Weekend Review

Week 5

For many of us this week’s Super Rugby was overshadowed by the horrific terrorist attack which rocked New Zealand on Friday afternoon. The attack sent a tsunami of revulsion around the entire world. The world united in condemning the prejudice, the hatred, the unequivocally racist thinking that motivates some to think it is good and right to murder, maim, and injure others.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to those victims of this mindless lunatic attack on a place of worship in a peaceful and tolerant country.

The World Cup?

The 2019 Six Nations is consigned to history. Wales have the honour of displaying the trophy in their cabinet this year. Scotland keep their hands on the Calcutta Cup, and Eddie Jones will be eating some of his words. (Again.)

Whilst the quality of the rugby offered up by the Big Six of the North was often mediocre and full of typically strangulating defence that resulted in many long minutes of stagnant rugby, there were moments of enterprise, moments of glorious running, and excitement. 

Despite the style of rugby on offer, there was plenty of tension, and if that is the measure of a good rugby match and a great tournament, then the 6 Nations delivered.

The tournament certainly sent a reminder of just how competitive the northern hemisphere sides will be at this year’s World Cup. 

Wales made a massive statement, while England and Ireland did not quite deliver on their pre-tournament hype, but certainly cannot be written off. Scotland and France also showed glimpses of their capabilities.

The Southern Hemisphereans will need to step up a couple of gears if they want the World Cup to remain south of the equator!

Super Rugby Thoughts:

The Chiefs

The good news for Chiefs’ fans is that their team has managed to avoid losing five in a row! 

Not that they have won a game, but the very creditable draw against the Hurricanes on Friday has ended a horror run of results. 

There were still a plethora of errors, missed tackles, and inaccuracies, but the Chiefs seemed to have found the confidence that deserted them sometime during the off-season.

Probably the best news for the Chiefs is that they seem to have found the ideal backline formation, with that elusive will o’ the wisp Damian McKenzie quickly back to his influential best as he reverted to fullback. Without a doubt the best attacking fullback in the world, he has the special ability to carve the most solid of defences into ribbons. Damn, but the little fella is a handful when he is given the space to do his thing!

The Waratahs.

How in the name of all that is holy did they conspire to lose this one? They had an equal share of the possession, they had the territorial advantage. They carried the ball 30 times more than did the Brumbies, they carried it 329 meters further than the Brumbies, they beat 22 Brumby defenders, made 9 clean breaks, passed the ball all of 200 times, made 16 offloads, had an excellent tackle success ratio of 93%, a 94% ruck success ratio, a 100% scrum success ratio….. overshadowing the Brumbies in every single statistic that counts, yet somehow managing to lose the game!

For most of the game the Super Star ‘Tahs found new and intriguing ways to be incredibly mediocre. They gave away silly penalties, they screwed up great opportunities and, incredibly, they just kept dropping the ball!

There is something very wrong in the Waratah camp – all those hugely expensive super-stars simply do not play the rugby that they are paid to produce. 

Too many Prima Donnas? Too many Hooray Henrys? Too much Player Power and not enough Player Passion?

The Rebels’ Penalty Count

“Never seen a stat like that in my life”said Dave Wessels when he spoke of the 20 penalties his Rebels conceded versus the solitary 1 conceded by the Lions.

Mr Wessels might have been surprised by the penalty count on Saturday, but he needs to take a very long look at his team’s disciplinary record.

In 2018 the Rebels topped the stats table in two categories. 

They conceded the most penalties in the entire competition, 143 of them, and saw the most yellow cards too, 10 of them. 

They averaged very close to 9 penalties per game throughout 2018.

2019 is no better.

If the truth be told, referee Egon Seconds was perhaps overly lenient towards the Rebels on Saturday! The number of high tackles, offsides, neck rolls, and deliberate slowing of the ball moments that went unpunished is a statistic that would make interesting reading if anyone could be bothered to do that kind of analysis. The number of times that Mr Seconds issued formal warnings to the Rebels without carrying through on the warning was also remarkable.

