The regular Super 15 season is over. It’s time to judge the franchises and see who is found wanting…
Bulls – Fortress Loftus turned into Sandcastle Loftus this year. Losing at home to the Highlanders is a pretty big low. Especially when you consider that the Bulls also took over the reins from the Highlanders for worst mullets of the competition (I’m looking at you Francois Hougaard). The late season running of the Bulls was too little too late this year. Is the end of Heyneke Meyer’s influence? I suspect Loffie has been riding the coattails of his predecessor.
Cheetahs – The Cheetahs can point to arguably their best season of Super Rugby yet. When that’s an eleventh place finish you know you don’t have a lot to be proud of in your Super Rugby history. The real issue facing the Cheetahs is how they will they be screwed by SA Rugby when it is time to make a spot for the Southern Kings next year. Always the team that plays with the most moxie – despite having the most questionable cheerleaders.
Lions – Lions fans have suffered yet again. Despite having all the right starts to the pre-season (the backing of Elton Jantjies and a genuinely scary coach in Mitchell) Ellis Park continued to be an accident scene for anyone wearing red and white in 2011. A promising display on the overseas leg of their season was a bit of a silver lining in an otherwise gloomy tournament. Two away wins overseas is something red and white hasn’t seen hasn’t seen since the days of Francois Pienaar.
Sharks – The Sharkies started off strong and then managed to squeak into the playoffs after the usual mid tournament cock up. Maybe it is the flash in the backline that is missing, maybe it is the craziness of having John Smit marshalling things from the bench, but the Sharks just don’t have that magic from a few seasons ago. Although they made it to the post-season they left far too much on the table.
Stormers – Despite a midseason wobble (and being written off by this website for it) the Stormers have ground out gritty wins week after week. Alistair Coetzee has certainly staked a claim for replacing the ‘stache as Bok coach post World Cup – in addition to being the cuddliest coach in the tournament. Now if only those “Kiwi” supporters would stop showing up at Newlands.
Blues – Now known as “the other Crusaders” the Blues have restored their reputation this season as not only have the worst tattoos and fake tans on display in Super Rugby but as one of the toughest nuts to crack – both home and away. They have added a more complete rugby style as they move away from an “island style” of throwing it everywhere.
Chiefs - Who? Are they still in this thing?
Crusaders – Am I the only one going to point out that the decision by SANZAR to award a tie for the game cancelled by the earthquake ended up costing the Crusaders 2nd place on the log? When you run on the field against the Crusaders make sure you have already wet yourself in the changing room – these guys will embarrass you on field. They will destroy you, rub you in the dirt, and then finish their workout off with a few unnecessary pushups for good measure.
Highlanders – The men who wear skirts were the first team to break open the bank at Fortress Loftus for many a season with an away win over the Bulls. They haven’t been able to convert the momentum of that win into a significant run, and as a result finished mid-table in a very tough conference. Sad times may be ahead for the Highlanders, after conceding the worst mullets title to the Bulls – they also will be giving up the worst jersey title too.
Hurricanes – It’s been all downhill for the boys in yellow without a pack since the Hurricanes let Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen and Tana go. When you get beaten at home by the Rebels you know it’s a long cold winter.
Brumbies – How the mighty have fallen. It’s a long way down from the days of Joe Roff, George Gregan and Larkham. What a bunch of rubbish this team dished up in 2011. Brumbies management got what they deserved, if you sack the coach before the end of the season you deserve to get your short-shorts handed to you each week. Back in the day, you used to put out your B-team in Canberra as you never really stood a chance. Now even the Lions have scalped them at home. Jake White has his work cut out for him next year.
Rebels – Stone last – but a surprisingly good stone last if that’s possible. Big Daddy Rugby tagged the newbies from Melbourne to be the whipping boys of the 2011 Super 15, but they finished the season with the scalps of the Force, the Hurricanes and the Brumbies. For a team whose pre-season philosophy might well have been “keep the score down boys”, they can rest on their laurels as a franchise modestly started. If only the Eastern Cape franchise would claim three wins in their first season.
Reds – To paraphrase Phil Kearnes, a few years ago if you owned a Reds rugby jersey you were ashamed of yourself. Now, you’re probably wearing it to work every day and sporting a Quade mullet. Between “the Coop” and Ewen McKenzie this franchise turned 2011 into the year that they finally delivered on their promise. The Durban of Australia awaits its first home semi in ages.
Waratahs - 2nd on the Australian log and so earned a spot in the post season, but they did not look convincing at all. A weak pack, backline players with silly names and a loss to the Rebels mean that they are not striking fear into any visiting team’s hearts. They couldn’t even point to a Matt Dunning drop goal attempt to cheer themselves up.
Western Force – As a relatively new franchise you’d expect the Force to be dwelling somewhere near the bottom of the log, but still a few points clear of the absolute skunks. And that’s exactly where they ended up.
Bring on the post-season!