What we learned from the seventh round of Vodacom Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Ugly Akker incident overshadows Bulls-Sharks clash
It says a lot about the rather dreary nature of Saturday’s derby between the Vodacom Bulls and Sharks that the main talking point revolved around a bust-up between two players. It was a nasty incident, and one that is rarely seen these days, with Akker van der Merwe climbing into Schalk Brits, first with his head at a ruck, before letting fly with a few punches. Brits retaliated to an extent, and both players were shown a red card. For Van der Merwe, it was an incident that seemed out of character, but he looked very much like an individual who was unleashing plenty of pent up frustration. One can only wonder if his omission from the Boks last year in preference of Brits may have had anything to do with it.
Bulls made the big plays
It’s quite remarkable that the Bulls have extended their undefeated streak over the Sharks to nine matches. It’s a standout record when one considers just how competitive the Sharks have been over the years in Super Rugby, and again on Saturday, they looked to have the beating of the Bulls for large periods of the match in Durban. And yet the Pretoria-based side once again found a way to win. Just as the Sharks looked to be building momentum in the second half, Duane Vermeulen popped up to to claim a couple of crucial turnovers at the breakdown. It was a similar story when Jesse Kriel finished off a second-half try at a vital stage, and then came the massive scrum penalty won right at the death. This time, Handré Pollard stepped up to convert the kick and secure a win for a Bulls side that rose to the occasion in the key moments.
Sharks must consider flyhalf change
Before the opening game of the season, Sharks coach Robert du Preez said that Curwin Bosch was in line to start at flyhalf against the Sunwolves. Unfortunately, an injury ruled him out of action on that occasion, and since then he has predominantly had to make do with a role off the bench, with Rob du Preez Jnr starting at flyhalf, and Aphelele Fassi fulfilling the fullback berth. On Saturday, Du Preez Jnr endured an off-day as he missed three important kicks at goal, while slipping off a tackle on Burger Odendaal, which led directly to a try. Yet, when Bosch was brought on, it was at the expense of Fassi rather than Du Preez. The fact remains that the Sharks are continuing to struggle when it comes to offering real dynamism on attack, and surely the time has finally come to allow Bosch that overdue start at 10.
Mbonambi playing some of his best rugby
At various times last year, there were those critics who questioned the consistency of Bongi Mbonambi, and whether he could be relied upon to provide all-important back-up to Malcolm Marx. The good news is that Mbonambi has come into 2019 with some red-hot form, and he was again one of the standout performers in the Stormers’ clash against the Blues on Saturday. The hooker made 11 carries, 39m and six tackles as part of an industrious individual performance in a losing team cause.
Blues fullback got away with nasty piece of foul play
On a weekend where some poor officiating once again blighted the on-field action, one has to wonder how Blues fullback Melani Nanai got away with a rather blatant elbow to the face of Stormers wing Dillyn Leyds. It was an ugly incident in the opening minutes of the match, with the referee appearing to see the strike, but opting just to issue a warning. A TMO review of the incident would surely have led to a red card, and quite possibly changed the outcome of the match.
The rules are clearly different for New Zealand teams and their visitors. Melani Nanai elbows Dillyn Leyds in the face but no action.
Ref is in close proximity.
— LΞΞ DΛVIDSΞ (@lee_davidse) March 30, 2019
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images