What we learned from the Test in Wellington and round 15 of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
The British & Irish Lions do have the beating of the All Blacks
Although the All Blacks had to play 55 minutes of Saturday’s second Test with 14 men after Sonny Bill Williams was red-carded for a cynical shoulder charge, one should not underestimate the significance of the Lions’ 24-21 win. Take a moment to absorb the fact that it was the All Blacks’ first defeat on home soil in 48 Tests since 2009, and one way or another that will play on their minds heading into the decisive encounter. By contrast, the Lions will be buoyed by the manner in which they were able to expose the All Blacks on attack at times, while keeping them tryless through abrasive defence. Of course, the end result has to be seen in the context of the red card, but it should still make for an enthralling final Test, where suddenly, the Lions can’t be regarded as rank underdogs.
Sonny Bill Williams will have some explaining to do
It’s almost hard to fathom what Williams’ intent was as he dropped his shoulder in an attempted tackle on Anthony Watson midway through the first half of the second Test. It resulted in a deserved red card and effectively cost his team a victory that would have sealed the series. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was at a loss when pressed on the matter, describing it as one of those things that happen in the heat of the battle. However, there can be no doubt that Williams deserved the red card that came his way, and which not only blighted the second Test, but his overall ‘good-guy’ image.
Lions make massive statement
If there were any doubts over the Lions’ chance of competing for this year’s Super Rugby title, they were surely erased in Saturday’s 14-try 94-7 win over the Sunwolves at Ellis Park. Regardless of the opposition, the Lions could only play what was in front of them, and their performance was one of immense class. Despite picking up the five log points that now draws them within three of overall leaders, the Crusaders, they should be confident of overcoming the Sharks in their regular season finale, while the Saders must still play the Hurricanes. Whatever the case may be, the Lions look to have all the necessary weaponry to progress to another final, and there is every reason to believe they could go one step further this year.
Bulls finally rediscover meaningful intent
The Bulls came into Friday’s clash against the Sharks having managed just three wins in a nightmare season, while the Sharks were already secure of a playoff place. Yet, when it came to the competition’s resumption, it was the Bulls who played with confidence and intent to complete a comfortable 30-17 win. It was the sort of performance that has been so sorely lacking from the Bulls this season, and perhaps spoke to the new identity they are aiming to create ahead of the arrival of new executive of rugby John Mitchell. By contrast, the Sharks’ confidence would have been severely dented as they head towards the knockout stage.
Damian Willemse offers an exciting prospect at flyhalf
After impressing for the Junior Boks at the recent World Rugby U20 Championship, Willemse was handed his first Super Rugby start at flyhalf for this past Saturday’s clash against the Cheetahs. Overall, Willemse should be satisfied with his first outing at this level, with the talented 19-year-old displaying some encouraging signs on attack, while his game management and big boot proved crucial to the Stormers’ 40-34 end result. Willemse also created and finished off a beautiful try midway through the first half, which could well be the first of many for this exciting young prospect.
Photo; Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images