What we’ve learned

Five lessons from the 10th round of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.

The Lions are not the complete product just yet
In a match that was expected to provide insights into just how far the Lions have come and their ability to adjust their game to overcome another ambitious ball-in-hand New Zealand side, the Lions became horribly unstuck against the Hurricanes at Ellis Park on Saturday. Although the Hurricanes kicked more than the Lions and had less possession, they outscored the Lions seven tries to three. The Canes feasted on errors and turnovers, while displaying a ruthless edge on attack. Their impressive line speed on defence also threw the Lions off their attacking game, and the hosts failed to make the necessary adjustments in time. It again showed that while the Lions have come very far, they’re still a side playing a style of rugby that remains a work-in-progress and doesn’t always reap the rewards when pitted against the well honed all-round skills of top New Zealand teams.

Mid-air contesting must be carefully considered
Last weekend, Jason Emery took the legs out from under Willie le Roux when he jumped to catch a high ball, with the Sharks fullback landing horribly on his neck. Emery was shown a red card in a decision that was widely acknowledged as the correct one. A similar incident occurred in Saturday’s encounter at Newlands, with Stormers wing Leolin Zas this time taking Waratahs flyhalf Bernard Foley out in the air. Although he appeared to slip as he jumped for the ball, the fact remains that he caused Foley to fall dangerously, and he was duly red-carded in what turned out to be a match-defining incident. Amid any debate, what is clear is that referees are increasingly taking a tough stance on this sort of recklessness, and players need to take greater care when going up to compete for a kick.

The Bulls are a team on the rise
The Pretoria-based side have now won five matches in a row. It’s their longest winning streak since 2013. The Bulls’ victory over the Force on Friday also brought an end to an 11-match losing run in Australasia, while it was their first win in Australia in four years. More than that, the bonus-point win, coupled with losses for the Sharks, Lions and Stormers, suddenly sees the Bulls sitting just one log point off the top of the South African group standings. It was also the manner in which the Bulls powered past the Force in Perth that provided clear indications that they’re not only building up a head of steam in the competition, but also starting to find real rhythm to their game plan.

The Sharks are finding a better balance to their game
During the first half of the season, the Sharks have based a large part of their game around a sound defensive system. However, director of rugby Gary Gold has regularly spoken of the need for the team to spend less time on defence and to begin offering more with ball in hand. There were encouraging signs of this at times in their win over the Highlanders last weekend, while the Durban-based side produced some impressive moments on attack in a narrow defeat to the Chiefs this past Friday, in fact outscoring the Kiwi side three tries to two. Slowly, but surely, it appears they are finding a better balance to their style of play.

Garth April adds a different edge to the Sharks’ backline
One of the players who has played a key role in contributing to the Sharks’ improved attack in recent weeks has been April. The young flyhalf has looked impressive since taking over the No 10 jersey from Joe Pietersen, and scored a superb solo try against the Blues this past weekend. April has impressed with his willingness to take the ball to the line and has added a different dynamic to the Sharks’ attack, while his goal-kicking has been good. Although a case could certainly be made to suggest he should have started at flyhalf earlier in the season, his successful starts in recent weeks could also be down to his gradual integration into Super Rugby in the first half of the season.

Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

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