Five lessons from the past weekend's Vodacom Super Rugby matches, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Sharks battle without Bismarck
Du Plessis' late withdrawal from the Sharks XV to face the Highlanders was a big blow for the log leaders. 'It's massive when you lose your captain and you lose the guy who sets up your whole scrum,' said Jake White afterwards. The hooker was also missed at the breakdown, where he's made such an impact this season, and in open play. Kyle Cooper is a decent replacement, but there's only one Bismarck.
South African teams can play entertaining rugby
While the Stormers missed too many tackles, they and the Cheetahs showed a willingness to attack with ball in hand and attack space, rather than the man. The players' ball skills were also far superior to those we were subjected to a week earlier in two error-ridden local derbies.
Jono Ross is not an openside flank
Yet again, the Bulls were bossed at the breakdown, this time by the Force in Perth. They've struggled in this area of the game since losing Deon Stegmann to a groin injury at the start of their overseas tour and desperately need a specialist fetcher in the No 6 jersey. Ross has been effective at No 8 and that's where he should play.
The Brumbies haven't missed Jake White
One of the big pre-season questions was how last year's finalists would fare without the man who took them there. After the Brumbies' 41-23 win against the champion Chiefs in Canberra, which saw them narrow the gap on the top-placed Sharks to just one point, it's clear that their coaching duo of Stephen Larkham and Laurie Fisher have built on what White put in place. In fact, after the Sharks' shock loss to the Highlanders, the Brumbies are probably favourites to go on and win the competition this year.
The standard of refereeing has not improved
The Highlanders deserved their win at Kings Park, but the game could have taken a different turn had referee Jaco Peyper not incorrectly ruled out Lwazi Mvovo's early try because of an off-the-ball incident at a ruck. The visitors were also at the receiving end of Peyper's whistle when Frans Steyn deliberately knocked down the ball in the red zone and was allowed to stay on the field, yet Joe Wheeler was yellow-carded for a lineout infringement that warranted a penalty at most. The following day in Perth, referee Angus Gardner had little control of the breakdown, penalising the Bulls on several occasions for not rolling away only to allow the Force to lie all over the ball. After some poor officiating earlier in the season, there was the hope that things would improve, but that has clearly not been the case.
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