What we’ve learned

Five lessons from the 17th round of Vodacom Super Rugby, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.

Referees must not allow themselves be dictated to by TMOs
The Bulls' play-off hopes ended when they lost 21-20 to the Rebels in Melbourne, but things could have been different had Burger Odendaal's perfectly good try in the 61st minute been awarded. The centre had been tackled just short of the line, but his momentum carried him over, with TV replays clearly showing that he had grounded the ball over the line. New Zealand referee Nick Briant seemed to agree when, having seen the most conclusive replay, said, 'That's fine, I am going to make a decision on that.' He didn't, though, as Australian TMO Ian Smith quickly cut in. 'There is no conclusive evidence that the ball is grounded. I recommend a 5m scrum,' he said. Briant was unconvinced and asked: 'Is it doubtful whether it's been grounded at all, or is it doubtful whether it's reached the line and then grounded?' To which Smith replied: 'It has crossed the line, so it's doubtful whether the ball was grounded.' Briant then awarded a 5m scrum, much to the amazement of Odendaal and everyone (apart from Smith) watching on TV. It was an abysmal decision from the TMO and one that may have cost the Bulls the match and a spot in the play-offs. The referee was just as much to blame, as he should have made the call himself after watching that conclusive replay on the big screen, rather than allow himself to be dictated to by the TMO. He also should have asked the TMO, 'Is there any reason why I cannot award the try?' rather than 'Try or no try?'.

It's difficult to play attacking rugby when you haven't done so for weeks
The Bulls played conservatively during their first three matches on tour and over-relied on the driving maul. Needing a bonus-point win to stay in the play-off hunt, they played more expansively against the Rebels, but were disorganised, with several passes failing to go to hand. The Bulls should have played with greater attacking intent throughout their tour, as Victor Matfield said beforehand they would do, and not just when they had to score four tries to stay in the competition.

Defence should be Franco Smith's top priority
The Cheetahs came into their match against the Waratahs in Bloemfontein having missed an average of 21 tackles per game. And they would miss another 23 during Franco Smith's first match as coach, conceding nine tries in a 58-33 defeat. Yes, the Cheetahs scored five tries themselves and played entertaining rugby, but that means little when you're unable to keep the opposition out. The Cheetahs defence was far too tight on Saturday, which gave the Waratahs space in which to attack, and it was worrying to see how easy Israel Folau beat Cornal Hendricks with an in-out. Smith was never going to be able to turn things around at the Cheetahs in the space of a week, but he will need to make defence his top priority in the months ahead if they are to be more competitive in Super Rugby next year.

The Lions have been South Africa's Super Rugby success story
While a 19-19 draw was a fair result at Newlands, the Lions were unlucky not to come away with the win considering they were the ones attacking the tryline at the end and lost possession just before reaching it. Had they scored, the Lions would have got the full five log points and stayed in play-off contention. Keep in mind, too, that the Lions would have beaten the Stormers at Ellis Park earlier in the season had Howard Mnisi not lost the ball over the line with time up. Johan Ackermann's men won a franchise record seven matches last year and have improved on that this year with nine wins and a draw. They may not have as many big-name players as other South African franchises, but Ackermann has done an amazing job of developing the talent they have. If they can retain it, and perhaps sign a couple big names, they will have a very good chance of reaching the quarter-finals of next year's 18-team Super Rugby tournament.

The Stormers will have to win Super Rugby the hard way
While the Cape franchise secured their third conference title in five years, the draw against the Lions meant they finished the penultimate league round in third place on the combined standings, behind the Hurricanes and Waratahs. The sixth-placed Brumbies have the same number of log points as the Waratahs (but one less win), and it's highly unlikely that both they and the Tahs will lose their final league matches, against the Crusaders and Reds respectively. That means that the Stormers will almost certainly finish third, and while that will see them host a play-off qualifier (effectively a quarter-final), they would probably need to win a semi-final and final away from home to lift the Super Rugby trophy. That has proven to be Mission Impossible in the past. Stormers coach Allister Coetzee will be tempted to field a second-string side against the Sharks in their final league match, and then bring back his big guns for the three play-off games he hopes his side will have to play.

Photo: Theo Karanikos/AFP Photo

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