Essentially, the Rebels were very fortunate that Egon Seconds had one of the worst games I have ever seen from a Super Rugby referee……….

Jaguares Their Own Worst Enemies.

A lack of communication on defence is hurting the Jaguares badly.

Think of that Dan du Plessis try. A speculative attacking chip kick in the Jaguares 22 saw no less than four Jaguares within a metre of the ball as it came down. Two jumped to catch the ball, neither having nominated the ball as theirs to catch.  That lack of a simple basic of rugby saw the two take each other out, while the other two Jaguares simply stood watching, rooted to the spot as du Plessis gathered the bouncing ball and dived over. 

On the 60 minute mark the Jaguare defence again lost basic shape as they sprinted out from a ruck and left a massive hole on the inside that gave Herschel Jantjies his second try of the season. Once again it was a lack of basic communication on the defence – what happened to the old fashioned system of nominating who you are covering?

The Jaguares let themselves down with far too many really basic errors.

Egon Seconds

I have nothing but the highest praise for an ex-player that continues to contribute to the game of rugby by taking up the whistle when his playing days are over. Not enough players are prepared to stay in the game and give something back when their glory days are over.

Egon Seconds is one of the few.

88 games for Western Province, 11 for the Stormers, and another 23 for Griquas together with 10 appearances for the Blitzbokke is evidence of a player who was more than just a number on the field. He can be proud of his record.

When he decided to take up refereeing in 2014, his move from the playing to the officiating ranks was a welcome one.

His promotion to the Premier Panel in 2017 was fair reward for his endeavors, and his elevation to the Super Rugby Panel was not unexpected.

Sadly, he has been exposed as being somewhat short of the experience and nous that is required at the top level of the game.

His errors are most usually those of omission. He lacks the peripheral vision and awareness that a top class referee needs. He simply misses far too much on the field of play. 

There are just too many incidents where his assistant referees have to point out incidents that he has completely missed.

Not only does he miss too many glaringly obvious errors or indiscretions, but he has to be criticized for the extreme leniency that he shows after he has issued a team warning for continued transgressions of the laws. 

One expects a warning to be followed by action, not by yet another warning! And then another.

And then there is the pally-pally approach that Mr Seconds adopts towards the players. There is nothing wrong with being friendly, but there is something wrong when you communicate with individual players loudly, but in a language that the visiting team cannot understand. He had a number of off-the-ball conversations with Lions players on Saturday, in Afrikaans, a language that perhaps only Dane Haylett-Petty of the Rebels might understand. It was very friendly, with some laughter. And it was wrong. It smacked of bias.

Egon Seconds is not up to the standard required of a Super Rugby referee.

(He is not alone!)

Replacements Make A Difference

28 points behind early in the second half and the Lions looked dead and buried against the Rebels on Saturday. Right up to that moment the Lions had looked second rate in almost every aspect of their game.  

Swys de Bruin had apparently blown his top in the change room during the halftime break, “I don’t think I’ve ever lost it like that before at half-time. I really lost it because I know how good these guys can be and they were not. There were one or two words that came out badly and I’m sorry about that.” 

At the first opportunity after half time, De Bruin turned to his bench.

On came Lionel Mapoe, on came Andries Coetzee, on came Ruan Vermaak, Jan-Henning Campher, Sithembiso Sithole, Frans van Wyk, Rhyno Herbst, and Gianni Lombard.

Those changes signified a momentum shift as the Rebels began to run out of lungs in the thin Highveld air. 

Lionel Mapoe and Andries Coetzee made a massive impact, with the duo adding real momentum and accuracy to the team’s attack. Coetzee still does not pass the ball, but he added some direct running mongrel to a back division that had done all the stepping and jinking and double-pump dummy passing so beloved by the younger generation of South African backline players. All looks so good, but is instantly readable by a seasoned opponent, and it all then happens without going anywhere. It is all show and no go! For all his inability to link with support runners, Coetzee had the best session of rugby I have ever seen him play as he carried the ball for 98m and beat seven defenders.

If ever the value of a bench was demonstrated, it was on Saturday as the Lions somehow scrambled a very unlikely win.

The Crowds.

Oh wow, the Super Rugby stadiums were as empty as I have ever seen them. World Rugby needs to take a very serious look at the game itself,  and Sanzaar must focus on what it will take to restore Super Rugby as a crowd-pleasing spectacle. 

When even Newlands is empty, the message is clear! (And do not suggest it is just the price of a ticket that causes the crowds to stay away – a movie ticket costs around the same as a ticket to a Super Rugby match!)

 I have long suggested that Sanzaar and the Super Rugby franchises need to do something to get the crowds into those seats. GIVE the tickets away, make your money from advertisers and sponsors who want their name to be seen by a crowd! Make your money by selling snacks and merchandise, do whatever it takes, but get bums in those seats.

Players To Watch

Siya Kolisi

On Friday evening Siya Kolisi sent out a stark reminder of his quality as a flanker. Carrying the ball 10 times, he made 52 meters, scored a try , and made 9 tackles and a turnover, all the while leading his Stormers outfit from the front.

It is a timely return to form for the Springbok captain, and he will be causing a lot of his opposition some real problems as the season progresses.

Tyrone Green 

In the lead-up to Saturday’s clash at Ellis Park, Lions coach Swys de Bruin said he was very excited about the potential of former Junior Springbok star, Tyrone Green. In his debut match for the Lions, De Bruin started him at fullback but his move to the right wing at the 50 minute mark coincided with the Lions fightback to win the game. An elusive runner, with speed, quick feet, and good hands, he also shows plenty of the mongrel needed to make it at the top level. Carrying the ball 13 times he made 85 meters, and beat nine defenders. A youngster worth keeping an eye on!

Beauden Barrett

The Chiefs would have won the game if anyone other than Beauden Barrett was at flyhalf for the ‘Canes. His performance was pure quality as he seemed to be everywhere on defence and attack, yet as cool as ice as he controlled the game from the ‘Canes side of the field. Barrett just looks as if he has much more time on his hands when he has the ball. That is a special quality that very few players possess, they seem to cause opponents to slow down when they get the ball in hand. There was also a magnificent cover tackle that prevented the Chiefs from winning the game

Pieter-Steph du Toit

Simply carried on from where he left off last time out. Gigantic defence and powerful running. Covers more ground than any other player in his team, perhaps in all of Super Rugby. 17 tackles, 6 lineouts, 5 carries, 19 meters in the hard stuff, and uncompromising cleanouts and tackle assists. Invaluable.

Frans Malherbe

The quiet man that plays tighthead. Efficient, immoveable, and powerful. Does not get the plaudits he deserves for being the rock around which the Stormers scrum is built. Add 5 tackles, 3 carries for 17 meters, and zero mistakes. Looking very good for 2019.

Steven Kitshoff

A promising 50 minutes coming back from hamstring troubles, and he looked the part. Perhaps just a tiny bit rusty and short of match fitness he covered a remarkable amount of ground, his support running was exemplary, with a pace that astounds for such a big unit. It is what he does off the ball that is worth watching. Add 7 tackles, of which 3 were rated as dominant, 7 carries, and a host of clean outs and drive assists. If this is a portend of the season ahead, he will be a handful.

The Games:

Results:

Friday 15thMarch

Chiefs 23 – 23 Hurricanes

Brumbies 19– 13 Waratahs

Stormers 35– 8 Jaguares

Saturday 16thMarch

Sunwolves 31 – 34 Reds

Highlanders 0 – 0 Crusaders; Match Cancelled. 

Lions 36– 33 Rebels

Friday Games

Chiefs 23 vs 23 Hurricanes

Morne du Plessis, Springbok captain of the 1980’s, and the man after whom the ‘Canes flanker Du’Plessis Kirifi is named, once said of a drawn match “It is like kissing your sister.”

