Five lessons from the 11th round of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
The Sharks’ playoff prospects have been resurrected
When the Durban-based side lost to the Blues in the opening match of their recent overseas tour, it marked their fourth match without a win and left their playoff hopes hanging precariously in the balance. However, against the odds, they managed to beat the Highlanders the week after, while banking a losing bonus point against the Chiefs in their final game in New Zealand. Despite having then made the long journey back to Durban, the Sharks produced their best performance of the season to comprehensively defeat the Hurricanes 32-15 on Saturday. It was enough to see them move to within one point of the Lions at the top of the Africa 2 conference, while placing extra pressure on the Bulls, the side they could well end up competing with for the wildcard berth.
Beast Mtawarira has grown as a captain
The stand-in Sharks skipper came in for some considerable criticism over the way he interacted with referee Ben O’Keeffe during his side's narrow win over the Highlanders in Dunedin. Many pundits believed Mtawarira was too emotional and animated to serve as skipper. The Bok prop was rested for the next game against the Chiefs, but reassumed the captaincy for the clash against the Hurricanes on Saturday. During the week leading up to the match, he acknowledged he’d spoken too much to O’Keeffe against the Highlanders. He then proved that he’d grown as a leader as his dealings with referee Marius van der Westhuizen were far more calm and collected on Saturday. At one point, the officials allowed Canes fullback James Marshall to get away with what should have been a yellow card for a late shoulder charge on Lwazi Mvovo, but Mtawarira simply commented: ‘Thank you for reviewing it.’
The Bulls must improve their ball security
The Bulls came into Friday’s clash against the Brumbies in Canberra on a six-match unbeaten run, having also secured their first win in Australia since 2012 after thrashing the Force last weekend. It gave rise to hope that the Bulls could cause an upset against the Brumbies, but in the end they weren’t patient enough on attack, forced the offloads and coughed up possession. Overall, the Bulls conceded 16 turnovers, while they were badly beaten at the breakdown as they failed to reproduce their physicality from last weekend.
The Cheetahs have to fix their scrum
It’s been a struggle at scrum time all season for the Cheetahs. They’ve had the worst scrum success in the competition (70%) and on average seen one of their scrums per game stolen by the opposition. Although an all-new front row fronted up against the Waratahs on Saturday, there were the same old problems at scrum time, with four penalties conceded at this set piece in the first half alone. Without secure first-phase possession, the Cheetahs were never likely to worry the Tahs, who also benefited from the 22 turnovers, 13 penalties and 17 handling errors conceded by the visitors.
Character and courage remain the Kings’ best qualities
You’ve got to give the Kings credit. The team from Port Elizabeth endured a nightmare buildup to their Super Rugby return and were always going to face an uphill battle this season. So it has proved as they’ve succumbed to some heavy losses and enjoyed just the one success against the Sunwolves. The crowds at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium have also been terribly disappointing. Nevertheless, the Kings have continued to display their enduring fighting spirit, which was perhaps best illustrated as they remained competitive for long periods against the Blues on Saturday, with the New Zealanders relying on two late tries to come away with a hard-fought 34-18 win.
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