Knowler: Disjointed, boring Super Rugby start

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 15/02/2014

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OPINION: It would be unwise for Sharks fans to hope new coach Jake White reveals a dramatic change in philosophy when Super Rugby begins in South Africa tomorrow morning.

With the Springboks' June test matches finishing a week after their Australasian counterparts, Sanzar has determined the South African conference matches must begin a week earlier.

The Cheetahs host the resurrected Lions in Bloemfontein's Free State Stadium and the Sharks meet the Bulls at Durban's Kings Park.

This disjointed start to the season does the competition a disservice.

Sanzar, which promotes its competition as one of the world's best, are unable to maximise the marketing and promotion side of things because of the lopsided start and many New Zealand and Australia fans will only take a half-hearted interest because it is difficult to get engaged in South African games played overnight.

Which brings us to White.

Last year, in just his second season as Brumbies head coach, he guided the Canberra side into the final.

Against all predictions the Brumbies beat the Bulls in the semifinal in Pretoria and then raced back to New Zealand to meet the Chiefs in the final in Hamilton.

Had Chiefs replacement fullback Robbie Robinson not scored a crucial try in the second half, the Brumbies may have won their first title since 2004.

That would have justified White's conservative game plan of kicking long, sending a fast line of defenders to suffocate the ball receiver to trap them inside their own half.

That would have been a tragedy.

It was efficient – as they proved when they nearly upset the Chiefs – but boring. And as wing Clyde Rathbone later admitted, it was just as frustrating for the players.

"I think it was almost poetic justice in the sense the Chiefs won this game, having played the most football in the last 15 minutes," Rathbone said after the final.

"There is almost something wrong with rugby if you can win a final not having played much football. I think we need to get to the place where to win a championship, you've got to play football."

Rathbone was careful not to blame his old mentor White, pointing the finger at the game's rules for not encouraging enough attacking rugby.

But maybe it was White's job to find another way around the problem. The Chiefs did.

White has selected 11 Springboks in his starting side to face the Bulls but it may be naive to expect anything but an intricate game of kick, chase, ruck, lineout and clap.

Hopefully White and Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, who has recalled ex-Bok lock Victor Matfield into his squad this year, prove such predictions wrong. Don't hold your breath.

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The Lions, who were ditched last year when the Southern Kings were admitted, are up against it but they can at least be assured of remaining in the competition for two seasons.

South Africa has scrapped their promotion-relegation process, meaning the Kings can't regain their place until after 2015 when the Republic is expected to be awarded a sixth team.

Meanwhile, teams will no longer be awarded four points for each of their byes.

Sanzar has scrapped this senseless rule which proved more confusing than helpful.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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