With the 2009 Super 14 kicking off in a couple of weeks’ time, we are pleased to welcome a new writer to the fold to cover the event. Here is the first article from Lardus van der Merwe (you can’t doubt his credentials!).
Dan Carter – conspicuous by his absence
For decades the number 10 of a rugby team has been the most talked about player and in this part of the world, he is known as the Pivot, the Kingpin or any other adjective.
The 2009 Super 14 competition will kick off on Friday 13th September without most of the world’s finest number 10s. Yes, match winners like Daniel Carter (Crusaders), Nick Evans (Blues), Derrick Hougaard (Bulls), Tony Brown (Stormers) and Frederic Michalak (Sharks) will not be playing Super 14 rugby during this year’s competition.
Although Michalak and Brown have not represented their native countries’ provinces/franchises, and have only played in a handful of games for the Sharks and Stormers respectfully, they are highly-rated by their opposition.
Carter, Evans and Hougaard are already playing in Europe during the Northen Hemisphere’s winter. Although different types of fly-halves, all three were key players in the game plan of their franchises. Carter is widely recognised as the worlds best 10, and the biggest match winner in the world.
Every year, a relative unknown player seems to take the competition by storm (remember the Waratahs scrum half Luke Burgess in 2008?). The fact that these world class players will not be in action in 2009 could well open the door for other fly-halves to stake their claim to be the best number 10. 2009 could well be the year of the fly half, so who are the contenders?
Willem de Waal (Stormers)
De Waal is highly rated in South Africa, especially by Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus. De Waal is a magnificent player of wet conditions, but is very dependent on a dominant forward pack – something that is unheard of from the Cape Town based team.
Morne Steyn (Bulls)
Steyn has been part of the Bulls setup since 2004 and is well equipped to play at the highest level. He had a brilliant 2008 Currie Cup campaign and it seems that he plays with more confidence since Derrick Hougaard’s departure to Europe.
Matt Gitteau (Force)
The world’s highest-paid rugby player is arguably the 2nd best fly-half in the world and should take centre stage in this year’s competition. The recent hype around his availability to the Force could influence his performance, but the writer is from the opinion that he is too a good player for that to have any effect.
Stephen Donald (Chiefs)
After winning his All Black colours as Dan Carter’s understudy during the 2008 international season, Donald should have heaps of confidence. He now has the opportunity to make the All Black jersey his own. Unfortunately for Donald however, the wheels come off properly when he has a bad day at office, so he’ll hoping these are far and few between.
There are more contenders such as Stephan Brett (Crusaders), Francois Steyn (Sharks), Berrick Barnes (Reds), Quade Cooper (Reds), Earl Rose (Lions), Peter Grant (Stormers) and Kurtley Beale (Waratahs).
Except for Beale, all of the other players are widely reckoned as versatile players and are more often than not played out of position by their respective coaches. The Springbok coach, Pieter de Villiers used the Sharks scrum-half, Ruan Pienaar at fly-half during the end of year tour to Europe in November 2008.
Pienaar is highly rated as a fly-half by de Villiers, Jake White and Eddie Jones in particular so it will be interesting to see if the Sharks management will share the enthusiasm of the other international coaches.
The quest for the best number 10 in this years Super 14 will be a big discussion point during the next 5 months, and the result will most probably be disputed…what do you think?
By Lardus van der Merwe