Five lessons from the 11th round of Vodacom Super Rugby, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Stormers are in pole position to win the South African conference
The north-south clash at Newlands on Saturday was billed as a potential conference decider. The Stormers' 15-13 win has put them just one log point ahead of the Bulls, but they will play four of their next six matches at home, while the Bulls still have a four-match overseas tour to come. The Bulls can, of course, still go on to win the conference, but if they fall just short they will look back at Duane Vermeulen's charge down of Handré Pollard's last-minute drop goal as the moment that cost them a home play-off.
Dean Greyling shouldn't have started for the Bulls
The loosehead prop has struggled at scrum time for a while now, and he proved to be a big liability for the Bulls at Newlands on Saturday. Greyling scrummed at an angle, failed to maintain his weight and had his feet too far back, which resulted in four first-half penalties for the Stormers and 12 points. He conceded another scrum penalty early in the second half, after again being dominated by Man of the Match Frans Malherbe, and was substituted after 56 minutes. The Bulls should have started with Trevor Nyakane, who has proved to be a solid loosehead, with Marcel van Merwe at tighthead.
The Lions pose a greater attacking threat with Elton Jantjies at flyhalf
This time last year, Jantjies was warming the Lions bench while Marnitz Boshoff excelled in the No 10 jersey. However, it didn't take long for Jantjies to regain the starting spot after returning from a stint in Japan, and he is currently playing some of the best rugby of his career. He produced a Man of the Match performance against the Cheetahs at Ellis Park on Saturday, taking the ball flat and creating attacking opportunities for his outside backs. As Nick Mallett pointed out in the SuperSport studio, Jantjies has benefited from the Lions' ball-in-hand approach, and would not be nearly as effective if he was required to sit back in the pocket and play a kicking game.
The Highlanders battle without their All Blacks
After winning three consecutive matches, against the Stormers, Crusaders and Blues, which took them to fifth on the combined Super Rugby log, the Highlanders would have fancied their chances of beating the Brumbies, who had lost their last two games, in Canberra on Friday. However, without their three All Blacks, scrumhalf Aaron Smith, centre Malakai Fekitoa and fullback Ben Smith – who were rested as per the agreement with the New Zealand Rugby Union – the Highlanders produced their worst half of rugby this season, conceding 31 points and four tries, before going on to lose 31-18. Coach Jamie Joseph perhaps should have rested the star trio against weaker opposition than the Brumbies, or not rested all three at the same time.
The Crusaders are still in play-off contention
I wrote last week that the Crusaders would struggle to make the play-offs after two consecutive defeats in Christchurch, but that you'd be a fool to write them off at this stage of the season. And they showed why on Saturday, with a 29-15 bonus-point win against the Blues. Yes, the Auckland-based side are near the foot of the combined log, but they have been competitive all season and the Crusaders will take a lot of confidence from the win into their next match against the table-topping Hurricanes in Wellington. They will, however, still be concerned about the form of All Blacks Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, who look as if they're aiming to peak at the World Cup rather than the business end of Super Rugby.
Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images