Lions, Stormers deserved victories

You can’t argue with who won the South African Super Rugby derbies on Saturday, writes MARK KEOHANE

The victories went to the dogged and the deserving. Well done the Lions and the Stormers.

I didn’t give either team a chance, but the weekend again showed how form counts for nothing in a South African derby.

The match in Durban surprised me more than the one in Johannesburg. The Lions, despite starting the day last on the combined log, have played some very good rugby this year. They have shown enterprise and excellent skills on attack.

I didn’t expect the Bulls to rest Victor Matfield for this week. They’d just got momentum at home after a winless overseas tour and Matfield was at his best in the outstanding win against the Brumbies. The Bulls without Matfield are a different side; one decidedly weaker in all aspects. The Lions exploited this and in all probability ended the Bulls' play-off ambitions.

The Bulls looked rudderless, but they certainly didn’t look as inept as the Sharks did in Durban.

Again, all credit to the Stormers. They deserve every accolade they get for the manner in which they fashioned the victory, although Charl McLeod’s bizarre decision to kick away the ball with 25 seconds to go – and his team leading by a point – could be the moment that decided the Sharks' Super Rugby season.

The Sharks had been brilliant in getting three wins and a losing bonus point in four overseas starts. Victory against the Stormers at home would have put them in the strongest position to secure a home semi-final. And it is a victory I – like many – expected the Sharks to achieve, regardless of how well the Stormers played.

The Sharks, though, were shocking in most aspects, especially in their discipline. The Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis allowed the Stormers to niggle him and there was never fluency or flow to the Sharks.

The Stormers had not won a game away from home this season and it took them 81 minutes and the last kick of the game (a drop goal from Jaco Taute) to break the season’s duck.

The visitors in Durban were brave, tenacious and intelligent in their play. They have certainly improved since Gert Smal took over as director of rugby and since sports psychologist Henning Gericke arrived in Cape Town.

Nizaam Carr, despite, 10 minutes in the sin-bin, was big on the night, as he has been in the past month. Duane Vermeulen was colossal and the inexperienced tight five stood their ground against the hyped and experienced Sharks, who on the night were atrocious.

The match in Durban, while dire to watch, was dramatic in its conclusion, and the early derby, while not matching the physicality in Durban, certainly had more attack and enterprise.

I don’t know of many who would have picked a Lions and Stormers double, but whoever did would have been in the money.

It certainly wasn’t me – and it certainly wasn’t SuperSport analyst Nick Mallett. I was as perplexed as Mallett in trying to figure out the Bulls' lack of appetite and the Sharks' lack of intent.

The Sharks did themselves a disservice but take nothing away from the Stormers. Given the struggles in Cape Town and the inexperience of the side, this was a huge victory.

Ditto for the Lions at Ellis Park.

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