What we’ve learned

Five lessons from the ninth round of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.

The Sharks must add composure and execution to endeavour
The Sharks ended a four-match losing streak with a narrow win over the defending champions, the Highlanders, on Friday. The Durban-based side will take the result and run, but they’ll also know that it required a healthy dose of good fortune to come away with the win. Despite enjoying a one-man advantage for the better part of 70 minutes after Jason Emery was red-carded, the Sharks lacked the necessary accuracy and composure on attack to put the result beyond doubt. Two players were also yellow-carded to even up matters for 20 minutes, with JP Pietersen particularly committing a cynical offence, while animated captain Beast Mtawarira regularly found himself drawn into agitated conversations with referee Ben O’Keeffe. Impressive character and commitment enabled the Sharks to still come away with the win, but for further success over the next few weeks, they need to add some improved composure, decision-making and execution to their encouraging intent.

The Cheetahs’ defence remains a perennial problem
When the Cheetahs progressed to the Super Rugby playoffs for the first time in 2013, it was their ability to complement attack with defence that enabled them to progress to the knockout phase. However, the Cheetahs have failed to maintain that balance to their game in recent seasons. Defence has again been an area of concern for the Cheetahs this season, with missed tackles proving costly against the Rebels this past weekend. According to SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats, the Bloemfontein-based side slipped 16 tackles compared to the nine from the Rebels as they succumbed to a 36-14 loss.

The Stormers’ flyhalf depth has exceeded expectations
Prior to the start of the season, many might have felt that the Stormers’ squad lacked an experienced flyhalf general. Youngster Rob du Preez initially won first rights to the No 10 jersey, while Kurt Coleman provided backup. Considering both these players then suffered serious injuries in the first half of this season, it could well have derailed the Stormers’ campaign. Instead, young Jean-Luc du Plessis has stepped into the breach and performed outstandingly since taking over at flyhalf, while talented Brandon Thomson made his Super Rugby debut off the bench on Saturday and slotted three important penalties as the Stormers overcame the Reds.

The Lions’ front row depth will be tested
The Lions had little trouble overcoming the Kings on Saturday, but they came into the clash without two of their most influential front rowers as Malcolm Marx and Julian Redelinghuys were ruled out with injury. Hooker Robbie Coetzee had already been sidelined with a serious injury, while prop Ruan Dreyer appeared to suffer a wrist injury on Saturday. Considering the Lions rely heavily on their scrum to lay a foundation for attack, their ability to cope with their front row absentees will be crucial in next weekend’s clash against the Hurricanes.

Referees often receive undue criticism
So often, match officials come in for intense scrutiny under extreme pressure. Early on in the Sharks game against the Highlanders on Friday, New Zealand referee Ben O'Keeffe had a big call to make when Jason Emery took Sharks fullback Willie le Roux out in the air. The TMO was called in to adjudicate, and suggested that while Le Roux had fallen dangerously on his neck, he did not believe the act was a case of ‘deliberate foul play’. O’Keeffe could have been swayed to allow Emery off with a yellow card, but he took the correct decision when he decisively ruled that intent was not the primary factor, and that the ‘dangerous act of foul play’ warranted a red card.

Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images

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