grabs, and this Super Rugby season offers the opportunity for a scrumhalf at one of the franchises to emphatically make his mark.
Check out some of De Klerk’s highlights from 2016:
Lions to avoid second-season syndrome
A common refrain out of the Lions camp in the pre-season has revolved around acknowledging that they expect to be a team with a target on their back in 2016.
It’s understandable when one considers that the Lions defied many expectations by the way in which they powered into the Super Rugby final last year, while playing a brand of irrepressible rugby.
A host of players earned higher honours as a result, but individually, and from a team perspective, the Lions need to have added some new dimensions to their all-round game if they hope to build on their success of last year
Improved consistency from SA sides
Last year, the Lions emerged as the flag-bearers for the South African franchises as they produced a host of memorable performances. However, there wasn’t very much else to shout about.
In the end, the Stormers and Sharks progressed to the playoffs, but both teams were absolutely annihilated in their respective quarter-finals against Kiwi opposition, while the Bulls failed to reach the knockout stage. Beyond that, the Cheetahs and Kings managed only six wins in total in the competition.
Yet, 2017 offers a clean slate, and there have been some signs in pre-season that the Bulls, Stormers, Lions, Sharks and Cheetahs could all produce a competitive showing this year, while the Kings should be a more settled and improved bunch.
Greater skills development and uniformity in playing style
At the SA Rugby coaches indaba held last year, a couple of the primary needs identified were to provide the framework for better collaboration and communication, while fostering a unified brand of rugby that could filter through to the national team.
One of the fundamental factors perceived to be lacking in the SA game revolved around the skills levels of players, and this is something that most teams have spent some time working on during the pre-season.
This year, it would be great to see most teams employing a similar style of play, sharing ideas where possible, and for players to continue enhancing their skills and conditioning to embrace a fast-paced game.
Continued strides on the transformation front
As ever, the topic of transformation remains a sensitive issue in South African sport. But lest we forget, SA Rugby and the sports ministry have agreed about certain transformation targets that must be met.
In order for SA Rugby to finalise their bid for the 2023 World Cup, and certainly if they hope to achieve certain targets by 2019 (such as 50-50 representation at national level), then there needs to be a greater drive towards making meaningful strides on the transformation front.
As the Blitzboks and Proteas have proven, there are players of colour who can thrive when they are backed to perform, and there is a need for South Africa’s Super Rugby franchises to continue ensuring they are proactive on this front.
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