Super Rugby revolution underway in SA

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017    Getty Images

That was the view of longtime South African rugby writer Gavin Rich in his column reviewing 2017.

He said a look at the Super Rugby points table 'does not tell the full story of the effort put in by most of the South African teams to embrace a more dynamic and adventurous playing style'.

While the Lions had continued their leading role in change, other franchises made notable efforts to make their own way along that path to the point where there was mention of a rugby revolution.

"Although it didn't bring immediate success, there were glimpses of potential and signs that most teams were shaking off the traditional conservative South African rugby yolk," he said.

The Lions had continued their advance with their reward the hosting of the Super Rugby final where the loss of flanker Kwagga Smith could have led to a different outcome.

However, Rich said, "They were probably destined to lose the decider anyway as the Crusaders, brilliant throughout the season and unbeaten for much of it, were slicker and were winning the small battles before Smith's departure following an unfortunate clumsy challenge on a Crusaders player in the air."

With injured captain Warren Whiteley back in 2018 the Lions would be competitive although the changing styles adopted by other sides could see the Lions face stiffer opposition within South Africa, he said.

The Stormers were so keen to lift their skills for a faster game that they called in former Blues assistant coach Paul Feeney. They started with a hiss and a roar but a loss to the Lions followed by a tour to New Zealand in which they lost all three games had borne out Feeney's comment that the transition in style would not occur overnight.

But with a solid core of the Springbok pace from within their ranks they had the forward power to compete. However, the question mark for 2018 would be their backline.

Rich said the Sharks were still to convince that they had openly embraced the need for change and what form they had shown was confined to the Currie Cup rather than Super Rugby. A key to the side's play next season could lie in the acquisition of Dick Muir as the backline and attack consultant, although Rich said his role could prove more influential than that.

"Muir has an all-out attack rugby philosophy, so don't be surprised if the Sharks approach to the game is transformed when Super Rugby arrives again in February," he said.

The Bulls, who finished lowest of the sides last year, have former All Blacks coach John Mitchell at the helm and he had shown his influence when the side played in the Currie Cup. But they were on a three-year plan to regain their former stature.

And as Rich said: "The same could probably be said of the South African revolution generally. This year was a start, but it will take time."