What we learned from round 17 of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Lions well-placed to go all the way
Everything fell into place quite perfectly for the Lions this past weekend. Despite a number of late changes to the Hurricanes side – who trailed 12-0 early on against the Crusaders – the defending champions battled back to clinch a thrilling win. That opened the door for the Lions to finish as the overall log leaders, which they gladly accepted with a comfortable win over the Sharks on Saturday night. They should have little trouble repeating that feat in Saturday’s quarter-final at Ellis Park against the same opposition, and while top New Zealand opposition are set to lie in wait from there, it would take a brave man to bet against the Lions at home. The Lions appear to be a more well-rounded team than last year, and with all their playoff matches set to be played in Johannesburg, there is every reason to believe they could go one step further this season.
Stormers must add more pragmatism to play
The Stormers will head into the playoffs with three successive wins to their name after the June international break. However, none of these results against the Cheetahs, Sunwolves or Bulls have been particularly convincing. You could argue that it’s a good sign to be winning even when not playing your best rugby, but that is exactly what will be required when the Stormers host the Chiefs in the quarter-finals. Although the Stormers did record their most memorable win of the season when these two sides met earlier in the year, the Cape-based side never really kicked on as expected from there. Against the Bulls on Saturday, the Stormers were again guilty of some poor defence, while they were regularly punished for their persistence with a fast and loose style of play. It’s something they cannot afford to repeat against the free-flowing Chiefs.
Bosch must return to flyhalf for the Sharks
Sharks coach Rob du Preez caught many by surprise this past week when he opted to persist with Garth April at flyhalf, while the talented Curwin Bosch dropped from fullback to the bench. In the end, April battled to control the game as necessary against the Lions, and made a number of errors during an indifferent performance in the No 10 jersey. Although there wasn’t much of a turnaround when Bosch did come on early in the second half, there is no doubt that the Sharks need to reintroduce the youngster to frontline action this Saturday. In order for the Sharks to have any hope of competing against the Lions, they need to back out-and-out match-winners, and Bosch is just that.
Raymond Rhule makes a timely statement
Although Rhule started all three Tests against France in June, and generally acquitted himself well, his defence was suspect on several occasions. The return of Ruan Combrinck, who has been highly impressive for the Lions in recent weeks, has placed further pressure on Rhule to do enough to retain his starting place in the upcoming Rugby Championship. With this in mind, Rhule’s performance in the Cheetahs’ final regular-season game against the Kings served as a timely reminder of his abilities. Rhule was a standout performer as the Cheetahs clinched a comeback win, with the winger completing seven carries, making 99m, beating two defenders and completing seven tackles.
New Zealand sides set to complete utter domination over Australian opponents
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika must be a worried man. Over the course of the regular season, the Australian sides have completed just 21 wins in total. What has been even more glaring is the fact that the Chiefs’ comfortable win over the Brumbies on Saturday meant that New Zealand teams have boasted a 25-0 winning record against Australian opposition this season – the first such clean sweep over their trans-Tasman rivals. In fact, that total can be extended to 30 matches without a win if the final results from last season are factored in. The Brumbies will be the only Australian team to feature in the playoffs this season, but they would be expected to suffer a defeat against the defending champions the Hurricanes to complete a season of woe for the Aussie sides.
Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix