Are the fans being cheated?
Stephen Nell
May 10, 2010

Do we value the paying rugby public highly enough? I could not help but ask myself this question when I read reports of the Bulls possibly fielding a second string for this coming weekend's Super 14 match against the Stormers at Newlands in Cape Town.

The match had been as eagerly anticipated as a clash between the Springboks and All Blacks and tickets had already been sold out by the end of March. But now it seems the fans could be victims of the Bulls' success.

The Super 14 champions are in an unassailable position at the top of the log and have apparently decided to rest a number of key players, including Springbok fly-half Morné Steyn, lock Victor Matfield, centre Wynand Olivier, fullback Zane Kirchner and scrumhalf Fourie du Preez.

Come Saturday afternoon the Stormers will probably find themselves in a position that they have to win the match to get a home semi-final. The Bulls will be driven by the hunger of a virtual second string putting one over the old enemy down south.

It's still a pretty intriguing encounter. Imagine the humiliation if the Stormers had to fail and bow out of the competition. Conversely, imagine the reaction if they beat the Bulls comfortably and finish second on the log. Will South Africa be grudgingly suspected by their Sanzar partners of effectively 'rigging' the semi-final outcome so that they can have their teams in positions one and two on the log?

If things go as expected - and, let me hasten to add, that is not always the case at the business end of the Super14 - the Bulls and Stormers will both have home semi-finals and will be favoured to meet with their full-strength teams in a final in Soweto on May 26.

The effects of a Bulls versus Stormers final will also be felt by northern hemisphere fans. It's unlikely that any of the players involved will play against Wales in Cardiff on June 5. So what we can potentially have in Cardiff is a Springbok team made up of the best overseas talent and the best of the rest - the Sharks, Cheetahs and Lions.

Can that legitimately be called a Springbok team? The fact is that it will officially be and I wonder what chance it will have of success against Wales on their home ground. No doubt we'll hear all the clichés in the build-up - "there's no such thing as a weak Springbok team" etc, but the reality is that there is a real possibility that it will be a Bok side in name only.

This, of course, is nothing new in international rugby. We often see northern hemisphere countries tour down here with significantly weakened sides. Furthermore, what we may witness this weekend in the Super14 is an isolated incident and I certainly understand it from the Bulls' perspective.

Nevertheless, I also feel for the paying public. They surely purchased their tickets with the prospect of South Africa's best sides slugging it out toe to toe. Hopefully they don't feel cheated on Saturday.

Stephen Nell is the rugby correspondent for the Rapport newspaper in South Africa

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