Five lessons from the eighth round of Super Rugby, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Lions are SA's best Super Rugby team
South African derbies can be dour affairs, but the one between the two African conference leaders at Ellis Park produced excellent entertainment. Both sides showed great skill on attack and a willingness to move the ball into space rather than just boot the leather off it. The Lions emerged with a well deserved 29-22 victory, with the four log points taking them five clear of the Sharks at the top of the Africa 2 conference, strengthening their claim for a home quarter-final, and underlining the fact that, at this stage of the tournament, they are South Africa's best bet to lift the Super Rugby trophy.
Kick into space behind a flat defence
The Stormers' rush defence managed to stifle the Lions' attack during the first half at Ellis Park, with Elton Jantjies often having to play behind the gainline. But the Lions flyhalf exploited the situation in the 35th minute when he chip kicked off the inside of his boot into the space behind the Stormers defence, with the ball being collected by Rohan Janse van Rensburg. Jantjies received possession again from the subsequent ruck and his long pass put Ruan Combrink away for the first try of the game.
A good sidestep can beat any opponent
A quick throw-in from Kobus van Wyk and good interplay between Nizaam Carr, Juan de Jongh and Nick Groom saw Siya Kolisi get the ball inside the Lions 22 with just Jantjies between him and the tryline. The flanker could have run straight at the flyhalf and tried to hand him off, but he instead – in the blink of an eye – stepped to the right, left, right and left again. With the bamboozled Jantjies on all fours, Kolisi dived over to score a memorable try.
The Bulls can do more than bash it up
There was another disappointing crowd at Loftus for the Bulls' match against the Reds, but that will change if the hosts continue to win in style. The Reds, like most Australian teams, like to keep the ball in hand, but it was the Bulls who did so more effectively on Saturday. According to SARugbymag.co.za's Opta-powered stats, the men in blue made the most running metres (540-282), clean breaks (15-4) and offloads (16-5) while beating the most defenders (29-11). With two teams from the Africa 1 conference set to qualify for the quarter-finals, because of the fact that they don't play any of the New Zealand teams, the Bulls' season is looking a lot more promising now than it did after their big opening round defeat to the Stormers.
The Sharks are up against it
With fixtures against New Zealand's best teams, the Highlanders and Chiefs, still to come, the Sharks desperately needed to win their tour opener against the Blues in Auckland to stay in touch with the Lions in the Africa 2 conference. But once again, the Sharks spent most of a match defending, with the Blues enjoying 72% of the possession. According to SARugbymag.co.za's Opta-powered stats, the visitors had to make 195 tackles (compared to the hosts' 67) and missed another 39 tackles. While the Sharks did well to score two tries with the little ball they had, the time they spent defending took a heavy toll that may also be felt over the next two weekends.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images