What we learned from the third round of Vodacom Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Brits makes a statement
There have been more than a few critics who have questioned the reasoning behind Schalk Brits coming out of retirement. Although the 37-year-old remained in the Bok squad for the majority of last season, he only featured in one Test off the bench. Naturally, it led to queries over his exact role in the national setup, but coach Rassie Erasmus always insisted that the proof would be in the performances this Super Rugby season. In that context, the veteran hooker has made a compelling start, having impressed in the season-opener against the Stormers, before producing a standout display in the Vodacom Bulls’ comfortable 30-12 victory against the Lions on Saturday. According to Sanzaar’s statistics, Brits made 43m, eight carries, nine tackles and won a turnover.
Eben Etzebeth back with a bang
The Bok lock missed the entire 2018 Super Rugby season due to an injury, and his presence was sorely missed by the Stormers. Etzebeth’s influence on the team was already in evidence last weekend when he came off the bench to inspire a comeback victory against the Lions, while he was in irrepressible form after starting against the Sharks on Saturday. Although Pieter-Steph du Toit earned the Man of the Match award in the hard-fought 16-11 win, it’s Etzebeth who remained a colossal figure throughout the match, adding a much-needed physical edge to the Stormers’ play. His stats also showcase the industrious nature of the performance, with the powerful lock making 11 carries, beating three defenders and executing seven tackles.
All to play for in competitive South African conference
It’s still too early to make any steadfast predictions about which teams look like playoff contenders, particularly considering how many unpredictable results there have been over the first three weeks of competition. For one, the Stormers have rebounded with real intent after suffering a thrashing against the Bulls in round one. Back-to-back victories against the Lions and Sharks have certainly demonstrated that they do have plenty of fighting spirit. It was particularly the surprise win over the Sharks on Saturday that has also served to even up the standings in the South African conference. While the Durban-based side still remain at the top of the group, they are only a couple of points ahead of the Bulls and Jaguares, while the Stormers are just three points adrift. Uncharacteristically, the Lions are in last place. There is a long season ahead, but the early indications suggest that the local conference will be fiercely-contested this year.
New Zealand sides stutter into 2019
Last year, the All Blacks’ air of invincibility began to wane somewhat as they suffered defeats to the Springboks and Ireland. It’s far too early to suggest that any alarm bells will be ringing, but New Zealand’s Super Rugby sides have also made far from the most convincing start to Super Rugby. In the opening round, the Hurricanes struggled to a narrow victory over the Waratahs, while the Chiefs were hammered by the Brumbies in round two. Last Friday, the Rebels claimed a deserved win over the Highlanders, and the Sunwolves then stunned the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday. Of course, it can’t be forgotten that the Blues were also well beaten by the Sharks last weekend and lost to the Jaguares on Saturday night. Any way you look at it, this has been a particularly slow start to the season for the usually dominant Kiwi teams.
Sunwolves create history in Hamilton
Heading into Saturday’s clash against the Chiefs, the Sunwolves had lost 23 successive games outside of Asia. In total, the Japanese side had only managed six wins from three seasons of Super Rugby. Yet they defied all expectations to produce a performance of precision against the Chiefs, ultimately laying claim to a famous 30-15 win in Hamilton. Although the Sunwolves led by 20 points at half-time, there was always a sense that the Chiefs could surge back to break their hearts in the second period. Instead, the visitors displayed character and commitment to close out the result and celebrate a triumph that also defies those critics who have suggested they don’t deserve a place in the competition.
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