Five lessons from the opening round of Vodacom Super Rugby, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.
Super Rugby isn't the Currie Cup
The Lions reached the final of last year's Currie Cup by playing an expansive game, and took the same approach into their opening Super Rugby match against the Hurricanes at Ellis Park on Friday night. Before kick-off, Lions captain Warren Whiteley said he expected both teams to play running rugby, but after the Canes' 22-8 win, their skipper, Conrad Smith, said they had opted for a more conservative approach in a bid to secure the four log points and win their opening match of a Super Rugby season for the first time in five years. While the Lions threw the ball around willy-nilly, with long skip passes often negating overlaps, the Canes were happy to sit back and defend, making 122 tackles compared to the Lions' 61. That the Lions had 70% possession and made 418 running metres compared to their opponents' 220 counted for little as they were easily shut down and restricted to just one try. If Johan Ackermann's men are to finish mid-table, they need to accept that Super Rugby is not the Currie Cup, and that a more direct game is required at this level.
Take the points and build scoreboard pressure
The Lions turned down three kickable penalties during the first half, opting to go for the corner and set up driving mauls instead. But the Hurricanes defended them easily and the hosts came away with nothing to show for long periods of pressure. They made the same mistake in the third quarter of the match when they were trailing 11-8 and Elton Jantjies kicked a penalty over the deadball line. When the replacement flyhalf did find touch from a penalty minutes later, after the Canes had extended their lead to six, the Lions knocked on from the lineout. Instead of pushing for tries against a strong defensive unit, the Lions should have taken the points when they were on offer, built scoreboard pressure and forced the Canes to play catch-up rugby.
The Cheetahs will be competitive in 2015
When the Bloemfontein-based franchise lost 15 players during the off-season – including Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane and Lappies Labuschagne – they looked set for a nightmare Super Rugby season. But by beating the Sharks at Kings Park in round one the Cheetahs showed that they won't be push-overs in 2015. Even without former Bok flank Henrich Brüssow, who was rested, and Bok lock Lood de Jager, who left the field after just 10 minutes, the Cheetahs were able to beat a Bok-laden Sharks team that many had tipped to win the South African conference again. Coenie Oosthuizen did well in the scrums at tighthead prop, while making his usual impact in the loose, Torsten van Jaarsveld ensured his side didn't miss Strauss too much at hooker, Jean Cook impressed at blindside flank and Joe Pietersen was cool and collected at flyhalf. Based on this performance, there is reason for optimism in Bloem.
Referees must stop play when they get in the way
Pat Lambie scored a first-half try for the Sharks that should not have been awarded. It was sparked by Tera Mtembu breaking away from a scrum, but Jean Cook was unable to tackle him because Australian referee Andrew Lees was in the way. Lees should have blown his whistle and given the Sharks a scrum.
The Stormers scrum has become a big strength
The Cape franchise's shock 29-17 win at Loftus was thanks to a strong showing by their pack, who hammered the Bulls at scrum time. Tighthead prop Vincent Koch was the star for the visitors, which was ironic as he left the Bulls for the Pumas because he wasn't considered good enough for their Vodacom Cup team. With the Bulls' scrum going backwards, halfbacks Piet van Zyl and Handré Pollard struggled and the team had no Plan B. It was their first defeat at Loftus since the loss to the Brumbies in the 2013 Super Rugby semi-final, and showed there's work to be done if they're to improve on their ninth-placed finish last year.
Photo: Piet de Beer-Strydom/HSM Images