Loose Pass

Date published: August 9 2012


This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Super things, the changing of a guard and a half-time analysis…

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Super things, the changing of a guard and a half-time analysis…

All hail the Chiefs! One of the most one-sided Super Rugby finals of all time was capped off by yet another simple and brilliant try from Sonny Bill Williams.

The winners dominated from start to finish, ending up deserved winners. Given that this was the first season many of the franchise – including the coaches – had worked together on a Super Rugby project, it's a terrific achievement. If second-seasonitis can be avoided, it's a franchise with the hallmarks of a major future.

There've been grumblings about the scheduling the Sharks had to endure to get to the final and the travel, but we're not buying it. The Crusaders proved better than anyone last year that mastering the time zones can be done. Nor are we buying the moans about 'off-the-ball' stuff and infringements at line-outs by the Chiefs. 4-0 in tries and 37-6 in points is a pretty convincing stat…

However, legitimate questions about the conference system remain. The Chiefs are all the more worthy winners because of the sheer strength of the New Zealand conference. The Australian conference only managed to produce a play-off qualifier on account of the automatic qualification of a pool winner, while the disparity in internal strengths in South Africa gave the Stormers and Bulls especially a little leg-up the table.

The format works well in many ways, but while you are judging results on an overall table you still have flawed competition integrity if some teams have stronger fixture lists than others.

There wasn't much to see of him in the final, but when our poll went up on Super Rugby player of the tournament last week we'll freely admit in the aftermath our vote was going to JP Pietersen.

Aaron Cruden has been superb, but on the back of a superb team performance. Pietersen has stood out like a beacon for the Sharks, even through their indifferent form early on in the year. Since the Sharks' resurgence, Pietersen has been mesmerising at times. There was a half-step and acceleration in the win over the Reds, followed by a defence-splitting offload, that only a player right at the top of his game can make.

The move to centre in the semi-final and final probably stifled him a little bit – try against the Stormers notwithstanding – but there's little doubt that while Cruden's been a standout player in a standout team, Pietersen's been outstanding in a team which didn't always give him the best platform to shine on, which is why he gets our vote.

Another player who was on our shortlist may not have won our accolade, but he was a close second and is now the deserved winner of an accolade he probably wanted a whole lot more.

Liam Messam has worked tirelessly for this All Black call-up, and now gets it after a stellar season in which he has thrived upon the Chiefs' style and shown his depth of quality in terms of not only work-rate, fitness and skill but also leadership.

Man of the match in the Super Rugby final, among the top try-scorers, co-captain of the Super Rugby-winning side. Messam has done it all this year in his finest season to date. Can he finally cut the All Blacks as well? It would be a deserved reward for what has clearly been a year of immense work.

Meanwhile, back in South Africa…. the meeting is scheduled for August 16, but is there anyone who does not now foresee the Lions disappearing from the Super Rugby landscape and being replaced by the Southern Kings?

All the coaches are gone. John Mitchell may have left under a cloud, but there's little evidence that Carlos Spencer or Wayne Taylor have done much wrong.

This means that the 2011 Currie Cup champions are currently without a coach, assistant coach, conditioning coach or captain – Josh Strauss has stepped down just one week before their first match of the 2012 campaign against Free State Cheetahs in Johannesburg. Since Monday's announcement, there's been little mention of an eventual replacement.

Is this a franchise that looks to you as though it believes it is in the Super Rugby tournament next year? No, neither us…

Finally, with the end of Super Rugby comes the end of an era. From here on in, everything is new.

There are new laws which will change the dynamic of the game irreversibly, particularly the one about the ball being available at the back of a ruck for a max. of five seconds before a scrum-half – or someone – has to do something with it. In the Aviva Premiership, Pro12 and Top 14, that's going to be revolutionary.

The first competition to use it will be New Zealand's ITM Cup starting in two weeks, while also starting in two weeks is the last competition to be played under the old rules: the Rugby Championship.

But that too will be new. Argentina's long wait for international competition will be over when they step onto the field at Newlands on August 18, a new flavour to an old format hopefully keeping Pumas rugby at the top table for years to come.

After the dust has cleared in London, rugby will have a new competition to look forward to as well, as qualification begins for the Olympics in 2016. Sevens rugby is about to become popular like never before and there will be players now seeking achievements in both codes; who wouldn't want an Olympic gold to add to a Super Rugby or Heineken Cup title?

Lots to look forward to in rugby as we wave goodbye to an era…

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson