What we learned from the 13th round of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Lions, Jantjies and Combrinck make big statements
There was plenty to enjoy in the Lions’ emphatic 51-14 win over the Bulls on Saturday evening. From a team perspective, the Lions produced the sort of first-half performance that underlined their status as legitimate title contenders this season. Yes, the true test will be when they come up against New Zealand opposition, but for now they are finding a way to overcome each team that stands before them. In particular, Elton Jantjies was in top form as he marshalled proceedings with aplomb, and again put up his hand for the Bok No 10 jersey. There was also a welcome return for Ruan Combrinck, who delivered a powerful performance on the wing to complete a memorable Super Rugby comeback. For the visitors to Ellis Park on Saturday, Jesse Kriel produced a gallant effort, but on the whole, the less said about the Bulls the better.
Kolisi, Du Preez offer much-needed options for the Boks at No 7
At a time when there are so many question marks hanging over key positions for the Boks ahead of the three-Test June series against France, coach Allister Coetzee will at least be buoyed by the options that are taking shape at blindside flank. Siya Kolisi produced another excellent performance for the Stormers in Friday's battle against the Blues, which saw him deservedly receive the Man of the Match award. Kolisi made 24m, nine carries and beat two defenders, while he also completed nine tackles and won three turnovers. For the Sharks, Jean-Luc du Preez was even better against the Sunwolves as he completed 42m, 11 carries and beat two defenders, while he made eight tackles. As an aside, Lwazi Mvovo and Sbu Nkosi were also outstanding for the Sharks as they came away with a much-needed bonus-point win.
Cheetahs' horror season goes from bad to worse
As it stands, the Cheetahs have offered very little vindication for retaining their place in Super Rugby next year. The Free State side has now lost nine games in a row, but it was Saturday's 61-7 thrashing at the hands of the Hurricanes that will surely rank as the worst of the lot. The Cheetahs' defence has been a massive issue all season, and this time they conceded nine tries in a completely hapless performance in Wellington. Take a moment to absorb the fact they have now conceded a whopping 484 points and 56 tries in 11 games. It's been a season the Cheetahs will want to forget, and with their Super Rugby future under threat, this recent run of shocking results has come at the worst possible time.
Stormers' replacements and forwards make much-needed impact
When the Stormers trailed by nine points early in the second half against the Blues on Friday night, it looked as if they were set to suffer a fifth successive defeat of the season. Yet, just when the home side needed it most, there was a clear shift in momentum as the Stormers got into high gear, with their forwards asserting impressive physicality and establishing some much-needed ascendancy at the collisions. In addition, a number of replacements came on to make a crucial impact as they upped the tempo at a key stage of the clash. Again, the Stormers were led by an industrious performance from captain Siya Kolisi, who was omnipresent throughout. The end result was an important 30-22 win to set the Stormers' season back on track after a horror tour to New Zealand.
Officiating again comes under the spotlight
In the aftermath of the Stormers' much-needed win, plenty of criticism was aimed at some inconsistent officiating that had a considerable influence on the encounter. Referee Jaco van Heerden first dished out a yellow card to Blues winger Matt Duffie for going offside, despite no clear team warning for preceding repeated team infringements. Eben Etzebeth was also sent to the sin bin for a relatively innocuous push to the face, while Stormers centre Shaun Treeby got away with a horrible high tackle that really should have resulted in a card early in the second half. As it is, Treeby was later cited after the incident was deemed to have met the red-card threshold. Beyond that, some of the communication from TMO Shaun Veldsman lacked confidence and clarity, with Sikhumbuzo Notshe awarded a contentious try that the Blues certainly weren't happy about, as just one example. All in all, some of the questionable officiating served to detract from an otherwise entertaining encounter.
Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images