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Ken Borland

SA dominate – but still need to ward off NZ team

Posted on July 27, 2012 by Ken

While the Stormers or Sharks will still have to ward off a New Zealand franchise to win the 2012 SuperRugby title, it is fair to say South African teams have dominated the competition thus far.

The Stormers sit proudly on top of the standings and will host the final if they beat the Sharks, cock-a-hoop after their stunning qualifier triumph in Brisbane over the Reds, while the Bulls also finished in the top six and made the playoffs, although they then messed up in Christchurch against the Crusaders.

The Cheetahs had their best season yet in the southern hemisphere competition, winning five matches and earning 10 bonus points to finish in 10th place.

The Lions, however, were the major disappointment again. Beset by rumours that they are going to be relegated from SuperRugby and replaced by the Eastern Cape-based Southern Kings, in financial trouble and then having to suspend coach John Mitchell because of unhappiness with his management style, they won just three games and finished last.

South Africans had approached the season with cautious optimism … and it turned out way better than expected.

The Stormers were tipped to challenge for the title, but to top the log was a massive bonus, even if there was some concern over their inability to score tries. They became the first team to qualify for the knockout stages without earning a single try-scoring bonus point, although the fact that they won 14 of their 16 matches shows tries might be over-rated in this competition.

The Sharks and Bulls both had handy line-ups, but the loss of key experience was meant to keep them from challenging.

John Smit and Stefan Terblanche had left the inconsistent Sharks, while the Bulls had said goodbye to Fourie du Preez, Victor Matfield, Danie Rossouw, Gurthro Steenkamp, Gary Botha and Derick Kuun.

The strong finishes of the Stormers, Bulls and Sharks also suggests they timed their climb to the summit better than some of their Australasian rivals in the first season of extended SuperRugby with a break for the June Tests.

South Africa are also the SuperRugby powerhouses based on attendances and TV viewership.

On any weekend, nearly 350 000 people could be expected to watch a SuperRugby match on TV, an increase of 17% on last year.

On derby days, that would increase to nearly a million – the average audience for derbies was 990 062.

The average attendance at the ground for all South African games was 26 617 but the Stormers, especially when they went on their six-match unbeaten run at the start of the season, had the best attendance figures averaging around 40 000. Compare this to the 16 000 people who watched the Crusaders beat the Bulls in such impressive fashion in their qualifier in Christchurch last weekend.

But the figures still do not match those of South Africa’s traditional domestic competition, the Currie Cup, and there is still a large school of thought that Sanzar have fabricated the current SuperRugby format in order to favour Australia.

Critics pointed to the fact that the leading Australian franchise were guaranteed at least third place on the final log as evidence and the Reds would have finished sixth had normal rules applied.


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