What we learned from the 11th round of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Lions still in cruise control
Saturday’s emphatic 47-10 bonus-point win over the Rebels was the Lions’ seventh victory in a row, and ensured that last year’s runners-up remain in a position of supreme ascendancy at the summit of the Africa group. Although the Lions did score seven tries, Warren Whiteley was spot on when he honestly admitted afterwards that the scoreline might have been somewhat flattering. The Lions didn’t have it all their own way on attack, despite dominating all the statistics in this regard, and only led by seven points late in the first half. While the Lions should be commended for the improvements to their all-round game that have ensured they remain on a comfortable winning streak, coach Johan Ackermann will know that a lift in intensity and accuracy will be required from his charges at the business end of the competition.
Sharks are back on track
Two weeks ago, the Sharks played out to a 9-9 draw against the Rebels in one of the worst games in Super Rugby history. Immediately afterwards, downcast coach Rob du Preez described it as an unacceptable performance, and one which had suddenly stalled their charge to the playoffs. However, the Durban-based side responded in fine fashion with a gutsy win over the Jaguares in Argentina, while Saturday’s important 37-12 win over the Force was another illustration of the character possessed by a young side. Although the Sharks will have been disappointed not to pick up a bonus point, it was an overall performance and result that would have helped bury the ghosts of the Rebels horror show.
Bulls have hit rock bottom
The humiliation just keeps on coming for the Bulls this season, and from a South African rugby perspective, this past Saturday’s 62-24 thrashing at the hands of Crusaders was hard to watch. As it was, just 13,000 fans turned up at what was once regarded as fortress Loftus, but many had already begun to leave by half-time as the Bulls conceded five tries and 31 point in a hapless opening half performance. It didn’t get any better from there, as a painful defeat was added to a season of horrors that has already included a loss to the lowly Sunwolves. The structures and systems at the once proud Bulls union – and the role of coach Nollis Marais – have to now come under serious scrutiny.
Cheetahs are chokers
It may seem a bit harsh to give the Cheetahs the label of chokers that the Proteas cricket team hates so much, but how else do you explain Friday night’s epic implosion that saw them surrender a 41-24 lead in the final 10 minutes against the Highlanders? The painful fact is that the Cheetahs have repeatedly blown significant leads this season – remember the 24-0 advantage over the Chiefs? – and have constantly failed to perform for the full 80 minutes. Instead, it was the Highlanders who once again illustrated the superior finishing ability of New Zealand teams as they launched a remarkable comeback that left the Cheetahs absolutely shell-shocked.
Stormers have to rectify defensive frailties
Coach Robbie Fleck and defence-focused assistant Paul Treu will want to avert their eyes when they take stock of the statistics that reveal the Cape-based side conceded a whopping 24 tries and 155 points on their winless three-match tour to New Zealand. Although the Stormers produced an improved performance against the Hurricanes on Friday, they still conceded seven tries and scored just one. Again, some of their smaller backs were shown up on defence by their bigger and better Kiwi counterparts, while the Stormers missed 11 tackles in total. While that number is not exorbitant, the Canes enjoyed absolute ascendancy with ball in hand (making 447m to 204), while Beauden Barrett was able to manipulate the defence with a number of effective cross-kicks. It's an area of the games the Stormers desperately need to shore up as they now return home and begin the run-in to the playoffs.
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