I do not want to argue with Morne – he is a legend in his own right, and was a wonderful and inspirational captain, but this drawn game between the ‘Canes and the Chiefs produced all the excitement and interest that makes for a good rugby game. 

And it certainly was not incestuous!

Both sides scored a pair of tries apiece.

Individuals like Damian McKenzie, Beauden Barrett, Anton Lienert-Brown, 

Matt Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Jordie Barrett, Nathan Harris, Michael Allardice, Brodie Retallick, TJ Perenara, Dane Coles and Ardie Savea all contributed to a game well worth watching.

Another Prediction Goes Awry:

I do not think anyone predicted a draw? I didn’t!

Brumbies 19 vs 13 Waratahs

Boredom. 

Sheer, utter boredom. 

That is the only way I can sum up this exhibition of derby rugby, Aussie style.

Most of the first half was played at a snail’s pace, but perhaps I am being unkind to snails?

At times it seemed as if the two teams were playing in thick syrup, slowing their every move and sending anyone other than the dyed-in-the-wool fans of the two teams scrambling for the remote and the excitement of the gardening programme on an alternate channel.

Small wonder that rugby is a dying sport in Australia.

This was an exhibition match between two sides loaded with internationals. 

For goodness sake, that Waratah backline had Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Curtis Rona, Bernard Foley, and Jake Gordon, Wallabies one and all, with no less than 340 Test caps between them. Only Alex Newsome in the entire backline has not been capped for the Wallabies, and he played U/20 rugby for Australia! On the bench they had Nick Phipps, with 70 Wallaby caps, and Cam Clark, with four years of Aussie Sevens on his CV.

The Brumbies might have been quite as blessed with international talent, but they had their fair share, with Tom Banks, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, and Joe Powell all having worn the coveted yellow jersey.

Both teams fielded packs of forwards loaded with international caps, and even fielded some more off the bench.

If this is the best that Aussie rugby can serve up, then the game has no chance of surviving other than as a minority club sport, played on obscure pitches in weird locations.

I was grateful when I had to leave the live broadcast at half time go to a dentist’s appointment, the scheduled root-canal work was vastly preferable to watching more of this travesty of a rugby match.

My trusty PVR recorded the rest of the game and allowed me to use it as a soporific when I struggled to fall asleep later that night.

About the only excitement in the first half was when prop Sekope Kepu was sent to the sin bin for a swinging arm to the head of Brumbies No 8, Lachlan McCaffrey. 

I found nothing to talk about in the second half.

Go and look at the stats, if you are bored, and you will be staggered at the imbalance between the two sides, the Waratahs had the best of everything, but still could not produce a spark of ambition to win themselves a game that was theirs for the taking.

Looking back at my Prediction:

I suggested that the Brumbies would leak plenty of tries, and the Waratah backs would finally find their game. Sadly, that was but a pipe-dream.

I said: The ‘Tahs, by 12 – Nope, got that wrong too.

Stormers 35 vs 8 Jaguares

A clinical, patient and impressive forward effort gave the Stormers their third victory of the 2019  season.

The Jaguares gave a brief glimpse of the kind of rugby they produce when they are at their best.Bautista Delguy’s try was well engineered, but that was about it for the visitors.

The Stormers added four tries to their season tally of just 2 in their first three games, and a third win in four outings, something I had suggested as unlikely just three weeks ago!

Early on the home side seemed to have the jitters, and struggled to put together any sort of continuity with ball in hand, and had to rely on the power of their pack, with Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit at the forefront, to force the Jaguares onto the backfoot and into making mistakes.

Once the Stormers had taken control they were relentless. It was forward pressure and solid defence, coupled to very good patience as they waited for the Jaguares to crack, and crack they did.

Perhaps there is still a question over the Stormers finishing, they had plenty of opportunities to secure the bonus point in the last 15 minutes of the game, but squandered a couple through over eagerness and a good dose of white-line fever, but the pressure would prevail and they finally took one of those opportunities as Phillips went over to add the bonus point.

