Planet Rugby

Mid-season report: Super Rugby

16th April 2014 08:56

Share:

Super Rugby mid season review

So far so good: Fekitoa and Force ... Only way is up: Under-par Stormers

As the halfway mark of the 2014 Super Rugby season approaches, we assess the first three months of a campaign that has been anything but uneventful.

Currently the top three in the overall table are the Sharks, Brumbies and Chiefs, which is what the majority predicted before 2014's action started.

In stark contrast, at the bottom side on the ladder is the Stormers while things have been far from rosy for the Reds, Blues, Rebels and Cheetahs.

Here we delve into the goings on south of the equator as this ever-evolving competition continues to offer much on the field but also has areas of concern off it, with these intriguing subplots taking place with a World Cup on the horizon and an extra two teams joining the competition in 2016.

2014's front-runners

As mentioned, it's the Sharks, Brumbies and Chiefs currently on top in their respective conference but write off the likes of the Force, Waratahs, Crusaders and other play-off hopefuls at your peril. Although this trio lead the way, it is fair to say they have not been setting the 2014 competition alight with performances as the Sharks and Brumbies grind out wins while the champion Chiefs have blown more cold than hot in recent outings.

Not a bad poor patch

Sticking with the Chiefs, much has been made of their dip in form as they went three games without a win before claiming a nervy victory over the Rebels last weekend. Sloppy starts against the Bulls and Cheetahs saw them eventually recover to claim draws but the old cliche of getting results while not playing well springs to mind as even without hitting top form, they picked up eleven points in four games. Better to dip now than later we say.

Folau farce hurting 'Tahs

One shudders to think who took the brunt of boss Michael Cheika's frustration when he found out that Israel Folau would not be playing against the Western Force. Cleared to start by the Waratahs' doctor, full-back Folau was then ruled out by the Australian Rugby Union due to his throat injury. For how long he would be sidelined even Folau did not know at the time but with eight tries in four games it's clear any forced absence is a blow to their hopes.

If you're old enough, you're good enough?

Brad Thorn is 39 and was still playing professional rugby to a high standard until injury struck last week while Victor Matfield this year returned from the sidelines with a World Cup in mind. His performances have been excellent and integral to the Bulls being in contention for knock-out rugby. Statistics show he's the go-to man with 40 line-out takes (second in the competition) while it's noticeable how rivals struggle on their own throw. He's still got it.

Getting it right in Perth

The Force is strong with Michael Foley and Matt Hodgson. Five wins in a row now for the outfit from Perth as they continue to climb the standings, beating the Waratahs last week thanks to a treble from Nick Cummins. A win at the Rebels on Friday would take them top in the conference. Off the field they're on the money too as it's clear Cummins has a career after he hangs up his boots. Who can forget the "best post-match interview ever"?

Time differences

In 2011 the conference system was established and with it came preference for more derbies in favour of lengthy tours. The financial benefits in terms of reduced travel costs for franchises will have been a plus point to go with increased meaning to matches from a tribal sense. However, what has transpired is that many stadia in fact look down on attendances and one guesses television figures are also possibly suffering. At the time of writing, former All Black pivot Andrew Mehrtens suggested a dramatic logistical change and he isn't too far wrong. Let us add into his argument that very few viewers from Australasia would stay up until 3am, sometimes 5am, to watch their team playing in the Republic, let alone a South African derby match. Also, surely fans going to their home team's venue would rather pay their money to see the likes of a touring Bismarck du Plessis, Israel Folau and Julian Savea than players they've just seen in respective Currie and ITM Cup comps?

Coaches under pressure

It's a results business and clearly fans of the Stormers and Reds will be getting a touch uncomfortable at the halfway point of the season. Under Allister Coetzee, the Stormers have one win from seven games while Richard Graham's Reds have three from eight. Some Capetonians may sight injury problems as the reason for their decline but the problem runs deeper than that as their, let's say uncomplicated, gameplan isn't bearing fruit. Yes, the defence is strong once again but just 107 points scored in seven games shows a real lack in ideas. The Reds meanwhile seem to be on the road to something Stormers-like - a sentence we thought would never be uttered - as their heads-up, expansive style looks to have been traded for a more conservative approach. With many saying Quade Cooper has matured as a player, I would argue maybe he needs to re-find his youthful flair and swagger.

