What NICK MALLETT had to say on SuperSport about the two Vodacom Super Rugby quarter-finals involving South African teams.
Hurricanes vs Vodacom Bulls
I feel pretty sorry for the Bulls. Some of the decisions, particularly in the second half, showed what home-ground advantage gives. It put pressure on the referee to make certain calls.
For instance, in the second half Marco van Staden was within his rights to steal that ball because he was on his feet and supporting his own body weight. Then you get Ardie Savea doing exactly the same thing. They were equivalent steals, but Van Staden got penalised and the Hurricanes got three points as a result. Savea got the benefit of the steal and the Hurricanes got the release they needed under pressure.
Another call was the Hurricanes No 16 Asafo Aumua, who is in the line, goes in and doesn’t use his arm at all. Instead, his shoulder hits the neck of Simphiwe Matanzima, who then knocks the ball on and suddenly the Hurricanes have an attacking opportunity. But the TMO, who happens to be a home TMO, will never come back to that situation.
And this is important because it was a no-arms shoulder charge, and it not only caused Matanzima to drop the ball, it was high around the neck area and reckless. If that was brought to the attention of the referee by the TMO, the referee would have had to give – at a minimum – a yellow card and if there was proof he used force, which he did, that could have been a red card. And because of these kind of home-ground decisions, we need the entire officiating panel to be neutral. I know it’s expensive and costly, but for the integrity of the competition it would be better.
Those are the type of key decisions that are the difference between a win and a loss when you’re playing away from home.
It was very close, but as I mentioned there were a couple of hometown decisions for the Hurricanes that made the difference. The no-arms tackle, the turnovers that Savea was given and Van Staden wasn’t given, as well as numerous breakdown issues like guys coming in from the side and the offside line that wasn’t properly policed. But for that, the referees and his assistants should know before a game which teams try that sort of tactics. When sides are rushing out of the blocks, the two assistant referees actually have to be more vigilant.
This Bulls performance is a light at the end of the tunnel for South Africa. I don’t think their rotation was correct this year, but this performance and in fact their last four performances, had been excellent. The Bulls have varied their game and managed to break down defences. They’ve added a variety to their attack. There’s been a philosophy of trying to pass the ball in contact, using width and keeping width in attack, not playing off one-off runners and a lot of effective offensive kicking from Handré Pollard.
We’ve seen Warrick Gelant, Jesse Kriel and RG Snyman perform well this season and Pollard’s form going into the Rugby Championship and World Cup, has also been really good.
So I think the good news story of this season, if there is one in South African rugby, is the way the Bulls have played. It looked like they were down and out on their New Zealand tour but they managed a couple of draws and then gave the Lions a good hiding which gave them confidence coming into this quarter-final.
Brumbies vs Sharks
This was a very disappointing game. Because the Sharks usually do better away from home, I thought that this might be a great opportunity for them. But they were just very, very poor. There are three points I want to make that sum up just how disappointing the Shark were.
First of all, they had 68% possession and only scored one try. There was no cutting edge to their attack because the flyhalf took it far too deep and even their maul wasn’t effective. Everything was slow and ponderous and lateral on attack. The Sharks’ attack was just very poor.
In addition to this, their defence against a side that only enjoyed 32% of the possession conceded five tries. So the defence can’t be happy, the attack can’t be happy.
And when you sum up that this was the easiest of the four quarter-final – certainly easier than playing the Crusaders, Hurricanes or Jaguares away in my opinion – because the Brumbies were the choice pick to lose at home out of all four hosts. So for the Sharks to suffer the biggest defeat of all the quarter-finals sums up a really poor performance on their part. And they’ve been playing like that the whole season, they flatter to deceive unfortunately.
We can look at the Sharks attack. Their power game wasn’t working and neither was the wide lateral game. When something doesn’t work, you have to try something else. We didn’t see any chip kicks or grubbers into space to try and at least create something or to turn around the wall of Brumbies defenders, who were just coming up in the line and comfortably handling anything the Sharks threw at them.
You have to vary you game with some kicking and certainly the halfback-axis didn’t do it. The communication just wasn’t coming from the No 9 and No 10. They have an exit strategy but it’s clear that the Sharks don’t have an offensive kicking strategy.
I think we can safely say the best four sides are in the semi-finals and we can also safely say no South African side deserves to be there on the basis of overall performances throughout the season.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images