Prediction I Got Correct!

I said: “The Stormers just seem to have far too many heavies in their pack of forwards, and that gives them a decided edge. They will play it simply, ugly even, but they will win.”

I did get the margin wrong, suggesting a 10 point spread. I was out by 17 as the Stormers made the spread 27.

Saturday Games

Sunwolves 31 vs 34 Reds

Quite how the Reds managed to make this so difficult is hard to imagine. They had all the possession, 67% of it. They shared territory almost equally. They carried the ball more, and further. They beat a truly massive 49 defenders, and made 14 clean breaks. They passed the ball a whopping 142 times. They forced the Sunwolves to make a massive 180 tackles, and to miss 34 of them. They forced the Sunwolves to kick the ball into touch 14 times.

Yet they were 21-5 down at halftime and had to scramble to win 34-31 in the last second of the game.

How do you dominate every aspect of a game of rugby, yet only win by a last minute penalty goal?

This is not a game the Reds and their fans will want to watch again.

Nor will the Sunwolves.

Nor me!

Okay, another incorrect Prediction:

For the first time in my entire life, I tipped the Sunwolves to win. They didn’t.

Highlanders vs Crusaders

Match Cancelled, deemed a draw.

Lions vs Rebels

Just a couple of questions?

How on earth did the Rebels blow this one?

Where were the Lions in the first half?

At halftime the Rebels had a 26 to 5 lead. 

With just 30 minutes to go they had pushed further ahead and were 28 points to the good. 

And then it all went wrong. Very, very wrong. 

The Rebels will have to look at their recordings of this game and count the number of penalties they gave away, and then subtract that already massive number from the number they should have given away if the referee had been up to the job.

They must look at the recording and count their yellow cards, and then look at the number that they should have been shown, but somehow escaped as the referee neglected to enforce the stern “team warnings” he issued with clockwork regularity as the Rebels took to playing the game well beyond the prescribed legal limits.

 The Rebels will also look at the number of simple errors in basic skills and their lack of attention to detail as they conceded try after try and couldn’t find a way to stop the Lions.

The Rebels had done so well in the first half, and then they simply switched off. Period.. 

As for the Lions?

Today everyone is raving about their incredible second half response to fight back and eventually claw a victory from the very jaws of defeat.

But how on earth did they get themselves into that situation in the first place?

In the first 50 minutes of this rugby game, the Lions were simply woeful. 

There was zero cohesion amongst the backs, zero focus, poor handling and haphazard tactical kicking, and zero leadership from the senior players on the field. Elton Jantjies had donned the “startled rabbit” hat that he keeps close every time he takes to the field. The man simply cannot handle pressure. Period.

Defence was abysmal, ball control and skills non-existent, and positional nous a mystery to all.

It was as bad a period of rugby as the Lions have produced at any time in the last four years.

And then they suddenly seemed to find their mojo!

Triggered by a mass of substitutions and a collective decision to throw off the shackles, the Lions started to play the rapid, open game that had carried them to three successive Super Rugby finals.

Of course their cause was helped immeasurably by a Rebels disciplinary implosion as they bled penalty after penalty. Billy Meakes was sent to the sin bin, allowing the Lions the comfort of the extra man as Marnus Schoeman, Andries Coetzee and Lionel Mapoe all scored in his absence.

It beggared belief when, with 10 minutes left on the clock, the Lions somehow turned down three kickable penalties and then failed to score points, even when the Rebels had yet another man sent to the sin bin.

Luckily for the Lions, they won a scrum penalty in the final play of the game and sanity prevailed as Marx finally pointed to the posts, for Gianni Lombard to convert the 82nd-minute match-winning penalty.

Yes it was a remarkable comeback, and that might obscure the Lions’ woeful performance in the 50 minutes that preceded the fightback! 

If I were a Lions supporter, I would not be celebrating too loudly!

My Prediction?

I got it right, but for all the wrong reasons.