What we learned from the ninth round of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
The Kings possess plenty of character
On a weekend where there was very little to cheer about about in terms of the quality of rugby produced by South African teams, the Kings in fact, provided the highlight. Their famous win over the Waratahs on Friday was yet another example of the gutsy fighting spirit that the men from the Eastern Cape possess. After the clash, captain Lionel Cronjé passionately described what an emotional and stressful time it had been for the players, as two South African teams are set to be cut from Super Rugby, with the Kings almost certainly facing the axe. Nevertheless, the players responded with a performance that they hoped would send a statement to SA Rugby, and a remarkable win in Sydney certainly did that.
Lions feed off winning mentality
With 10 minutes to play in Johannesburg on Friday night, the Lions trailed 21-14 and were staring at a first Super Rugby defeat at Ellis Park since last April. Yet, not for the first time this season, the Lions remained calm and composed, and found a way to work their way back into the match, with a host of replacements making an important impact in the final quarter. In the end, a try to Ruan Ackermann and two crucial goal kicks from Elton Jantjies enabled the Lions to snatch a rather fortuitous victory. It was another illustration of just how powerful it can be when winning becomes a habit.
Stormers remain a work-in-progress
Understandably, the Stormers won plenty of plaudits as they secured six wins in succession to start their season, while embracing a positive and progressive brand of rugby. Yet, just as quickly as the compliments flowed at that time, so the criticism has begun to build momentum, following back-to-back losses against the Lions and now the Crusaders. Saturday’s 57-24 loss to the Crusaders would have particularly set the alarm bells ringing, but the fact remains that there should be no need to panic. The Stormers should learn from the mistakes made in Christchurch, and place a greater emphasis on cutting out the basic and defensive errors that proved so costly.
Jesse Kriel is returning to good form
After a weekend where Bok coach Allister Coetzee would not have been thrilled by the South African performances on offer, he would have been pleased by what he saw from at least one player. Playing at outside centre, Kriel produced an industrious performance in the Bulls' clash against the Cheetahs, and then displayed all his class to superbly finish off a match-winning try. It was a performance that saw him back up last weekend’s quality showing against the Jaguares, and again put up his hand for the Bok No 13 jersey.
Red cards can ruin a game
When centre André Esterhuizen was shown a straight red card in the 18th minute of the Sharks’ match against the Rebels, it left the home side with a mountain to climb. Beyond that, it turned a potentially entertaining encounter into a complete dog fight as the Sharks had to change tactics in order to compensate for their one-man disadvantage. In the end, a dour 9-9 draw was the result, with both teams producing error-riddled performances, while Rebels captain Nic Stirzaker also copped a red card late in the game. Ultimately, the Sharks lacked composure as they failed to make the most of some very kickable penalties, but they will also look at the ill-discipline from Esterhuizen as the game-changer it was.
Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images