Five lessons from the past weekend's Super Rugby matches, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
The Lions’ poor first-half performance is a timely wake-up call
The Lions went into Friday night’s game against the Kings widely expected to secure a one-sided result that would enable them to retain their position of ascendancy at the top of the Super Rugby ladder. In the end, they duly scored eight tries and came away with seemingly a convincing 57-21 bonus-point win. However, it also shouldn’t be overlooked that the Lions produced arguably their worst first-half performance this season, with basic errors and poor execution preventing them from really taking control of the game until the final half an hour. It should ensure that the Lions acknowledge that nothing can be taken for granted in this competition, while serving as a timely reality check as they head into the final weekend of conference action before the playoffs.
Rohan Janse van Rensburg is a Springbok contender
Before the June international break, Jan Serfontein emerged as the in-form inside centre in South Africa and was expected to be a strong contender to start in the three-Test series against Ireland. However, an unfortunate wrist injury ruled him out of action for four months, and Damian de Allende retained the No 12 jersey. Although the Boks opted against calling up another centre to replace Serfontein in the squad, there may well be a desire to do so for the Rugby Championship, and Rohan Janse van Rensburg should certainly be a contender. He has been one of the unsung heroes for the Lions this season, and his performance against the Kings on Friday was immense. He scored two tries, made 104m, beat five defenders and completed three clean breaks in an outstanding individual effort that should have grabbed the attention of Allister Coetzee.
Jesse Kriel finally back in his best position
When former Bok coach Heyneke Meyer opted to shift Kriel to outside centre last year, he insisted that the talented youngster could go on to become one of the best No 13s in the game. Ultimately, Kriel started nine games at outside centre for the Boks last year and certainly emerged as one of the star performers for the national side. He’s continued to be primarily deployed at outside centre for the Bulls this season, but with a lack of space and fewer opportunities with ball in hand, he’s failed to make the same sort of impression. In the Bok set-up he’s also seen Lionel Mapoe deservedly claim the No 13 jersey. Yet Kriel finally received the opportunity to start at fullback when the Bulls took on the Sunwolves on Saturday, and he was certainly more influential than he has been at outside centre recently. It’s really the position where he should look to specialise.
The Stormers’ lineout contesting remains simply peerless
Heading into Saturday’s clash with the Force, the Stormers emerged as the No 1-ranked team for lineouts stolen (28), with Eben Etzebeth reigning supreme in this regard alongside outstanding second-row partner Pieter-Steph du Toit. The Stormers' success at this set piece has been a key factor on their way to securing a home quarter-final, and while they were far from their best in a low-quality encounter against the Force on Saturday, they were again outstanding at disrupting the opposition’s lineout ball. The visitors stole six lineouts in Perth, with Etzebeth and Du Toit snatching three each. The duo are now ranked No 1 and No 2 for lineout steals, and it’s again proven what a lethal combination the two Bok locks have formed.
Pat Lambie’s return to be key for Sharks during the business end
Lambie has had another unfortunate year on the injury front. During a pre-season game he suffered a serious shoulder injury that ruled him out of action for several weeks, and after making a timely return just before the June break, he then suffered a horrible concussion in the first Test against Ireland. The after-effects are still being felt and he has had to miss the Sharks’ last two Super Rugby matches. In his absence, Garth April has commendably stepped into the breach, but his performance was up and down against the Cheetahs on Saturday. Nevertheless, the Sharks now look set to secure a quarter-final berth, and there can be no denying that the composure, experience and leadership of Lambie will be much needed during this make-or-break phase of the tournament.
Photo: Johan Rynners/Gallo Images