Five lessons from the fourth round of Vodacom Super Rugby, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Lions can win overseas
The Joburg-based franchise had their best ever Super Rugby season in 2014, with seven wins, but they lost all four of their matches overseas (against the Force, Waratahs, Highlanders and Chiefs). On Saturday, they finally broke through that psychological barrier with a hard-fought 13-10 victory against the Blues in Albany thanks mainly to their strong scrum, which became more dominant as the game progressed, and committed defence (they made 123 tackles compared to just 66 from the Blues). Having lost their first three matches in South Africa this season, the Lions can now realistically aim for two or even three wins from their overseas tour, with fixtures against the Crusaders, Rebels and Reds to come.
Handré Pollard is something special
Pollard was dropped by Heyneke Meyer after the Boks' loss to Ireland last November, with Pat Lambie starting at flyhalf against England, Italy and Wales. But the 20-year-old showed in Bloemfontein on Saturday that he will be a serious contender for the No 10 jersey at the World Cup, with a Man of the Match display that saw him score a try and kick three conversions, five penalties and a drop goal for a 29-point haul. Pollard's try was similar to the one he scored against the All Blacks at Ellis Park last year as he showed a willingness to attack the line, carrying the ball nine times and beating three defenders. His goal-kicking was flawless and his tactical kicking accurate, allowing the Bulls to exit their 22 when under pressure. It was a performance that would have given Meyer a lot to think about at this early stage of the season.
The Stormers are South Africa's team to beat
Few gave the Cape franchise a chance of winning the South African Super Rugby conference this season, but they are now favourites to do so following four successive victories that have taken them to the top of the combined log. The Stormers' 29-13 victory against the Sharks at Newlands on Saturday was as convincing as the scoreline suggests. Their scrum was again impressive, winning three tightheads in the first 24 minutes, with Steven Kitshoff embarrassing former England prop Matt Stevens. Damian de Allende was again his side's stand-out back, gaining 43m from eight carries and beating seven defenders, while Demetri Catrakilis's good goal-kicking turned pressure into points. If the Stormers can beat the Chiefs at Newlands on Saturday, to make it five from five, they will leave for their overseas tour brimming with confidence.
Super Rugby officials are still making unacceptable errors
You didn't need to be a lip-reader to know what Chiefs wing James Lowe thought of TMO Chris Wratt's decision to penalise and yellow-card him for a perfectly legal tackle on Highlanders centre Malikai Fekitoa in the closing stages of their match in Hamilton on Friday. It was, to quote Lowe, 'absolute bulls*it'. From the penalty, the visitors worked their way into Chiefs' territory and won another penalty that replacement flyhalf Marty Banks kicked to snatch a 20-17 victory. While it didn't influence the outcome of the game, Cheetahs fullback Willie le Roux quite rightly threw his toys when referee Stuart Berry missed a blatant obstruction just before half-time in Bloemfontein that allowed Handré Pollard to break away into opposition territory. A penalty at the breakdown followed and Pollard kicked the penalty to give his side a 23-6 lead.
Attacking players must think twice before contesting for the ball in the air
Berry was involved in another controversial incident early in the second half of the Bloemfontein match when Jesse Kriel was penalised after colliding with Le Roux in the air despite the fact that both players were contesting for the ball and had their eyes on it. Berry told rugby writer Brenden Nel after the match that where the players' eyes are (in other words, where they are looking) doesn't come into the equation and that the player who doesn't win the contest has a responsibility to get the player who did safely to ground (Berry didn't say how that player is supposed to do it). As Heyneke Meyer said after the Wales Test in November last year, which saw Cornal Hendricks yellow-carded for a similar incident involving Leigh Halfpenny, attacking players need to decide if the risk of going up to contest the ball is worth it, or whether they should rather wait for their opponent to return to ground and then apply the pressure. After what we saw on Saturday, the latter seems to be the most sensible option.
Photo: Michael Bradley/AFP Photo