Expect a stronger South African Super 14 challenge in 2009 : Muller


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Possible Sharks Super 14 captain Johann Muller is convinced that the South African challenge on the Super14 will be stronger in 2009 than it was in 2008.

Muller is in line to be named as captain for the Sharks in 2009 after captaining them to Currie Cup glory in 2008. The only other real contender for the role as skipper is John Smit who is back with the Sharks after a stint in France.

Given that a South African team won the Super14 in 2007 and that two South African teams contested the final in the same year 2008 was something of a disappointment for South African Super14 teams.

Most of the fans and players were less than enthusiastic about the new ELVs – the Bulls did not get the hang of them until the second half of the competition.

Others, such as the Lions and Cheetahs, fell off the pace early and started dishing out bonus points for the Australasian teams.

“There is no doubt that we suffered a World Cup hangover last year. While the Aussie and Kiwi teams hit the ground running, our teams were left in the starting blocks,” Muller told The Mercury.

“But this year is like a World Cup year. A British and Irish Lions tour is very special and all our players are very excited about it.”

“A lot of senior players have been hanging on for the chance to play the Lions.

“Compared to Australia and New Zealand, we have lost relatively few players to Europe – certainly far less than usual.”

The negative for South Africa after a Lions year is that there could be hoards of South Africans heading for Europe once the tour is over.

The Lions tour is a watershed for many senior Springboks, but, for the time being, South African rugby is on the right side of the watershed.

Muller points out that most of the squads were showing better consistency in playing personnel. Only the Sharks have had a change in head coach, with John Plumtree taking over from Dick Muir. It was however Plumtree that coached the Sharks to their first Currie Cup title in years.

“I think Rassie Erasmus will get a lot out of the Stormers in his second year,” said Muller.

“The Bulls will be better with Victor (Matfield) back from France, and the Lions have some good young players coming through, now that they are a bit more experienced.”

The Cheetahs are the one side that has been hit by player movements, but, then, this is nothing new for them.

“We really need the Lions and Cheetahs to knock off some of our overseas opposition when they come here,” Muller said.

“If we all work together this could be a very good Super 14 for South Africa.”

The Sharks have been hit by player defections having lost B J Botha, Bradley Barritt, A J Venter and Frederic Michalak but they did get John Smit back and he along with Jannie du Plessis, will play mostly at tight head in place of Botha.

Other departures will be replaced by the youngsters coming through the Sharks’ system.

“It really is a very settled and happy squad,” said Muller.

“Last year we got so much right in terms of the team ethic.

“If you have a happy rugby player you have a good rugby player. And with so few newcomers to the squad, we don’t have to work through that process again of building the team.

“Everybody who is here desperately wants to do well for the Sharks.”

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