What we learned from the quarter-finals of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Lions need to display greater composure
It’s no surprise that Lions coach Johan Ackermann admitted to having some ‘grey-hair moments’ during Saturday’s quarter-final against the Sharks. To be fair, for long periods of that match, the Lions looked set to suffer a shock defeat. Uncharacteristically, the Lions lacked the necessary patience on attack, and seemed to grow increasingly frustrated by their inability to convert pressure into points. The Lions also lacked accuracy in front of poles, with Elton Jantjies enduring an off-night as he missed four shots at goal (two conversions and two penalties), while Ruan Combrinck missed one penalty. The Lions were lucky to escape with a win, and will know that they need to be far more composed under pressure if they hope to overcome the Hurricanes in the semi-finals.
Ruan Combrinck has nerves of steel
Combrinck was one man who certainly didn’t lack any composure or confidence. When the Lions were awarded a long-distance penalty late in the game, at a time when they still trailed by a point, he didn’t hesitate to accept responsibility from the kicking tee. From some 55m, he struck a match-winning goal kick under immense pressure, before calmly returning to assume his position ahead of the next kickoff. Should the Lions go on to win this competition, that kick from Combrinck could well be viewed as their saving grace.
Sharks, Brumbies demonstrate value of dogged defence
Both the Sharks and Brumbies can walk away from their quarter-final defeats with their heads held high. In particular, the Sharks were quite outstanding against the Lions as they threw themselves into tackles, and simply refused to give an inch on defence. It’s fair to say that the Durban-based franchise deserved better than an agonising last-gasp defeat. Similarly, the Brumbies also left the Hurricanes looking somewhat rattled in Canberra on Friday as their passionate defence prevented the Kiwi side from getting their natural attacking game going. In both these games, the Sharks and Brumbies demonstrated the value of defence in playoff rugby.
Stormers haven’t found a way to overcome playoff woes
There was something quite painful about watching the Stormers slip to a meek 17-11 defeat against the Chiefs on Saturday, without really firing a meaningful shot in anger. Although the Stormers’ defence was much improved, they failed to capitalise on an error-strewn opening half from the Chiefs, while lacking composure on attack and in front of goal. Most notably – and despite the return of SP Marais to fullback – the Stormers failed to win the territorial battle, and with the Chiefs repeatedly forcing them back into their own territory, they were once again handed a lesson in playoff rugby. The Stormers have now lost eight of their nine playoffs – six of those in Cape Town – and clearly still remain in search of a winning knockout rugby formula.
Officiating comes under the spotlight again
Sharks fans were understandably fuming after Saturdays’ heart-breaking defeat against the Lions. It’s terrible to highlight officiating as a factor that played a part in the outcome of such an enthralling encounter, but there were certainly some contentious decisions late in the game from referee Marius van der Westhuizen. He first waved away what looked to be an off-the-ball tackle from Lions wing Courtnall Skosan, at a time when the Sharks were still hanging on to a one-point lead, with the hosts eventually moving upfield from there to be awarded the match-winning penalty. Then right on the final whistle, the Sharks appeared to have won the ball and cried out for a penalty, but Van der Westhuizen saw it differently and awarded the Lions a scrum that ended the game. The Sharks certainly can’t blame the referee for defeat, but they do have some reason to feel aggrieved.
Photo: Anne Laing