Five lessons from the past weekend's Vodacom Super Rugby matches, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Bulls will miss Paul Willemse
The 21-year-old lock will join Grenoble at the end of this year's Currie Cup having received a massive offer from the French club that he couldn't refuse. Willemse reminded the Bulls what a big loss he will be with an excellent performance against the Rebels at Loftus on Friday night. He made some bone-jarring hits, carried the ball strongly, helped secure his side's lineout ball, and scored two second-half tries. Had he not received a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Hugh Pyle at a ruck, when the Bulls had already been awarded a penalty, he would probably have been named Man of the Match. Hopefully Willemse returns to South Africa when his two-year Grenoble contract ends and pushes hard for Springbok selection.
Francois Hougaard can still wing it
Hougaard was the official Man of the Match at Loftus, looking as dangerous and comfortable on the wing as he did in 2010, when he scored seven tries in the Bulls' championship-winning season. He played the full 80 minutes, scoring a try, gaining 105m from nine runs and making three clean breaks. With Fourie du Preez out for the rest of the year, Hougaard is set to stay at scrumhalf for the Boks, but coach Heyneke Meyer will know the 26-year-old can still make an impact on the wing if required to play there.
Frans Steyn must stay at 10 for the Sharks' qualifier play-off
A fit-again Pat Lambie was not rushed back for the Sharks' final league match against the Stormers at Newlands, with Jake White opting to start Frans Steyn at flyhalf ahead of Tim Swiel. It was a good move by the director of rugby as Steyn's superb line-kicking helped the visitors to win the territorial battle and his physicality gave them good go-forward ball. White may be tempted to start Lambie at 10 and Steyn at 12 against the Highlanders at Kings Park on Saturday, but that's not a risk worth taking. Lambie hasn't had the chance to ease himself back into action in the Vodacom Cup, which ended in mid-May, so it would make sense to put him on the bench, and bring him on at some stage in the second half, depending on the match situation.
The pride has been restored
The Lions' 60-25 thrashing of the Cheetahs at Ellis Park saw them finish with seven wins this season, the same number as the Bulls, Blues and Stormers. It is a remarkable return for a franchise that did not play in last year's tournament and had not won more than five matches in a season since splitting from the Cats at the end of 2005. Having finished 12th on the combined log, the Lions should be aiming for a top-eight finish in 2015.
The Chiefs can win ugly
When the champions lost three successive matches – 45-8 to the Hurricanes in Wellington, 33-17 to the Waratahs in Hamilton and 29-25 to the Highlanders in Dunedin – it looked like their two-year reign was over. But victories against the Hurricanes in Hamilton (24-16) and the Blues in Auckland (11-8) have seen them sneak into the top six despite winning just half of their matches this season. How crucial did those two come-from-behind draws in South Africa, against the Bulls and the Cheetahs, turn out to be? It's difficult, though, to see the Chiefs progressing to the semi-finals, let alone the final. Had the Blues not needed to win by 39 points on Friday to reach the play-offs they would have taken those four penalty shots at goal in the first 10 minutes and built a lead. They probably also wouldn't have played such a high-risk attacking game, which led to a number of mistakes, including one that resulted in Liam Messam's 50m intercept try. The Chiefs deserve credit for the way they defended and won a game that could easily have been lost, but they will need to raise their game significantly to beat the Brumbies in Canberra.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images