What we learned from the latest round of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Lions gain some handy momentum
The Lions could not have wished for more in round 19 of Super Rugby. First, the Waratahs suffered a surprise loss to the Brumbies in Sydney, before the Lions then claimed a comfortable win over the Bulls to leapfrog their way to second on the overall standings. It means that the Lions will not only host Saturday’s quarter-final against the Jaguares, but that they could also enjoy home-ground advantage should they progress to the semi-finals. The Lions should now be pretty confident of progressing to the final four, with Saturday’s performance underlining just how effective they can be when their pack is on top. The Lions’ scrum was a thing of beauty, while they used the maul to good effect, and it’s the sort of forward effort they will be determined to replicate next weekend against a Jaguares side that has had their tour to South Africa extended by an extra week.
Cyle Brink, Marco van Staden knocking on Bok door
During the June Test series, one of the questions that arose revolved around whether the Boks possessed the required depth at flank. Pieter-Steph du Toit and Jean-Luc du Preez capably shared the duties at blindside flank, while Siya Kolisi naturally claimed first rights to the No 6 jersey, but the options beyond that remained somewhat murky. With this in mind, Bok coach Rassie Erasmus must be starting to seriously pay attention to the performances of Cyle Brink. The dynamic loose forward is one of the most underrated players in Super Rugby, but he was once again superb on Saturday – making 64m from 13 carries, while also winning two turnovers. According to the stats provided by Sanzaar, there can also be no doubting the influence of Bulls star Marco van Staden, who is credited with 31 run metres, 12 tackles and a whopping five turnovers. If Erasmus is looking for a player who can wreak havoc at the breakdown, he should look no further than Van Staden.
Sharks will need to offer more in Christchurch
The Sharks can count themselves extremely fortunate to have snuck into the playoffs. The stars aligned for the Durban-based side this past weekend, with the Highlanders overcoming the Rebels, which opened the door for the Sharks to power past a second-string Jaguares. The Sharks did just that, with their power game and sturdy defence once again laying the foundation for a comfortable win in a match where they had very little of the territory and possession. However, the Sharks’ reward is now to head all the way to Christchurch to face reigning champions, the Crusaders. It’s virtually a case of mission impossible, but if the Sharks are to have any hope, one would think they need to catch the Crusaders by surprise with their approach. Earlier in the season, the coastal side did just this when they pitched up in New Zealand and racked up a remarkable 63-40 win over the Blues based on a brilliant running game, while they then slipped to a last-minute 38-37 loss to the Hurricanes in a match they really should have won. It’s a reminder of what the Sharks are capable of when they turn it on, and there is no doubt they will need to offer more than just a strong defence and sound set piece to stand any chance against the Crusaders.
Farcical log standings confirmed
There has recently been a noticeable increase in the quiet protestations from New Zealand rugby over the unjust nature of the conference format. It’s an undoubtedly justified argument when one considers that the Hurricanes and Chiefs both finished with more log points than both the Lions and Waratahs, and yet these two top New Zealand sides now have to go head-to-head for the second time in two weeks. This patently unfair system has been a major bugbear when it comes to the current conference format, while the fact that as many as eight teams qualify for the playoffs after 19 rounds of action is clearly a case of rewarding mediocrity. There simply has to be considerable changes made when Sanzaar settles on a new Super Rugby format from 2020 onwards.
Rugby is going soft
‘I’m the opposition coach and I’m saying this is no good. Seriously, man, it’s hurting the game.’ These were the words of exasperated Reds coach Brad Thorn following his side’s 48-27 win over the Sunwolves on Friday. It was a match blighted by a ludicrous red card handed out to Sunwolves flanker Ed Quirk for what was deemed to be a ‘punch’ on Reds flyhalf Hamish Stewart, but it really looked nothing more than a ‘love tap’, as Thorn also suggested. It’s not often that you’ll hear an opposition coach speak out in such a manner when a call effectively went in favour of his side, but no one could deny that pedantic referee Ben O’Keeffee and the officials got that decision horribly wrong. Unfortunately, it’s been an all too common occurrence during a season where officials have been too quick to brandish a card for relatively innocuous offences, while disregarding common sense when it comes to considering the nature of the game.
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images