What we learned from the 11th round of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Lions, Bulls miss golden opportunities
Both the Lions and Bulls should look back at their respective defeats on Saturday and wonder just how it went so wrong. After holding the Waratahs scoreless in Sydney the week before, the Lions came into their clash against the Reds as firm favourites. However, they produced their worst first-half performance of the season to fall 24 points behind, which effectively left them with too much ground to make up. Although the Lions did well to battle back and claim a losing bonus point, they will know that their failure to front up in key facets of play has now applied unnecessary pressure heading into challenging clashes against the Hurricanes and Highlanders over the next fortnight. The Lions are still handily placed 10 points clear at the summit of the South African conference, but the Bulls will lament a real missed opportunity to cut into that lead. The Pretoria-based sided dominated territory and possession against the Highlanders, but failed to make the most of this ascendancy and the superiority they enjoyed at scrum time. The Bulls did look to have wrapped up the win with a late try to Jesse Kriel, but then failed to display the necessary composure to close out the game. The late match-winning penalty from Highlanders flyhalf Lima Sopoaga could well come back to haunt the Bulls down the line.
Lizo Gqoboka makes his mark
Heading into Saturday’s clash between the Bulls and Highlanders at Loftus, there were question marks over how the home side would fare at scrum time in the absence of the suspended Pierre Schoeman. Throughout this season, Schoeman has been a powerhouse at loosehead prop, but in his absence, Gqoboka stepped up to produce a Man of the Match display against the Highlanders. It’s very rare these days to see a prop rewarded with such an accolade, and particularly in a losing cause, but that’s just how good Gqoboka proved to be. Some of the scrum credit must also go to Trevor Nyakane, who looks to be in the fitness and form of his life, but it’s Gqoboka who made a real statement of intent. The big front-rower was also desperately unlucky to be penalised for a textbook clean-out in the second half, which shone a spotlight on some of the poor officiating from New Zealand referee Glen Jackson late in the game. Nevertheless, the performance of Gqoboka was cause for celebration, while Handré Pollard again displayed why he must be the frontrunner to claim the Bok No 10 jersey this June.
Stormers win, but fail to fire
The Stormers came into their clash against the Rebels on Friday sitting at the bottom of the South African conference following three successive defeats. On that basis, the Cape-based side will be mightily relieved to have managed to claim a hard-fought 34-18 win over the Rebels. It’s a result that adds to the interesting complexion of the South African conference, which sees just two log points separating four of the five teams (the Lions remain well clear at the top). The Stormers now have an opportunity to continue a resurgence of sorts when they host the Bulls this Saturday. However, it’s unlikely that the Stormers will take all that much confidence into their rematch with the Bulls on the basis of Friday’s performance. Although the Stormers generally looked in control against the Rebels, the quality of the clash still left a lot to be desired, while the home side faded away in the third quarter and ultimately failed to secure a try-scoring bonus point once again. Towards the end of the clash, the camera panned to Robbie Fleck in the Stormers coach’s box, and his demeanour of displeasure spoke volumes about the ‘ugly’ nature of Friday’s victory.
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