Sharks the SA team to beat in the early stages

John Plumtree arguably has the best squad in South Africa to pursue this year’s Super Rugby title

The Sharks have managed to get their Super Rugby season off to a good start with victories over the Cheetahs and Stormers respectively. Their 12-6 victory over last year’s South Africa conference winners was impressive given the intense collisions taking place around the rucks. It was not great rugby, but it was not poor either, and now the Durbanites have two from two, setting them up for the first half the season.

Their main opposition in the South Africa conference will come from the Stormers, and the Bulls. Morne Steyn, who will be heading to France after the Currie Cup, appears to be the form flyhalf in South Africa at the moment though his team did not cover themselves in glory after beating the Force at Loftus in a poor display 36-26. The scoreline flatters the hosts.

While upfront the Bulls are in fine shape, its their lack of creativity in midfield, typified by a shorn Wynand Olivier, that appears their biggest problem. While their intensity will noticeably improve this coming week against the Blues, Bjorn Basson’s injury is a hammer blow, as the man has the ability to score tries out of nothing.

The Stormers appear to be in better shape this year than last, with Lions players bolstering their ranks. Elton Jantjies, the mercurial flyhalf who when firing is arguably the best in the country, is still settling in in Cape Town with his preparations for the season dealt a large set-back following the sad passing of his father.

Jaco Taute, another Springbok recruit from Johannesburg, is still injured while in midfield Juan de Jongh has not been able to work his way back to full fitness yet. Damian de Allende is a talent, but what should concern coach Allister Coetzee is the effectiveness of his captain Jean de Villiers at 13. Having lost the pace to truly exploit a hole, his distribution is slightly nullified given the ball passes through three sets of hands before getting to him.

The Sharks have the best dept especially among the loose, and given how long the Super Rugby season is, depth is always an important factor for any team seriously planning an assault on the title. In JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo they have two of South Africa’s four best wings while the return of Frans Steyn, surprisingly captaining the side, from midfield rectifies one of their weaker positions last year.

It’s early days yet but the Sharks appear the best equipped side to mount a serious Super Rugby challenge to the likes of the Brumbies, Reds, Waratahs, Chiefs, Crusaders and already this year’s dark horses, the Blues.

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Cape Town won’t see another All Blacks Test until WP realises it needs to walk away from history

Many said it would become a white elephant after the 2010 World Cup. They weren’t exactly wrong

The South African Rugby Union released the Springbok’s home fixtures up to 2015. While there is a new four-team tournament next year, with Nelspruit being anointed a Test venue, an interesting side note is that all the Test matches featuring New Zealand will be played in Johannesburg, at either FNB Stadium or Ellis Park.

I’m sure there are many in Cape Town who feel they are being cheated, even though they get Australia twice in the same period. The last time South Africa played New Zealand in Cape Town was 2008 when South Africa were embarrassingly beaten 19-0 by the All Blacks. Perhaps the fact that Cape Town’s climate is startlingly similar to New Zealand’s is another reason why another All Blacks Test hasn’t been played there?

Cape Town Stadium was built in Green Point, is modern, centrally located and easily accessible by road, and has 60,000 seats. Newlands was founded in 1888, and has gradually evolved with the times, now boasting around 50,000 capacity though some of that is standing. It is crammed into a suburb where road access is poor though rail access is near by (though not used enough by the Cape Town consumer, especially many white residents who barely know it exists). I kid you not. I lived in Cape Town for a year and a half, with many locals not knowing there was a train line there or had never even used it.

Newlands is owned by the Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU), which in turn is controlled by the 70-plus clubs that constitute it. It is an amateur body compared to the unions business arm, WP Rugby. While the WPRFU has said time and again it is not moving from Newlands, with amateur attitudes ruling the way, surely it is time for the union to modernise and be willing to part with history for the sake of the future?

The land that Newlands is built on is worth millions. Selling it would arguably instantly make Western Province the richest rugby union in South Africa. Surely an agreement can be found, especially with Western Province and the Stormers the best supported franchise in Super rugby in South Africa, where WP buys into Cape Stadium. Provincial rugby bosses love money, and Cape Town Staium offers potential revenue that Newlands, though a fabled ground of history, can’t match.

A bit crammed isn’t it?

Until then, I guess Capetonians will have to make due with Australia and lesser lights. For those that live in Johannesburg, the All Blacks are coming every year till 2015.