The World Cup-winning Springboks put on an attacking show at Soccer City on SuperHero Sunday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Which of the South African franchises is best placed to win the local conference and challenge for the Super Rugby title in 2020? It’s a tough question to answer in the wake of the recent player exodus, and we may only gain a clearer idea of each team’s aptitude four or five rounds into the tournament proper.
That’s not to say that nothing should be read into the recent pre-season friendlies. While the four franchises utilised big squads and experimented with different combinations in Soweto on Sunday, the effort and execution of certain individuals were encouraging.
Defence remains a work-on for each of the Super Rugby franchises, and with this in mind the attacking stats should be viewed in perspective. It’s fair to say that the top New Zealand teams – who have led the way in this department for the better part of a decade – will demand more of the South African attack in the coming months.
But let’s give credit where it is due. There’s been a lot of talk about harnessing the energy around the Springboks’ successful World Cup campaign. On Sunday, the World Cup winners on show appeared to play with more confidence and accuracy when they had ball in hand. It was pleasing to see so many of them making the most of their attacking chances.
Consider the clip below, where Sbu Nkosi receives the ball on the blindside. From 10 metres out, the Sharks wing backs his power and skill to score.
The referee ruled no try after consulting with the TMO, even though the replays showed that part of Nkosi’s hand was on the ball throughout the act of grounding it. It was an outstanding display of finishing.
In the next clip, Lukhanyo Am sums up the situation quickly and kicks for Makazole Mapimpi to chase. Am’s vision and execution create the opportunity, but Mapimpi still has work to do after collecting the ball on the bounce.
Despite being ankle-tapped, Mapimpi regains his balance to stay infield and dot down in the corner. He’s going to be a crucial player for the Sharks – and the Boks – in 2020.
Herschel Jantjies will want to forget the pass that flew over the dead-ball line and put his team under pressure early in the game. The Stormers scrumhalf made amends later in the contest, however, when he snatched two opportunistic tries.
In the clip below, the Sharks persist with their attack despite failing to win the gainline battle. As a result, the Stormers defence advances and Jantjies is awake to the possibility of the intercept.
It was pleasing to see Elton Jantjies varying his attack to such a devastating degree. In past seasons, the Lions have failed to strike the necessary balance between kicking and running and have not realised the attacking potential of well-placed grubbers and crosskicks in the modern game.
On Sunday, we saw Jantjies hitting the perfect crosskick to Courtnall Skosan. The flyhalf recognised that the wing was unmarked – at least initially – on the left-hand side and then struck a perfectly weighted kick into the end zone.
There were more than one or two howlers across the two games in Soweto. The play that decided the fixture between the Vodacom Bulls and Lions was a clear example of one team succumbing to the pressure and the other capitalising on an elementary mistake.
The following clip could well be titled ‘How Not to Exit’. Even before the ball is flung wildly toward the end zone, there doesn’t appear to be much structure and communication among the Lions backs.
Credit to Cornal Hendricks, though. The Bulls centre sees the situation unfolding from his position in the middle of the field. He races toward the tryline and when the ball bounces, the Lions have no time to adjust.
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images