What we learned from the 14th round of Super Rugby, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Stormers don’t deserve to make the Super Rugby playoffs
Sanzaar decided to rewarded mediocrity when it retained an eight-team playoffs system despite reducing the field from 18 to 15 teams this year (a return to six would have been sensible). So it says something for the Stormers’ 2018 season that they don’t deserve to be involved in the business end of the competition. Robbie Fleck’s men have been good at home – winning five out of six matches – but seven away defeats in as many games sees them languishing in 11th place on the overall log. They had a great chance to break that losing streak when they took on the 18th-placed Sunwolves in Hong Kong, but yet another poor performance saw them slump to a 26-23 defeat. The crazy Super Rugby format means the Stormers could yet sneak into the quarter-finals, but their reward for that would probably be a trip to New Zealand – and another away defeat.
Dillyn Leyds can pull a rabbit out of a hat
One Stormers player who can be proud of his performance on Saturday was Leyds. The wing sizzled in the 40°C Hong Kong heat, scoring two superb first-half tries. The Sunwolves dominated the opening six minutes, but then kicked away possession, which allowed Leyds to counter-attack from near his 22. He beat the first defender, took play into the hosts’ half and cut back inside, outside, inside and outside again to bamboozle flyhalf Hayden Parker. The 25-year-old then went for the corner, handed off fullback Kotaro Matsushima and dived over to score just before being bundled into touch. Leyds dotted down again in the 33rd minute when he chased down scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage’s grubber kick into the Sunwolves’ in-goal area, applying pressure to the ball just before it went dead.
An Australian team can beat a New Zealand team
The Waratahs ended Australia’s 40-match losing run against New Zealand franchises – dating back to May 2016 – when they beat the Highlanders 41-12 in Sydney. Yes, the visitors had to play with 14 men for 51 minutes and 13 men for another 10, but the Aussies won’t give a damn. Waratahs captain Michael Hooper said afterwards that his side hadn’t paid much attention to the streak coming into the game, but he and the rest of Australia will no doubt be pleased to have heard the last of it.
The Sharks are still too sloppy
The Sharks claimed a third win against New Zealand opposition this season when they beat the Chiefs 28-24 at Kings Park. But they should be disappointed not to have won by a bigger margin, considering the Kiwis were missing 20 players through injury or All Blacks rest requirements. The Sharks made a massive 24 handling errors, including one by André Esterhuizen that cost his team a try under the posts. Coach Robert du Preez’s men may go on to qualify for the quarter-finals, but they won’t go any further unless they become more clinical in their execution.
Mtawarira remains a beast at scrum time
The veteran loosehead prop, who is set to win his 100th Test cap in June, played a big part in the Sharks’ set-piece dominance against the Chiefs. He won a couple of scrum penalties and helped force a turnover on the visitors’ put-in that resulted in a crucial second-half try for Cameron Wright. It was surprising to see the 32-year-old loosehead substituted in the 64th minute, when his side was only eight points ahead, with the crowd giving him a good send-off. Mtawarira’s fellow front rankers, tighthead Thomas du Toit and hooker Akker van der Merwe deserve a special mention too for their efforts at scrum time and in the loose. In fact, it was good handling skills by all three that resulted in Rob du Preez’s try early in the match.
South African teams will struggle to win in Buenos Aires this season
The Jaguares scored seven tries in their 54-24 thrashing of the Bulls to extend their winning run to five matches and move to second in the South African conference. It’s looking increasingly likely that they could finish in that position and even threaten the Lions (who they beat 49-35 in Buenos Aires earlier this season and trail by seven log points) for top spot. The Jaguares take on the Sharks and Stormers at home in their next two fixtures (separated by the June break) and you wouldn’t bet against them winning both. The Argentinians would then back themselves to win at Loftus and Kings Park in their final two regular-season matches which, if the Lions slip up along the way, would give them a chance of hosting a quarter-final.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images