‘SA teams offer new edge’

Chiefs coach Colin Cooper believes South African sides are increasingly offering more threats through ‘expansive’ play, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

After 12 rounds of Super Rugby, the Lions occupy second place on the overall standings, while the Sharks and Stormers hover down in eighth and ninth spot respectively, with the Bulls having slipped to 11th.

However, it is notable that all four sides are ranked among the top five in the competition for tries scored, while the Sharks and Stormers are equal first for clean breaks (142) according to Sanzaar’s official statistics.

A look elsewhere sees the Stormers, Bulls and Lions in the top five for carries, with the latter having made the most metres carried of any team in the competition (4695). In terms of defenders beaten, the Lions (rank one), Stormers (rank three) and Sharks (rank six) have also impressed.

In terms of all those attacking stats, the Chiefs are consistently one of the leading teams, and so it comes as high praise to hear Cooper speaking of his perception of South African sides this season.

‘I think all the South African teams are playing a more balanced game. They are still using their set-piece well, but there is also expansiveness now. I think South African rugby is looking good and exciting.

‘When we played the Bulls, we were quite amazed that they threw the ball around so much and didn’t revert to their lineout driving,’ he added. ‘Their expansiveness was great, the Lions are the same, and you’re seeing more of it from the Sharks and Stormers. There is no doubt that they are still sticking to their [traditional] strengths, but they’re definitely looking more dangerous all around.’

The Chiefs are set to take on the Stormers at Newlands this Saturday, with the Cape-based side yet to lose a game at home this year.

Although Cooper said they were fully aware of how difficult it was to beat South African teams on their home turf, the Chiefs coach also highlighted his belief that the South African teams were starting to travel better.

‘The SA sides have always been tough to beat at home, but they’re now getting better when they travel. We saw how the Sharks nearly beat the Hurricanes in Wellington. In the past, the travel factor has been a hindrance to SA teams, but they’re getting better and better. However, their expansive game is the real edge that they are bringing now.’

Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images/Getty Images

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Craig Lewis