I have been mulling over a subject for my last column of 2012 for about a month now.
I did not want to venture into ‘My year in review’, or ‘My sporting moments of 2012’ as there are literally hundreds of them out there – so given the nostalgia here in the last couple of weeks I decided to focus on what 2013 might hold for us before the clock strikes 12 on the 31st of December.
There are three main areas I wanted to consider, our beloved Currie Cup, the Super Rugby competition (spit), and of course the Springboks.
The grand old lady is still close to many rugby loving supporters’ hearts, and even though I predicted the death of the oldest domestic rivalry in the world, it seems that it will still top the interest in the minds of many South African supporters for years to come.
Even with a reduced team format (meaning less games) the Currie Cup managed to surpass the viewership numbers of 2011 which is quite a big statement. Yes the stadium numbers are down but that seems to be the case for all competitions around the world. My only criticism of the competition in 2012 was a semi-final round in a competitions structure of only 6 teams. I would much prefer the cricket approach to play-off’s where the team that ends first after the round-robin matches are guaranteed a home final with the teams ending second and third going into a single match play-off to determine the second finalist.
As far as 2013 goes I believe the competition will be dominated by the Sharks and Western Province – not only for 2013 but probably for the next two to three years. The introduction of youngsters by these two unions (by default or design) has not only put them in strong positions as far as experience at this level goes, but will also provide close to the required depth needed for Super Rugby. It is interesting to note that these unions Super Rugby coaches have been in charge during the Currie Cup campaigns while unions like the Blue Bulls opted for management changes for the two competitions…
When I first read about the 15-team conference system format a couple of years ago, my feeling was that the greed of administrators will be felt in the third season of the competition where players will either break down by the dozen, or interest in the competition will reach an ultimate low.
Well players have broken down by the dozen in 2012 already and I cannot see this getting any better next year. Television numbers might be slightly up or on par with 2011 but stadium attendance specifically in Australia and New Zealand have been absolutely shocking. Next year Australia will host the British and Irish Lions which means their interest in Super Rugby up and till June will be of little interest. Already Australia will play between themselves (starting the season earlier than the other two countries) to accommodate the tour which I cannot see sparking much interest in South Africa and New Zealand from a viewing perspective.
The format is just wrong, it does not serve the interest of players or supporters but only the fatcat administrators who are completely out of touch with their most valuable assets or most important stakeholders.
Nevertheless, it will go ahead and from a South African perspective it will pretty much go the route of the Currie Cup with the Sharks and Stormers the two teams with the best chance to go all the way. Many are saying ‘watch out for the Bulls’ but I actually think this is going to be a very ordinary year for the Pretoria franchise. The Cheetahs will play pretty rugby without breaking the top 8 yet again and the less said about the Kings the better.
The Springboks will have a season that will come close to, or perhaps even exceed the seasons of 1998 and 2009. A bold statement? Absolutely! But I do not think supporters (or the media) quite appreciate the importance of a 100% Northern Hemisphere tour recently or the fact that our losses to New Zealand (specifically) was down to a team very much in transition and a coach who underestimated the demands of test rugby in his first season.
Meyer will be much wiser come 2013, I know this because he has admitted mistakes he made in 2012 and even went as far to say that certain players changed his philosophy about his own thinking of how the Boks should play, or who he should pick where. Any coach (especially ones as experienced as Meyer) who is willing to be coached themselves on their thinking and philosophies are the ones history will remember. The players who will welcome back the likes of Schalk Burger, Bismarck du Plessis and possibly Juan Smith will be a year older, a year wiser, and 12 or so games more experienced.
The Aussies under Deans has one goal in 2013, and that is to beat the B&I Lions – fail in that, and they will see a new coach with new ideas and new philosophies.
As far as the All Blacks go, 2013 will be to them what 2010 was to the Springboks. I cannot help but think that one or five players have overstayed their welcome but remains within the setup because of their ‘service’ to All Black rugby. I also read with amusement in 2012 how the All Blacks was a team in transition (from 2011 and their Rugby World Cup steal, sorry win) having retained more than 80% of their players and a coach who has been with them since 2004…
Of course many will think it is a dangerous thing to write off the All Blacks but that is not what I am doing, they are the best team in the world for a reason and is likely to finish like that at the end of 2013 as-well – but the Boks will for my money will make up a lot of lost ground in 2013 and possibly surprise them too.
By this time next year, Boertjie will post a highlights package of the Boks in 2013 which Duiwel and the rest will save to their ‘best of the Boks’ collection for years to come!