Mission impossible?

A sneak preview of Tank Lanning’s column on Sport24 today …

Sharks and Bulls task this weekend?

Tank Lanning

There is without doubt space in rugby for the “Stat” … But much like website traffic analysis, there seems to be more stats in rugby these days than we have capacity to analyse. Sundays are certainly no longer days set aside to nurse hangovers for coaches … Nope it’s to the avalanche of stats they go my friends … To be ready for that dastardly Monday video session.

But like most stats driven environments, if you dig around enough, you are likely to find something to back up any argument!

But I challenge anyone to find a stat that will make the Bulls and Sharks players sleep peacefully this week. In fact, given the jet-lag they will be suffering as you read this, they would probably take anything to make them sleep a little more peacefully this week. It is nigh on impossible to win a playoff game away from home! Sure, it’s been done, but mostly by very special sides.

And while it was a special weekend given that three South African sides made it into the Super Rugby playoffs … I am afraid I do not see any of the three sides, let alone the two traveling this weekend, as being particularly special.

Now this might seem a tad harsh, especially on the Stormers, who ended up topping the log. There is no doubt that they deserve credit for their efforts, but let’s be honest, it was more about stopping sides from beating them – using their almost impenetrable defense (which while not pretty to watch, is special), rather than going out and beating the opposition.

Kiwi TV rugby talk show REUNION picked all of JP Pietersen, Bjorn Basson, Marcell Coetzee, Eben Etzebeth, Beast Mtawarira, and Bismarck du Plessis in their 2012 Super Rugby dream team, but to my mind that is a little generous. Ahead of the likes of Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Lelia Masaga, Zac Guildford, Matt Todd, Adam Thompson, Ben Franks, Sona Taumalolo, Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano? Du Plessis would be my only certain selection, with Etzebeth pushing quite hard.

Not a single player in a dream team from the side topping the log? Hence my “Not particularly special” call …

But rugby is a team game and the principal of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts is what makes this sport so fantastic, and why coaches, team spirit, and just plain guts and bravery are as key to a team’s success as the multimillion dollar superstar signatures announced each year. Hence the Lions winning the Currie Cup last year …

And that is why we will watch both the Sharks and Bulls this Saturday morning in the hope that they will emerge from their quarter finals triumphant, but if you were asked to put your house or kid’s hamster on the result, you would be a very brave person to bet against the Reds or Crusaders.

The fact that the Reds are even playing this weekend is a magnificent story (if you don’t come from Canberra that is), but the fact that they are the team hosting the Sharks exposes this dreadful conference system badly. Sixth on the real log (on 58 points) yet pushed up to third through winning the Australian  conference. And the top two sides on the log are yet to play each other given the random draw that sees some teams missing out on playing against each other in the pool stages …

So if the Reds and Crusaders do win their quarter finals this weekend, then the Stormers will have “Won” the right to play the men from Christchurch, even though they will have more points than the Reds! Could the Stormers sue SANZAR for the right, earned by topping the table, to play the side with the least points on the log table?


  1. I think that if the Sharks want this game as much as they wanted the Bulls game they can beat the Reds but I honestly don’t see the Bulls beating the Saders at home.

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