‘Lions made a statement’

What former Bok coach NICK MALLETT had to say on SuperSport about the past weekend's Super Rugby matches involving South African teams.

Stormers vs Lions

'It was a real statement by the Lions. With that performance they effectively told the Stormers, “You’re not No 1 yet. We’re still the best side in South Africa”.

'The way the Lions played once they got out of their half and away from danger, was impressive. They didn’t loosen the game up, which would’ve played into the Stormers’ hands. Now the Lions had a week off last weekend and perhaps there was a psychological let-down for the Stormers after that big win over the Chiefs. But we can take nothing away from this Lions side that came to Cape Town and shut the Stormers out to collect maximum log points. 

'That period after half-time when the Lions held the Stormers out from the 42nd minute to the 52nd was heroic. Every single Lions player was engaged in keeping their body position low and getting off the line to stop a fairly inoffensive attack from the Stormers, who persisted with pick and go's without realising they’re not physically big enough to drive over the line.

'Remember the Stormers only got a scrum because of a misdirected pass by Ross Cronjé, who thought some Stormers replacement players in the in-goal area were his teammates. That was a bit unfair because the Stormers guys shouldn’t be warming up in the goal-in area when play is 5m from the tryline.

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'The Lions’ defence was good. What they did well was letting the initial tackler and one other player contest the ruck and then the others fan out quickly. Their spacing and alignment were excellent and the understanding of when the ball-carrier is going to hit the line or not was superb. Look at how they held SP Marais up throughout the game and made three turnovers on him. He’s been allowed to offload throughout the season so far, but against the Lions he didn’t know how to offload or who to pass to. At one point, the Lions drove the Stormers back about 30m just with consistent positive tackles.

'Cronjé’s organisation of that game and his calmness played a big part in the result. He is so different from Faf de Klerk. Faf is a quick player who plays on the front foot. This game required a scrumhalf who directed his forwards well and controlled the pace of the game. Cronjé did that and together with Warren Whiteley, showed great leadership and maturity.

'The Lions’ pack did such an outstanding job. They all got stuck in. They got the ball on the front foot, dominated the collisions and played – however unusual for the Lions – a tight, well-organised, structured game and they pulled off a win. To go and win away at Newlands against the Stormers, who had just beaten the Chiefs, is an extraordinary performance.

VIDEO: Highlights of Stormers vs Lions

'Jaco Kriel didn’t mean to take out Robert du Preez, but intention is irrelevant. It was a late hit with an elbow to the head and a definite yellow card. But in the last move of the first half, Nizaam Carr comes into a tackle with no arms and uses his shoulder, which makes contact to the head of Andries Coetzee. In my view, that tackle is as dangerous as Kriel’s. It would have been fair if he spent 10 minutes in the sin bin. There is no consistency. Kriel in that match was absolutely brilliant. How they could look past him for Man of the Match, is beyond me.

'The one thing we’ve been very complimentary of is the Stormers’ tight five. They destroyed the Bulls and got stuck into the Chiefs as well. And when they were up against it, the Stormers turned to the pack to get back the ascendancy. So there was an impression that they would create problems again. But the Lions bullied them in this match. The Lions often talked about a brotherhood and how they play off each other. It really looked like that Lions pack got tighter and tighter when they were under the pump. And you could see it from the pleasure they got from the one scrum when they turned the Stormers’ ball over. It was fantastic.'

ALSO READ: Five takeaways from past weekend

Bulls vs Jaguares

'The Bulls need to get their confidence back and their front five have to start playing properly again. There were some good signs against the Jaguares, but the Springbok players in the Bulls team haven’t really performed so far this season and they need to come out and start firing to have any chance of beating the New Zealand teams or the Lions away.

'Having said that, that was probably the best I’ve seen Trevor Nyakane play at tighthead. He scrummed well and his play around the field was excellent. Jesse Kriel looks good. He is running with the ball in two hands and making linebreaks again. He played excellently.'

VIDEO: Highlights of Bulls vs Jaguares

Cheetahs vs Chiefs

'It was a fantastic start by the Cheetahs. You can’t ask for a better start than 24-0 after 25 minutes. They were playing all the rugby and were doing everything right. But a worrying stat is that for the last 55 minutes of this match, the Chiefs won 41-3.

'I said at half-time a lot is going to depend on the Cheetahs’ fitness and the replacements coming off the bench but unfortunately the Chiefs were just way better. The longer the game progressed, the more they were able to take control.

'The offensive kicking of Aaron Cruden was good. He turned the Cheetahs defence around with kicks into the corners and created tries for the Chiefs with little kicks over the top. It’s such a pity for the Cheetahs, but we did predict a result like this.'

VIDEO: Highlights of Cheetahs vs Chiefs

Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images

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Nick Mallett