Internationals in-waiting

Much has been spoken of Malakai Fekitoa and the Blues' decision not to contract him. That is history now and he certainly isn't looking back as the Highlanders centre is impressing everyone in Dunedin. Steve Hansen is keeping an eye on him but he would do well to also watch a flank at Fekitoa's team, Shane Christie and also fly-half Lima Sopoaga. Christie, although 28, is the form New Zealand openside right now while Sopoaga could soon get his chance, the same goes for hooker Rhys Marshall. In Australia, plenty are putting their hand up such as Rebels lock Luke Jones, Force blindside flank Angus Cottrell and 'Tahs lock Will Skelton. Meanwhile, Lions fly-half Marnitz Boshoff could well suit Heyneke Meyer's Boks, especially with Pat Lambie injured and Morne Steyn battling for starts in Paris...

By Adam Kyriacou
@PlanetRugbyAK

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , September 20
Sale vs London WelshSale vs London Welsh Preview
London Irish vs SaracensLondon Irish vs Saracens Preview
Harlequins vs WaspsHarlequins vs Wasps Preview
Bath vs LeicesterBath vs Leicester Preview
Sunday , September 21
Newcastle vs NorthamptonNewcastle vs Northampton Preview
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
Guinness PRO12
Saturday , September 20
Newport Gwent D'gons vs GlasgowNewport Gwent D
Scarlets vs Benetton TrevisoScarlets vs Benetton Treviso Preview
Sunday , September 21
Ospreys vs EdinburghOspreys vs Edinburgh Preview
More Guinness PRO12 fixtures
Top 14
Saturday , September 20
Racing Metro Paris vs Toulouse14:45
La Rochelle vs Bordeaux-Begles18:30
Grenoble vs Bayonne18:30
Castres vs Oyonnax18:30
Clermont Auvergne vs LyonClermont Auvergne vs Lyon Preview
Montpellier vs Stade Francais20:45
More Top 14 fixtures
Currie Cup
Saturday , September 20
Western Province vs Griquas15:00
Blue Bulls vs SharksBlue Bulls vs Sharks Preview
Eastern Province Kings vs Cheetahs19:10
More Currie Cup fixtures
ITM Cup
Saturday , September 20
Hawkes Bay vs Bay Of Plenty14:35
Auckland vs North HarbourAuckland vs North Harbour Preview
Manawatu vs Southland19:35
Sunday , September 21
Otago vs WaikatoOtago vs Waikato Preview
Wellington vs TasmanWellington vs Tasman Preview
Wednesday, September 24
North Harbour vs Canterbury19:35
Thursday , September 25
Bay Of Plenty vs Northland19:35
More ITM Cup fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Friday , September 19
Gloucester 22 - 25 ExeterGloucester vs Exeter Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Munster 31 - 5 ZebreMunster vs Zebre Report
Cardiff Blues 9 - 26 UlsterCardiff Blues vs Ulster Report
Connacht 10 - 9 LeinsterConnacht vs Leinster Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Top 14
Brive 13 - 53 ToulonBrive vs Toulon Report
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Lions 29 - 15 Pumas
More Currie Cup results
ITM Cup
Counties Manukau 20 - 28 CanterburyCounties Manukau vs Canterbury Report
Thursday , September 18
Northland 20 - 31 TaranakiNorthland vs Taranaki Report
Wednesday, September 17
Southland 14 - 38 TasmanSouthland vs Tasman Report
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , September 14
Wasps 20 - 16 NorthamptonWasps vs Northampton Report
Newcastle 18 - 20 London IrishNewcastle vs London Irish Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Cardiff Blues 12 - 33 GlasgowCardiff Blues vs Glasgow Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Top 14
Bordeaux-Begles 27 - 21 MontpellierBordeaux-Begles vs Montpellier Report
More Top 14 results
ITM Cup
Waikato 26 - 21 Counties ManukauWaikato vs Counties Manukau Report
Hawkes Bay 41 - 0 Otago
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , September 13
Gloucester 34 - 27 Sale SharksGloucester vs Sale Sharks Report
Bath 53 - 26 London WelshBath vs London Welsh Report
Exeter 20 - 24 LeicesterExeter vs Leicester Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Rugby Championship
New Zealand 14 - 10 South AfricaNew Zealand vs South Africa Report
Australia 32 - 25 ArgentinaAustralia vs Argentina Report
More Rugby Championship results
Guinness PRO12
Leinster 42 - 12 ScarletsLeinster vs Scarlets Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Top 14
Toulouse 9 - 13 Clermont AuvergneToulouse vs Clermont Auvergne Report
Toulon 24 - 28 Stade FrancaisToulon vs Stade Francais Report
Racing Metro Paris 28 - 11 LyonRacing Metro Paris vs Lyon Report
Oyonnax 40 - 27 Grenoble
More Top 14 results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Exeter310
2Saracens29
3Bath29
4Leicester Tigers29
5Northampton26