What we learned from the latest round of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Bulls’ Bok backs made the difference
When the Bulls fell 19 points behind against the Jaguares within the opening quarter on Saturday, it looked like it could get messy for the men from Pretoria. At that stage, the Bulls were being run ragged by the in-form Jaguares, and they seemed to have little answer on defence. However, the Bulls displayed real character and demonstrated their superior conditioning to ultimately outscore the Jaguares 43-15 in the final hour. What will have excited Bok coach Rassie Erasmus is that Embrose Papier looked assured at scrumhalf, while Handré Pollard produced an outstanding all-round performance. Jesse Kriel and Warrick Gelant were also highly influential, while fit-again Jamba Ulengo caught the eye in a two-try display. It was an impressive effort from these Bok backs, but it would be remiss not to mention Johnny Kotze, who was outstanding at centre.
Sharks haunted by inconsistency
The Sharks have been the epitome of inconsistency this season, which is aptly reflected by a season win-loss record that reads like this: L, D, W, L, L, W, L, L, W, W, L, W, L, W, L. This almost bizarre inability to back up one win with another has been a real issue for the Sharks all season, and once again reared its head on Saturday. Coming off the back of an impressive comeback victory over the Lions and with everything to play for on Saturday, they still succumbed to a disappointing loss to an injury-depleted Stormers side. It’s an outcome that saw them miss an opportunity to climb above the Rebels into a playoff position, and they will now have to beat the Jaguares this Saturday, and hope for another favourable result elsewhere in order to sneak into the knockout stage.
Stormers had a point to prove
Where has this Stormers team been all season? The Cape-based side has a bye next weekend, and so Saturday’s clash against the Sharks brought an end to an injury-hit campaign that has been filled with disappointment. In all, 10 losses from 16 games have seen the Stormers miss out on a playoff place, while it’s also heaped pressure on coach Robbie Fleck. With the Stormers already out of the playoff running prior to last Saturday’s clash, one might have expected them to capitulate against the Sharks, and yet they played with a real sense of determination and purpose. Opting to shelve a helter-skelter attacking approach, they played with real precision, while using an effective kicking game to pin the Sharks back in their own half. It was a performance that sent out a reminder that they are a far better side than their 11th place on the overall log reflects.
Bok injuries adding up
Rassie Erasmus would have been a pretty nervous man watching Saturday’s derby between the Stormers and Sharks. Just a few weeks away from the start of the Rugby Championship, he would have seen No 8 Dan du Preez go down with a serious-looking injury early on, while S’bu Nkosi also had to be replaced due to an ankle injury. In the second half, Damian de Allende left the field clutching his arm, while Thomas du Toit also went to the bench to apply ice to his shoulder. It reflected the physicality of another intense South African derby that will have left Erasmus desperately hoping the injuries are not too serious.
No doubting the class of the Kiwis
As the log standings start to take final shape with just one round left of the conference stage, it’s once again notable just how the top New Zealand franchises have outperformed their southern hemisphere counterparts. The Crusaders have tallied a whopping total of 58 log points at the summit of the combined log, while the nearest to them is the Hurricanes, who have accrued 50 points, but remain stuck down in fourth place due to the ridiculous competition format. Next is the Chiefs on 45 points, and only then do you get the conference-leading Waratahs (44) and Lions (41). It’s been yet another season where the class of the New Zealand teams has shone through, and it’s almost impossible to imagine the ultimate competition-winner not coming from the Kiwi group.
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo