We Need To Give The South Africans Time
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It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
We sit here ahead of the fourth outing for the South African teams in their bold endeavour into Northern Hemisphere rugby and, as expected, the start has been underwhelming. Or at least I say unexpected. Social media is already rife with comments trolling the new entrants. Comments such as “they’re worse than the Italians” and others suggesting this was a waste of time filled the air as high scores have racked up with little to show in terms of competitiveness.
But is it right to cast a dye so early? I think not! There is a lot of dust to settle before we know if this new venture is successful. Kings coach Deon Davids has publicly said on several occasions that he is building a squad to be competitive, but he is expecting it to take more than one year to happen. He knows he is fighting to develop a squad from scratch given the decimation of his squad as several of the big game players that helped the Kings claim big victories last year, now ply their trade in greener fields.
A young group of promising upstarts take their place and they will need to feel their way into top flight rugby. The promise is there though. Patches of expansive, daring rugby have briefly appeared to light up some dismal discipline and poor set piece play. A year or so of tough education will teach them how to overcome these issues. Then we will see the value of the kings in this competition.
But they, like the Cheetahs, have other issues. The relatively late agreement and announcement of their inclusion means preparation was limited. They would not have had much time to prepare for their Northern Hemisphere trips and to scout their opponents. Of course the existing PRO12 teams faced a similar issue with their South African trips, but at least they will find comfort in the eleven devils they do know. This is new territory for the South Africans and that territory will take time to explore. Add the demands of managing a Currie cup commitment at home and the early season demand of losing better players to the Rugby Championship. These are all obstacles to overcome and, believe me, they will be overcome.
The litmus test for now is off the field not on it. Hopefully the expanded competition can garner interest both in the existing territories and in South Africa. If the crowds don’t engage and the excitement isn’t there in South Africa, and the original PRO12 regions, then everything else is wasted. For the competition to survive it does not need the Kings and the Cheetahs winning titles or even games, but it does need a new excitement to pulse in a competition that has lagged behind its more prestigious neighbours.
If the excitement grows off the field then we won’t have to wait long for the South African threat to grow on it.