South African Super Rugby Franchise History

WITH the Super Rugby season finally edging towards the knock-out rounds, with the prolonged 3-month tournament finally reaching its pinnacle, we thought it appropriate to take a tour through the Super Rugby history books and look back at how South African teams have fared in Super Rugby ever since their inauguration into the tournament, and then look into some possible reasons as to why South Africa has failed

Be warned, it does not make the prettiest of reading, if you are a South African supporter, it proves that we have had a bunch of ‘so close but yet so far’ type of scenarios over the decades with many of our teams falling short when it mattered the most. Regardless of which team you support, had it not been for the Bulls golden run between 2007 and 2010, South Africa’s super rugby record, would have been even more abysmal, so we will give credit where credit is due. Yes, even you Stormers fans, be grateful.

South African Super Rugby Franchise Statistics

Team Titles Runners-up Losing Semi-finalists
Bulls 3 0 4
Sharks 0 4 4
Stormers 0 1 4
Cats 0 0 2
Cheetahs 0 0 0
Lions 0 0 0
Kings 0 0 0
Total 3 5 14
south african super rugby franchise expansion history

The Continual Expansion Of Super Rugby Has Not Helped South African Teams

SUPER 6 & SUPER 10 (PRE-SANZAR): 1992 – 1995

The Super 6 began in 1992 but with no South African teams included. Ironically, even a team from Fiji was included – the Reds from Australia were victorious. A year later, the tournament was expanded and revamped to include South Africa after the Apartheid era and the release of Nelson Mandela. The then Transvaal (Lions) were successful at the first ever attempt but were outdone by the Reds in the next two seasons. Still, a great result for South Africa during this mini period with most of those Transvaal players leading Springboks to World Cup glory as well.

SUPER 12: 1996 – 2005

In 1996 the game went professional and the tournament started to prosper. A very profitable 1995 Rugby World Cup resulted in the three boards from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, merging to form SANZAR. This was also the springboard for the Tri-Nations between the countries. Four South African teams were included. The Sharks and the Bulls (Northern Transvaal) did great and were semi-finalists, with the Sharks making it to the final in their maiden campaign. Not too shabby for the boys from Durban. With that being said, they were soundly beaten, in that final by the Blues, beginning an endless series of ‘close but no cigar’ by the team, a story that was to be mirrored in the future by the Stormers as well. They made the final four in the following two seasons as well when no other South African team could do the same but again fell short.

Sadly, up until 2005 when the twelve team system ended, no South African team was ultimately victorious. The Cats (a combination of the Lions and Cheetahs tried hard but also flopped). The country should have truly taken advantage of the fact that we were world champions up until 1999 and had that record 17 match unbeaten streak internationally and should have had similar success at Super level too.

From 2006 onward, the competition was refreshed and two more teams were added – the Cheetahs (finally on their own) and the Western Force. The Cheetahs didn’t really cover themselves in too much glory and made minimal impact, nor has the Western Force. It is at this stage when further expansion of the Super Rugby tournament should have started to sound alarm bells for SANZAR administrators.

South African fortunes finally changed as the Bulls and Sharks topped the overall table in 2007 and contested an epic final at Kings Park. Bryan Habana’s last second try handed the Bulls their first of three titles while the Sharks were left wondering yet again. The impressive Bulls won again in 2009 and 2010 to complete the hat-trick in what was South Africa’s best ever period in Super Rugby. The Stormers will regret not taking their chances in the 2010 final in Soweto, a game which they held in their hands until the final seconds.

SUPER 15: 2011 – 2015

From 2011 SANZAR unveiled a conference system that would spell doom for the country, and also the tournaments viewing numbers, none of the South African Super Rugby teams, post 2010, would go on to match the Bulls successes from the previous years. The Stormers were twice losing semi-finalists, the Bulls and Sharks once each with the Sharks also losing yet another final in 2012. It was indeed a sad period for the nation who also did not have much success at World Cups and saw a golden generation slowly begin to fade.

What are the reasons behind South Africa’s lack of Super Rugby Success?

With the above considered, the question needs to be asked why, with the exception of the Bulls 2007-2010 period, have South African teams failed to match their Australasian counterparts in terms of silverware?

The way we see it; there are many contributing factors for South African team’s failure to consistently pose a threat in Super Rugby:

  • Inferior coaching (and coaching depth) leading to outdated strategies and tactics.
  • Lack of proper conditioning, say what you want but South African players are NOT as fit as the Australasians, perhaps this can be contributed towards playing style…?
  • Mental toughness i.e. lack of self believe, is the psychology of our players overlooked, and playing a more important part than many might think?
  • Political Interference i.e. transformation issues (for both players and coaching staff)
  • Poor administration, lack of proper development structures etc
  • The list could go on – If we had to continue and dissect each point, we would be here all day.

A traditional rugby powerhouse like South Africa, with all its resources, huge number of registered players (depth was never an issue and should never be an excuse), financial riches (read on), youth and development structures, extremely strong school/university systems and natural talent . . . should not be boasting a record of three titles in two decades!!! Even Australia has more titles than us.

Yet the sad, and scary part, for SA rugby supporters is, the very structures which kept the production line ticking, is starting to fall apart. Structures, player development, finances and South African teams simply not being able to compete financially with the stronger currency of the Australasian & European franchises, are all but some of the contributing factors towards South Africa’s lack of Super Rugby silverware, throw into the mix ever increasing political interference and it all points towards a full blown disaster for South African teams. The three titles in two decades may very well be the only Super Rugby titles South African rugby will ever see! Now go onto Youtube and watch what use to be, and (sadly) will never will be again.

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