When reputations count for nothing
Round One of Super Rugby 2015 was absorbing and produced some fascinating results. It was clear reputations counted for nothing.
There are four matches that stand out for me, where this 'lack of regard' for fame and names were most evident.
The defending champion Waratahs came up well short in their 15-25 loss to the Western Force in Sydney, while the Bulls were just as badly outclassed by the Stormers (a 17-29 loss) in Pretoria. Throw in the Sharks going down (29-35) to the Cheetahs in Durban and the Crusaders losing (10-20) to the Rebels at home.
* Vir die AFRIKAANSE weergawe, DRUK DIE SKAKEL!
The two main features of these upsets are the fact that the losers were at home (supposedly and advantage) and had a disproportionate number of internationals in their starting XV when compared with the opposition.
Nowhere was it more evident than in the final match of the weekend, on Sunday, when the Waratahs had just one non-capped player in their starting line-up and the Western Force had just four capped players. Yes, 14 to four.
Remember, the Waratahs are also being coached by Wallaby mentor Michael Cheika. The Force have as their head coach Michael Foley, who dumped as Waratahs coach after just one season.
In the Bulls' loss to the Stormers the international count was just slightly more uneven – 12 Springboks in the Bulls starting XV to just three Boks for the Stormers.
The Sharks also had more than double the number of internationally capped players in their loss to the Cheetahs – 10 to four, but only after captain Bismarck du Plessis was a late withdrawal.
In Christchurch the Test caps in the two opposing teams were much closer – 11 All Blacks for the Crusaders to seven capped players featuring in the Rebels starting line-up.
However, when it comes to legends of the game and big-name reputations, the status of the two teams on paper is just as disproportionate as that of the Waratahs versus the Force.
You had the likes of Daniel Carter, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd Richie McCaw, Luke Romano and Owen Franks on the one side. The Rebels' biggest name was loose forward Scott Higginbotham – who does not always start for the Wallabies.
It doesn't means the first weekend's results are an indication of how it will go for the rest of the season.
However, it does confirm that reputations count for nothing if the players don't bother to turn up mentally. In all these cases the team 'wanting it most' was the team that won.
Here is a quick glance at the weekend's results and the number of capped internationals in each starting XV!
Waratahs 15-25 Western Force:
The Waratahs had 14 internationals, with the only uncapped player in the starting XV having been wing Taqele Naiyaravoro. The Force had just four capped players. It becomes even more 'lopsided' when you have names like Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Wycliff Palu and Michael Hooper on the one side. The Force's capped players were Nathan Charles, Pek Cowan, Ben McCalman (none regular Wallabies) and Alby Mathewson (who have just four Test caps, three as replacement and none since 2010).
Bulls 17-29 Stormers:
The Bulls had just three uncapped players and that included flank Pieter Labuschagne, who previously was a member of the Bok squad, but is yet to be capped. Their off-season recruits included Labuschagne and two other Cheetahs – Boks Adriaan Strauss and Trevor Nyakane. The Stormers' only starting Boks were centres Juan de Jongh (who is currently out of favour at international level) and Damian de Allende (another struggling to get a regular starting spot in the Test team), as well as No.8 Duane Vermeulen.
Sharks 29-35 Cheetahs:
Not only did the Sharks start with 10 internationals (eight Boks, an English Test player and a Namibian international) – with big names like Patrick Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Marcell Coetzee, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira – but among their uncapped players were highly rated men like Sibusiso Sithole and Lubabalo Mtembu. The Cheetahs' Test players were Capped players Willie le Roux, Teboho Mohoje, Lodewyk de Jager and Coenie Oosthuizen – with De Jager having lasted less than 10 minutes before having left the field injured.
Blues 18-23 Chiefs:
This was one of the more balanced games of the weekend, even though the Blues had six Test players at the start and the Chiefs just two. The Blues could field All Blacks like Charles Piutau, Jimmy Cowan, Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua, James Parsons and Tony Woodcock. The Chiefs relied heavily on All Blacks Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Cane, with the former particularly influential.
Lions 8-22 Hurricanes:
The one game where the reputations of the more established internationals were enhanced. The Lions had just two Boks in their staring XV – Marnitz Boshoff and Warren Whiteley, with Boshoff having a game he would rather forget in a hurry. The Hurricanes' most influential players were All Blacks Conrad Smith, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara and Ben Franks.
Brumbies 47-3 Reds:
The Brumbies had the reputations and made it count – 12 internationals starting to the six of the Reds. Not only did they have talented players like Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Matt Toomua, David Pocock, Scott Fardy and Sam Carter, but they also wanted it more – as epitomised in Pocock's return after two knee reconstructions. You would have expected more from quality Reds players like Will Genia, Liam Gill, James Horwill, Saia Fainga'a and James Slipper – with Horwill in particular apoplectic and cheerless.
Crusaders 10-20 Rebels:
This is a classic case of where reputations count for nothing. The Test numbers count was just 11 to seven in favour of the Crusaders. However, the Rebels had nothing near the quality of players with the legendary status that men like Daniel Carter and Richie McCaw bring – not to mention you can still call on the likes of Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, Luke Romano and Owen Franks. The Rebels' biggest name was Scott Higginbotham and even he does not command a regular Wallaby starting spot.
By Jan de Koning