Five lessons from the second round of Super Rugby, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Lions can beat a New Zealand team at its own game
By claiming a historic 36-32 win against the Chiefs in Hamilton, the Lions proved that their bold attacking style of play that saw them lift the Currie Cup last year can bring them Super Rugby success too. Simply winning at Waikato Stadium for the first time would have been a great achievement for Warren Whiteley's men, but to do so by playing a more expansive game than the two-time Super Rugby champions made it even more significant. According to the Vodacom Stats App, the Lions made 435 running metres, 13 clean breaks and beat 28 defenders on their way to scoring four tries, compared to the Chiefs’ 361, 11 and 24 respectively. Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies and Ruan Combrinck were the Lions' standout backs, but they couldn't have attacked with such confidence without the solid platform provided by the forwards. The Lions dominated their opponents up front and were unlucky not to earn a first-half penalty try when the Chiefs' scrum went backwards before disintegrating on their line. And while the visitors did concede four tries, they defended superbly in the dying stages to keep the Chiefs out. Super Rugby is not won in March, but based on this performance, the Lions will be serious title contenders come July.
Super Rugby's new try-scoring bonus-point system is good for the game
Sanzaar may have made a mess of the Super Rugby format but its decision to adopt the French Top 14's bonus-point system has been vindicated. Under the system, a team now has to score three more tries than their opponents to get a bonus point. At Newlands in round one, the Stormers, having scored three unanswered tries against the Bulls, were forced to defend to the best of their ability at the end of the match to protect the bonus point, even though they were up 33-9. At Loftus in round two, the Bulls scored six tries to lead 42-3 only for the Rebels to score four tries that took the bonus point away. That meant the Bulls had to score a seventh try, and prevent the Rebels from crossing the line again, to get a bonus point. It ensured a competitive contest for the full 80 minutes, and ultimately the Bulls had to settle for just four log points.
The Stormers' defensive lineout is a weapon
It hasn't taken long for Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit to form a potent locking partnership at the Cape franchise. Against the Bulls in round one, the Stormers won 18 of their 19 lineouts, with Etzebeth stealing three of the Bulls' throw-ins. A week later and Etzebeth poached four of the Cheetahs' feeds, including three in a row during the first half, while Du Toit and 20-year-old replacement lock JD Schickerling stole another four in the second half. The Stormers' jumpers caused Cheetahs kingpin Lood de Jager – the man who called the Boks' lineouts at last year's World Cup – much frustration, which was evident when he lost his composure in the 48th minute, with a high tackle on Du Toit resulting in a yellow card.
The Sharks' defence has improved
In their first two Super Rugby matches of the season under respected defence coach Omar Mouneimne, the Sharks have made 184 tackles from 211 attempts for an 87% success rate. They have conceded just three tries, one at the start of their game against the Kings and two against the Jaguares (one of which came against the run of play when they lost possession deep in opposition territory). Argentina's Super Rugby franchise is their Test team in all but name. The Pumas scored 22 tries in four pool games at last year's World Cup and another four in their quarter-final against Ireland, so the Sharks did well to restrict them to two. Of course, the true test of the Sharks' defence will be provided by the New Zealand franchises, but the early signs have been promising.
Go low on Nemani Nadolo
Rugby league convert Matt Duffie received a rude welcome to Super Rugby during the Blues' match against the Crusaders in Christchurch. The hosts were leading 16-6 with 13 minutes to go when Nadolo claimed possession near his 10m line. The Saders wing stepped past flanker Blake Gibson and took play up to the Blues 22 where he found Duffie blocking his path. The Blues fullback made the fatal error of trying to half-heartedly tackle the 1.94m, 125kg Fijian around the chest and was sent flying. It was an embarrassing moment for the 25-year-old that he will never be allowed to forget.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images