What we learned from the 12th round of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Sharks banish one-dimensional perception
Prior to Saturday’s clash at Kings Park, there was a gradually increasing perception that the Sharks were far too predictable. It appeared that the Durban-based side had little else to offer if their forwards were taken out of the game, and big ball-carriers such as André Esterhuizen were kept under wraps. However, in 80 outstanding minutes of rugby on Saturday, the Sharks defied those perceptions. Besides outscoring the Highlanders five tries to two, what stood out about the Sharks was the manner in which they created attacking opportunities. The hosts exposed their New Zealand opponents through clever kicks either through or over the defence, which complemented the typical ball-carrying thrust of Esterhuizen and the likes. The Sharks were anything but one-dimensional, with their superb offloading game once again proving to be a key feature of a performance that could well prove to be season-defining.
Continuation of Stormers’ dominance, Bulls’ struggles at Newlands
After 12 rounds of Super Rugby, the Stormers hover in ninth place on the overall log. It’s a position that belies the fact that they have won all five of their games at home this season, and generally looked like true playoff contenders each time they take to their home turf. This was the case once again on Saturday as they bullied the Bulls into submission – dominating the physical exchanges, impressing at scrum time and targeting flyhalf Handré Pollard with several big hits. In the end, it marked the Pretoria-based side’s seventh straight at loss at Newlands, which has become a real hoodoo ground for them. Prior to this clash, Bulls coach John Mitchell had suggested the Stormers’ so-called invincibility at home would serve as an additional motivating factor for his side. However, the Cape-based side ultimately handed down another example of just how comfortable they are playing in front of their vociferous home crowd.
In-form Esterhuizen highlights Bok battle for No 12 jersey
The whispers in certain rugby circles have provided cause to believe that overseas-based Frans Steyn could be well be considered as a frontrunner to start at No 12 for the Boks in the fast-approaching June Test series against England. However, Bok coach Rassie Erasmus has also made no secret of the fact that he will generally give preference to locally-based players if they are performing up to standard. Just recently, the Stormers’ Damian de Allende has begun to rediscover some of his best form, but it’s the barnstorming performances of the Sharks’ Esterhuizen that are increasingly becoming impossible to ignore. The powerful midfielder has taken his game to another level this year, and he was at it again on Saturday as he tore through the Highlanders team in a Man of the Match performance. Besides making 64m, 10 carries, beating seven defenders and completing eight passes, he also made as many as eight tackles. Should Esterhuizen continue this form for the next few weeks, there is every reason to believe he could be just the man the Boks are looking for in that all-important inside centre berth.
Lions’ reliance on Malcolm Marx exposed
This season, it’s become evident that the Lions are sorely missing key forwards such as Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel and now England-based Ruan Ackermann. However, the irrepressible performances of Malcolm Marx week in and week out have played no small part in seeing the Lions’ relatively lightweight pack often punch above their weight. It was therefore always going to be a key moment in the match when Marx was forced off the field during the opening minutes of Saturday’s encounter against the Hurricanes. Even on the Lions’ own Twitter account, they conceded that the team was clearly missing Marx just after the Canes recorded another try on the way to a comfortable 28-19 win. It has since been revealed that Marx will undergo scans for a groin injury, which will be a real cause of concern for both the Lions and the Springboks.
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