What we’ve learned

Five lessons from the 13th round of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.

The Bulls remain a formidable foe at home
It’s been difficult to know what to make of the Bulls this season. There’s no doubt they’re a team in transition, beginning to evolve its way of playing. Their results this season have been somewhat of a mixed bag, and after two disappointing losses in Australia recently, they came into Saturday’s clash against the Stormers at Loftus as slight underdogs. Yet they produced a performance of power and precision that prevented their coastal counterparts from establishing any real foothold in the match. The Bulls’ breakdown work and defence was immense, while their set-piece play was beyond reproach. It was a result that enabled them to maintain their unbeaten record at home this season and took them to the top of the Africa 1 conference.

The Sharks have impressively negotiated a gruelling seven-match stretch
When the Sharks headed to New Zealand in mid-April for a challenging three-week tour, their season hung in the balance. A draw against the Bulls and subsequent losses to the Crusaders and Lions had compromised an encouraging start to the season. And when they began their New Zealand tour with a loss to the Blues, it could have all gone downhill from there. Instead, the Sharks clinched a crucial win over defending champions the Highlanders, and bagged a losing bonus point in a competitive clash with the Chiefs. Despite a tiresome journey home, they produced the performance of their season to defeat the high-flying Hurricanes and then overcame the Jaguares after travelling all the way to Buenos Aires. The Sharks could have been expected to be out on their feet when they played the Kings on Saturday, but instead produced a stunning first-half performance to secure an emphatic result that ensures they go into this weekend’s bye handily placed.

The Stormers have lost ground
In the first week of Super Rugby, the Stormers hammered the Bulls 33-9 in Cape Town. It marked an extremely encouraging start to their season that saw them win five out of their first six matches. However, the Stormers have lost their way since then. They were outplayed by the Lions, looked unconvincing against the Reds and then lost to the Waratahs, drew against the Sunwolves and on Saturday suffered a 17-13 reverse against the Bulls. It’s seen the Stormers lose their position of ascendancy in the Africa 1 conference and slip to fourth in the South African group. It’s left them with ground to make up and a need to address certain tactical and selection shortcomings.

There has to be a strong Lions flavour to the Bok squad
In the next week Allister Coetzee will reveal his first Bok squad. If he picks primarily on form rather than reputation, there are bound to be a host of Lions players in the squad. Again, the Johannesburg-based side were simply superb this past weekend, hammering the Jaguares 52-24. Ruan Combrinck was in a class of his own, making 175m and scoring two tries, while the likes of Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Julian Redelinghuys, Courtnall Skosan and Warren Whiteley all sent out additional reminders that they certainly wouldn’t look out of place in the green and gold. There is no doubt that the Lions are South Africa’s best side in Super Rugby this year, and their standout players deserve reward in the form of Bok call-ups.

Elton Jantjies needs to improve his goal-kicking
Jantjies has enjoyed a sensational season to date.  There can be little doubt that he is most deserving of the Bok No 10 jersey this June, but he would probably be the first to acknowledge that he would like to have recorded better goal-kicking stats in this year’s Super Rugby competition. Jantjies has slotted 46 kicks from 66 attempts this season for a success rate of 69.69%. At Test level, there’s no doubt a team would want their goal-kicker to have a percentage over 80%, and with the Boks’ first Test against Ireland fast approaching, it’s an area of Jantjies’s game where he would want to show some improvement.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images

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Craig Lewis