South Africa’s coastal sides have played with physicality, intelligence and composure in the early rounds of the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Stormers need to be more clinical on attack. The Sharks have to be more ruthless when they are 10 or more points up and a try-scoring bonus point is in the offing.
We can criticise South Africa’s top teams for the quality of their execution. What we cannot do, however, is argue with the numbers in the win column.
The Stormers and Sharks must be doing something right. Both teams have favoured pragmatic gameplans in the initial rounds. Both sets of players have bought into a playing style that places an emphasis on forward dominance and offensive defence.
The Stormers beat the Jaguares 17-7 in challenging conditions on Saturday. The result extended the Cape side’s winning run to four matches and boosted them to the top of the overall log.
The Stormers physically outplayed the Hurricanes and the Vodacom Bulls in the initial rounds. They were pushed close by the Lions in Johannesburg, yet found a way to beat another South African opponent and end their long drought at Ellis Park.
On Saturday, the Stormers beat the 2019 South African conference champions. The wet weather was a levelller, but the Cape side stuck to its task to move five points clear at the top of the local standings.
Coach John Dobson has been encouraged by the fact that his team is not yet operating at full potential and has room for improvement and growth. They will need to improve, of course, before they travel to Australasia later in the tournament.
One cannot deny that they have made a statement – via their results – in the first four rounds, though. No team has conceded fewer points (37) or tries (five).
While the Sharks are mentioned in the same breath as the Stormers here, they have travelled a different path during the early stages of the 2020 tournament and have achieved somewhat different results.
The Sharks should be labelled as conference title contenders after scoring two wins in three overseas matches. If they beat the Reds next week they will return from their Australasia tour with a fantastic record.
With a successful tour behind them, they will be expected to strengthen their log position via a series of big wins in South Africa.
The Sharks of 2020 bear a striking resemblance to the Springboks of 2019. While some of the individual tackle completion stats don’t make for great reading, they have clearly gone out with the intent to use their defence as a weapon.
Their contestable kicking has been largely on point, as has the team’s chasing lines. Their transition from defence to attack has been outstanding and the finishing by Makazole Mapimpi, Aphelele Fassi and others has been encouraging.
The South African franchises, as well as the Boks, have been notoriously inconsistent in recent years. That has to change if a South African team is going to win the local conference, secure a home playoff, and ultimately threaten the Crusaders’ hold on the overall title.
We will know more about the quality of these teams once they have battled the Crusaders and other top Kiwi sides like the Chiefs. The Stormers, of course, will have everything to prove when they tour New Zealand.
But going by what we’ve seen in the first four rounds, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the top South African sides will fare better in 2020 and that they will challenge New Zealand’s dominance.
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