What we learned from the 13th round of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Bulls fully deserved crucial win in drama-filled derby
The end result of Saturday’s enthralling clash between the Bulls and Sharks shows that just six points separated the sides at the final whistle. However, as illustrated by Sanzaar’s statistics, it was the Bulls who made most of the running (646m carried to 385), while they led the Sharks for the majority of the match. All in all, it was an engrossing encounter that showcased not only the physicality, but also the ball-in-hand abilities of South African players. However, there was a quite decisive turning point early on at Loftus. The Sharks looked to have scored through Curwin Bosch in the 10th minute, but the TMO correctly ruled out the try when he spotted that the fullback had tripped his opposite number, Warrick Gelant, earlier in the movement. Bosch was sent to the sin bin, and in his absence, the Bulls scored 12 points in what could well be perceived as a 19-point swing. RG Snyman and Lukhanyo Am were also sent to the sin bin during the course of an action-packed derby, but it was the Bulls who ultimately emerged as most deserved victors.
Warrick Gelant underlines class; Akker van der Merwe makes Bok statement
Gelant has firmly aligned himself as the frontrunner for the Springbok No 15 jersey in June. The youngster has been in outstanding form this season, and again on Saturday, he displayed all his talents as he made 117m, 16 carries, 16 passes, beat five defenders and scored a try. In addition, he demonstrated his ability to kick well off both his left and right foot. It was an all-round performance that really should have earned Gelant the Man of the Match award, but this instead went to Van der Merwe, the industrious Sharks hooker. It was some effort in a losing cause, with the man known as the ‘angry warthog’ again carrying the ball with immense power, while he won as many as three turnovers. There is every reason to believe that Van der Merwe could well be in the Bok mix for the one-off Test against Wales on 2 June, with Rassie Erasmus likely to use that match as an opportunity to look at the depth available to him.
Stormers’ scrum uncharacteristically let them down
In the context of the action-packed derby between the Bulls and Sharks on Saturday, the clash between the Stormers and Chiefs paled in comparison. The Stormers hardly fired a shot on attack, but it was the manner in which they were bullied at scrum time that came as a real surprise. It was clear that the Chiefs targeted the scrum as a key area if they were to have any chance at Newlands, and they made a massive statement at this set piece early on. In addition, the manner in which the Chiefs won a penalty try after buckling the Stormers scrum is likely to haunt some of the Cape-based forwards for weeks to come. That try was decisive to the end result, which saw the Stormers slip to a first home defeat in what has been a disappointing campaign to date.
Concerns setting in for Lions
The Lions won’t reflect fondly on their four-week tour to Australasia, despite the fact it started off with such a positive result against the Waratahs. Since then, the Lions have slumped to defeat against the Reds, Hurricanes and Highlanders, and any chance of finishing the season top of the overall standings now appears to have disappeared. Of real concern for the Lions will be the manner in which they are struggling to dominate up front, with a relatively lightweight pack clearly missing the influence of Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel and now Malcolm Marx. It must be said that Ross Cronjé has also been missed in a backline that has not fired at its best for some time. The Lions still enjoy a healthy eight-point lead at the top of the South African conference, but they will know that plenty of work lies ahead upon their return home.
All to play for in SA conference
It’s quite fascinating to note that just a solitary point separates the sides from two to four in the South African group. The Jaguares, Bulls and Sharks are all locked on 24 points, while the Stormers are one point adrift. Although the Lions are eight points clear at the summit of the standings, they have played the one game more than most teams (only the Stormers have also played 12 matches). Mathematically, it means that the Lions could still be caught, but it’s difficult to predict who might be their closest challengers. Although little separates the local conference standings, the inconsistency of most of the sides has been a key contributing factor to this, with South African teams seemingly still struggling to back up one dominant performance with another a week later.
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images