Five lessons from the past weekend's Vodacom Super Rugby matches, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Bulls dominated possession during the first half of their match against the Lions at Ellis Park, yet failed to score a try. The main reason for this was that their backs ran across-field, instead of running straight at the inside shoulder of the defender, and sending the ball through the hands to capitalise on the overlap out wide. JJ Engelbrecht was the biggest culprit, with his ill-judged skip pass allowing the cover defence to get across and prevent Bjorn Basson from scoring in the left-hand corner. Had he simply drawn the defender and passed to Akona Ndungane next to him, the Bulls would almost certainly have scored.
The Bulls are a poorer team without Victor Matfield
If Frans Ludeke had a time machine, he would go back and make sure Matfield was in his starting line-up for the Lions match. The coach must have thought that giving the 37-year-old a break just before the Springboks' incoming tour was a good idea, especially against a team that was bottom of the combined log. But Matfield's leadership and calming influence was missed badly at Ellis Park when the Bulls got frustrated by their inability to turn possession into points.
Hold on to the ball if you're leading by a point in the last minute
What was Charl McLeod thinking when, with 25 seconds to go in the Kings Park clash, and the Sharks leading 19-18, he kicked the ball infield from a scrum? All the Sharks had to do was keep the ball in hand, run down the clock and then boot the ball into the stands. Instead, the scrumhalf gave the Stormers one last chance to snatch victory, which they happily took. If the Sharks don't finish top of the combined log, they will look back on that brain explosion with some regret.
The Waratahs can win in New Zealand
By beating the champion Chiefs, Michael Cheika's men broke an eight-match losing streak in New Zealand and finished the round just two points behind the Sharks at the top of the combined log (with a game in hand). The Tahs have also tasted success in South Africa this season (handing the Stormers their only loss at Newlands) and have won all six of their matches in Sydney, which will have given them great self-belief going into the business end of the tournament.
There won't be a Chiefs three-peat
The 2012 and 2013 champions could still sneak into this year's play-offs, but even if they do, it's hard to see them going all the way. The Chiefs were woeful in their 45-8 loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington and produced another disappointing performance against the Waratahs in New Plymouth on Saturday. They were outplayed in most areas of the game, but of most concern was captain Aaron Cruden's post-match comment that they were 'outpassioned' by the Tahs. When a champion team can't get fired up for a must-win match, at home, against a team on a eight-match losing streak in New Zealand, then you know their reign is coming to an end.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images