CRAIG LEWIS identifies some of the good, the bad and the ugly to take away from round 18 of Vodacom Super Rugby.
The Vodacom Bulls! Simple as that, really. Before the 2019 tournament kicked off, very few pundits really gave the Bulls much of a chance, with a new-look management team coming together very late in the pre-season, while there were a host of new faces in the squad. As it turned out, the Pretoria-based side started the campaign with a rousing 40-3 win over the Stormers, and ended it with a stunning 48-27 victory against the Lions on Saturday. It was a highly-entertaining derby at Loftus, but it was the Bulls who truly stole the show with a number of standout tries to ensure they finished the pool stages as the best-placed South African side, while knocking the Lions out of the tournament.
You almost had to feel sorry for the fans who would have turned up on a beautiful afternoon in Cape Town expecting to see a high-scoring and entertaining encounter in ideal conditions. Instead, the Sharks and Stormers engaged in a scrappy arm-wrestle for the majority of proceedings, with any attacking endeavour ultimately undone by abysmal finishing. Until the 80th minute, the only try came from an opportunistic 90m run-in from Rhyno Smith, while the Stormers looked set to bag a win on the back of just three solitary penalties. Ultimately, though, the Cape-based side were punished for their poor finishing and decision-making as the Sharks pounced after the hooter had sounded to score a match-winning try.
The Stormers have been ravaged by injuries this season. On Saturday, they came into their key clash against the Sharks without the services of star players such as Damian Willemse, Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit. In the absence of the latter two, talented Jaco Coetzee has stepped up and performed with aplomb as one of the surprise packages this season. In that light, it was ‘ugly’ to see him having to leave the field early on in the bruising battle at Newlands due to a second head knock. Looking extremely groggy, Coetzee had to be helped from the field, and his presence was sorely missed by the Stormers for the majority of the final hour. Similarly, the Sharks lost in-form winger Makazole Mapimpi to concussion in the first half, with his lethal finishing ability proving to be a key missing commodity for much of the match.
Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix