What we learned from the 10th round of Vodacom Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Returning loose forwards bolstered Lions
A major issue for the Lions this season has been the fact that their loose trio has been decimated through injury. Yet, on Friday, the influential trio of Warren Whiteley, Cyle Brink and Kwagga Smith were reunited in a rejigged loose trio, and the effect was telling. All three players produced standout performances, providing much-needed grunt and leadership to a Lions side that had found itself in free-fall in recent weeks. In addition, Elton Jantjies made a surprise start at inside centre, and proved that it is a position where he can offer a different dimension.
Lions defy the odds despite off-field disruptions
Immediately after the Lions’ shock 23-17 win over the Chiefs in Hamilton, returning captain Warren Whiteley commended the team’s efforts in a week where they faced plenty of off-field adversity. Both head coach Swys de Bruin and assistant Joey Mongalo returned to South Africa for separate reasons, leaving the team at a time when they had recently suffered defeats to the Sharks and Brumbies. Despite these disruptions, the Lions produced one of their most committed performances to revive their playoff ambitions with a famous win in New Zealand. It was a victory that particularly served as a real credit to the player leadership group.
Sharks’ season suffers another killer blow
What’s happening at the Sharks? After a top-class victory against the Lions at Ellis Park recently, they have plunged to shock defeats against the Jaguares and Reds in Durban. It’s a pair of results that is truly difficult to fathom for a franchise that has so many quality players, and they will now head off on a challenging tour to Australasia. The Durban-based side produced one of their worst performances in recent memory against the Jaguares, while some of their handling and finishing was at schoolboy level against the Reds on Friday. It’s concerning times for a team that doesn’t look particularly well coached.
Halfback change required for struggling Sharks
While Louis Schreuder may be the Sharks’ designated skipper, it has been surprising to see Cameron Wright receive such limited opportunities at scrumhalf so far this season. Again on Friday, Wright came on and added a much-needed spark to a performance that had otherwise been utterly lacklustre until the final quarter, when the Sharks threatened to snatch a comeback draw. Similarly, one has to wonder how the Sharks have continued to persist with Rob du Preez at flyhalf, despite the fact he does not appear to be playing with much form or confidence at the moment. One can’t help but feel that a halfback combination of Wright and Curwin Bosch would add some much-needed attacking spark to a Sharks team that is not offering much on attack, particularly in the absence of Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi.
Stormers flatter to deceive
The Stormers returned to South Africa last week on the back of an impressive win against the Rebels in Melbourne. It was a result that seemed to have revived the Cape team’s playoff ambitions, and should have served as a real confidence boost ahead of upcoming home games. Yet some of the Stormers’ old issues were once again exposed on Saturday as they produced an error-riddled performance against the Brumbies, while failing to take a number of important opportunities in prime field position. In the end, the poor decision to turn down kickable penalties also came back to haunt them as they slipped to a 19-17 defeat.
Photo: Jeremy Ward/www.photosport.nz