What we learned from the quarter-finals of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Lions looking good for third successive final
By no means has it been the perfect season from the Lions, but in recent weeks the stars have aligned for them to book a home quarter-final and semi-final. There was no doubt that home-ground advantage worked in their favour on Saturday as they saw off the Jaguares just as they were threatening a comeback in the second half, while they should now be favourites in Saturday’s semi-final against the Waratahs. The Tahs claimed a stunning victory over the Highlanders on Saturday, but that fightback win would have taken a lot out of them, while they now have to travel to South Africa. Lying in wait is a Lions team that looks to have rediscovered their swagger now that their pack is closer to full strength.
Malcolm Marx sends out reminder of his class
Former Bok coach Nick Mallett was quite right in his assertion following Saturday’s clash in Johannesburg that Malcolm Marx has to be regarded as the best hooker in world rugby. The 24-year-old was back to his brilliant best on Saturday, which saw him score an opportunistic try in addition to making 56m and five carries. However, it was his work at the breakdown that was most impressive as he won a number of turnovers at important times. It served as a timely reminder of the Springbok hooker’s world-class ability ahead of the Rugby Championship, while Elton Jantjies also enjoyed a superb outing as he guided the Lions to an impressive victory.
Sharks haunted by error rate
The folly of the Super Rugby competition format was once again highlighted on Saturday as the Sharks proved to be simply no match for the Crusaders in Christchurch. It was an inevitable result when one considers that the Crusaders finished the regular season with 27 more log points than the Sharks, who had snuck into the playoffs in eighth place. The Durban-based side would have needed to produce the perfect performance to stand any chance against the Crusaders, and yet they made far too many handling errors, while their set piece was far from its best. In the opening quarter, the error-riddled Sharks were particularly the architects of their own demise as they gifted the Crusaders an early lead, and the result was only ever going to go one way from there.
Questions raised over referee appointments
As Saturday’s quarter-finals played out, there was the almost inevitable outcry over some of the decision-making of the officials. New Zealander Mike Fraser copped plenty of criticism in South African circles for allowing the Crusaders to get away with a lot against the Sharks. In fairness, there could also be similar questions asked about South African referee Jaco Peyper and his handling of the clash between the Lions and Jaguares. It again raises the argument for Sanzaar to appoint neutral referees for the knockout games to eradicate any chance of officials being accused of bias.
Crusaders look unlikely to be stopped
In many ways, the Crusaders’ performance against the Sharks on Saturday served as a masterclass in playoff rugby. As they have done all season, the reigning champs played with precision and patience, with their direct running and relentless phase play proving too much to handle for the Sharks. In a side packed with All Blacks, there are very few apparent weaknesses, with the Crusaders having now won 13 games in a row. The eight-time champions may be tested by the Hurricanes in the semi-finals, but there is little to suggest that they won’t go all the way once again this season.
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