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Stirring the Pot

If you like listening to music while reading this column, click on this link to enjoy Billie Holiday singing “They can’t take that away from me”.

Way back in 1996, the Crusaders became the first holders of the wooden spoon in Super rugby. They were dethroned the following year by the Highlanders, the last NZ team to hold this dubious honour.

Three Australian teams finished last over the past 18 years: The Force (2006), the Reds (2007) and the Rebels (2011).

The remaining thirteen titles all belong to South African sides: The Cats (3), Lions (3), the Bulls (3), the Cheetahs (2) and the Sharks (2). The only local side not contributing to this list operates from the Cape, but it seems that they are intent on setting things straight this year.

Our records in terms of fewest log points are also highly unlikely to be challenged due to the extended format of the competition. The “leaders” here are:

  • Bulls – 4 (2002)
  • Lions – 5 (2010)
  • Bulls – 7 (1999)
  • Sharks – 9 (2000)

On a slightly more positive note, one must remember that most of the teams who won the wooden spoon managed to turn around and win the competition, notably the Crusaders and the Bulls. Others managed to make the semi-finals.

The one positive aspect emanating from the fact that SA teams make up 4 of the last 6 positions on the log is that we are very likely to extend our “winning” stretch to 14. Superstitious people will tell you that this number is actually double 7, and a sign that things will change for the better.

This is even more likely to happen with our esteemed Minister of Sport intent on playing a bigger role in the future of rugby by trying to elevate it to the same heights achieved by SA soccer.

Injury Picture Improving

A number of teams will heave a sigh of relief with the news of key players returning after sustained injury. This should also be welcome news for Heyneke Meyer. Despite the risk of injury to Springbok incumbents and those likely to push for a place in the side, there is no better arena to prepare for international rugby than the Super series.

This applies equally to those who have to retain match fitness after extended recuperation from serious injuries.

At the same time, it provides coaches with the opportunity to ease the burden of key players in preparation for Rugby Championship. Two examples, mentioned in my local paper this morning, are: Duane Vermeulen being replaced by Nizaam Carr as a result of Schalk Burger being back, and Juan de Jong slotting in for Jean de Villiers.

Carr has been brilliant in a side suffering its worst season ever, and may want to stake a claim for higher honours, while De Jongh will want to prove that he belongs in the national side ahead of Jaque Fourie who was “iffy” when recalled last year.

Log Leaders need your support

You will never hear a winning side say: “It’s only a game” – this phrase belongs to those who need to console themselves after not making it to the top.

The Sharks start their tour this weekend, after a very disappointing last two matches. The Banana Boys have always travelled well, and I predict that they will stop the rot when they play their opening tour match against the Rebels this weekend.

Next week they face the Brumbies, where I suspect Jake White will play a major role in the outcome of the match.

Then it’s off to New Zealand, where they face the Crusaders and the Blues, respectively.

I have pencilled in two wins, possibly three – you can work out for yourself which one I regard as a possible defeat.

Have a great short week.

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