What we’ve learned

Five lessons from the past weekend's Vodacom Super Rugby matches, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.

A team can win with 14 men
How often is the outcome of a rugby match determined when a player is red-carded early on? Think of Wales' 2011 World Cup semi-final defeat to France, when Sam Warburton was sent off for a spear tackle, or the Boks' loss to the All Blacks in Auckland last year when Bismarck du Plessis unfairly got his marching orders. When Jean Deysel was shown red for stamping on Jordan Taufua's head after just 16 minutes of Saturday's match in Christchurch, the Sharks' hopes of winning there for the first time looked gone. After all, the Crusaders were on a hot streak that had seen them score 18 tries in five consecutive victories, so how could the 14-man Sharks expect to keep them out? They did, though, with one of the gutsiest performances in Super Rugby history. The Saders were unable to cross the line again, while the Sharks scored another two tries, and played for 10 minutes with 13 men, to claim a famous win. In doing so, Bismarck du Plessis' men proved that 14 can beat 15, and that a red card shouldn't automatically signal defeat.

Referees must penalise those who play players without the ball
There's no doubt that Deysel deserved to be red-carded for his moment of madness. But that stamp was a result of Taufua holding on to the Sharks flanker's legs when the maul had broken up and he didn't have the ball. New Zealand players continue to get away with this subtle form of cheating, as referees almost always turn a blind eye. One rare exception came in Wellington on Friday, when TJ Perenara's late try was disallowed when the TMO ruled that Aaron Smith had been taken out past the ruck to clear the way for the Hurricanes scrumhalf. It was an excellent call, and one that needs to be made more often.

Criticising the referee is worth the fine to some
The Rebels beat the Reds for the first time in their four-year history in Brisbane on Saturday thanks to a late penalty, which came after Ed O'Donoghue was red-carded for eye-gouging. The Reds had originally been awarded a penalty by referee Steve Walsh only for TMO Steve Lescinski to alert him to the earlier foul play. Reds captain James Horwill claimed O'Donoghue was reacting to a headbutt, but Walsh opted for a red card and reversed the penalty. These days players know that any criticism of officials will result in a heavy fine, but Horwill didn't care, saying in the post-match interview that, 'In the end, we were robbed by a stupid refereeing decision'. The interviewer, ex-Wallabies lock Nathan Sharpe, prevented his former team-mate from getting into further trouble by quickly changing the subject. 

It's not all doom and gloom for South Africa
This past weekend was going to be a miserable one for our four sides in action, according to most predictions. Perhaps the Sharks provided inspiration with their historic, 14-man win in Christchurch, because the Stormers went on to claim their biggest win of the season, against the Force at Newlands, and the Cheetahs did the Sharks a big favour by beating the Brumbies in Bloemfontein. Only the Lions lost, to the Waratahs in Sydney on Sunday. There may still be three South African teams in the bottom four, but at least it's the Reds who are now stone last.

Johan Goosen's still a match-winner 
The 21-year-old has had a disappointing season, but gave Heyneke Meyer a timely reminder of the impact he can make when on form. Goosen scored an excellent try when he snatched a cross-kick out of the air, kicked a conversion and two penalties, and added a 55m drop goal late in the game. The challenge for him now is to produce performances like that week in, week out.

Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images

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Simon Borchardt