Super Rugby 2019
A fascinating weekend of rugby is over.
Let me emphasise that it was fascinating, but not necessarily great rugby. There was some spectacular stuff, and some pretty dour arm-wrestling, with some truly dire rugby thrown in for good measure.
The fascination to be found in this weekend’s third round of Super Rugby is in the results!
No less than four of the seven matches delivered wholly unexpected results. The first indication that things were not going the way of the tipsters and pundits was when the Rebels beat the Highlanders. This was perhaps the one game where the betting was only just favouring the Highlanders and, although unexpected, the Rebels’ victory was not totally unpredictable.
Next up we had the Sunwolves beating the Chiefs! This was the Sunwolves first ever victory away from home, and I do not think a single pundit even hinted that the Sunwolves had a chance of winning against the Chiefs. (Superbru tell me that less than 3% of their members picked this one!)
The Bulls downing the Lions, and the Stormers beating the Sharks were perhaps unlikely, but upsets do happen and both results might be called upsets.
What is truly fascinating is that three of the five New Zealand outfits lost – all to non-New Zealand opponents!
This is probably the most unexpected outcome in a Super Rugby weekend in all of the competition’s history.
I will not jump on the bandwagon quite as quickly as some. This set of results does not signal the abrupt end of New Zealand dominance in this competition. This is no changing of the guard.
Do not forget that the Crusaders beat the Reds in Brisbane, and this is their 18thconsecutive win in Super Rugby.
Do not forget the Hurricanes demolition job on the Brumbies!
The New Zealand teams collectively still have more playing talent than most, and they have some remarkably good coaches and tacticians who will analyse these results and work to ensure that they do not repeat themselves.
But this weekend does perhaps signal that the New Zealanders are vulnerable!
I have had some sneaky pleasure in the aftermath of the weekend’s games. I have long been a silent witness, your proverbial fly-on-the-wall, on various New Zealand based social media sites and pages. I like to read and hear their comments, and learn from their thinking – their sites and pages do not deteriorate into the personal attacks, foul-mouthed verbal abuse and threats we find on so many public South African pages, the New Zealanders usually discuss the rugby with less animosity. (Although the Crusaders do get a bit of lip from some…)
This week the common thread amongst New Zealand’s keyboard warriors is that they are, one and all, giving up on Super Rugby, the Rugby Championships, and their Mitre Ten competition and only focussing on the World Cup…….
We shall be watching those spaces.
As I mentioned earlier, I would never be brave enough to suggest that this past weekend is a signal that new Zealand’s dominance of Super Rugby is at an end, but the results do offer up hope that the Super Rugby competition will be more interesting than it has been for many years.
Those Marvellous Jerseys
Somebody, somewhere , has had a rush of common sense to the head. When those Marvel Superhero jerseys are likely to clash out on the field of play, one of the teams elects to play in their normal colours, which at least restores some sanity to one half of the field.
The silliness of American comic book heroes being used as models for rugby jerseys has not gone away, but the nausea has been reduced somewhat.
Here we go again………
Super Rugby officials have apologised for another officiating blunder that could easily have cost the Crusaders a win against the Reds on Saturday.
In the 72nd minute, when substitute playmaker Mitchell Hunt was forced to leave the action because he had been knocked unconscious, the match officials, the unholy quadrumvirate of referee Marius van der Westhuizen, AJ Jacobs, Damon Murphy, and everyone’s favourite TMO George Ayoub, refused to let Richie Mo’unga, who had started at flyhalf before being taken off in the 58th minute, return to the field in Brisbane because they believed Hunt hadn’t suffered a head injury.
Weirdly, they insisted he had hurt another part of his body and not his head, and therefore couldn’t be replaced.
The Crusaders leading 22-7, were reduced to 14 men with eight minutes remaining on the clock, and the Reds immediately exposed the limited number of tacklers by scoring a try through replacement forward Scott Higginbotham.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson confirmed the officials involved in the fiasco later admitted they made the wrong call.
Robertson was frustrated because he said it was clear Hunt had suffered a concussion. He said the Crusaders will ask Sanzaar to raise this incident with their officials to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Had this happened during the sudden-death phase of the competition, and cost a team a title, the fall-out would be spectacular.
Because Hunt had been knocked out, there was no need for him to go up the tunnel to have an HIA test, Robertson added.
“That was the point. He didn’t even go for an HIA check, he was just straight off. They believed he was knocked out, so it was just straight off.
“And that is where the confusion started (among the officials), we believe.”
I have a question for Rasta Rasivhenge.
Why did you award a try to Ofa Tuungafasi against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, saying the big prop had grounded the ball on the line, only to then change your mind when seeing a replay?
The TMO protocol says that once you have awarded the try, and communicated that the “on-field decision is a try”then only the “clear and obvious”evidence could overrule it.
Why did the TMO suggest you overrule your initial decision when he couldn’t see a grounding? He could also not see that the ball was NOT grounded!
There was no CLEAR & OBVIOUS evidence that you had got your initial call wrong.
The protocol says that your initial decision should stand.
Why did you change your decision?
A vast improvement over the previous week, as 6 of the 7 games were handled by neutral referees.
Nick Briant, a New Zealander had the whistle when the Hurricanes played the Brumbies. He was the only referee to control a game involving his fellow countrymen against a team from outside the borders.
The Crusaders At The Top.
The only unbeaten side to have completed three games, the Crusaders are slowly but surely building a head of steam in the 2019 competition. Consider that they took on and beat the Reds 23 – 12 with an under-strength team due both to All Black rest requirements and the fact that a number of their stars have not yet taken the field in 2019. (Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read, Israel Dagg, Cody Taylor…)
The Hurricanes Play Some Rugby
Just a week ago I was bemoaning the parlous state of rugby as a sport. The dour, predictable, ruck after ruck of the modern game is driving me to despair, and I know many of my readers are in the same frame of mind.
I was expecting another weekend of dour, blood and thunder crashball rugby, so it was a pleasant surprise when the Hurricanes decided to play some open, entertaining running rugby for a change.
Just a pity so few of the rest thought it was a worthwhile exercise…….
Ones To Watch
Beauden Barrett – Hurricanes
The boss is back. Beauden Barrett brought his considerable skills and influence to the Hurricanes’ flyhalf berth, and immediately they looked a better side for it. In this, his first game of the season, he carried the ball to the gain line no less than 10 times, making 45 meters in the process, he made 4 tackles, missed none, and made one turnover in the tackle. During his 61 minutes on the field he passed the ball 22 times, made 1 superb offload, won a turnover on the ground, scored 11 points, and kicked the ball 13 times, for a total of 425 meters gained.
All this from a player who is only starting his season and looks to be a little short on match fitness.
If he builds on this foundation, he will be an automatic choice for the All Blacks at 10 – again.
Eben Etzebeth – Stormers
It seemed as if Eben Etzebeth was on a mission to destroy the Sharks all on his own. The harder he played, the more he seemed to be causing the Sharks to wobble as their disciplines started to let themselves down. The big fella is playing rugby with some serious intent, and has been instrumental in what seems to have been a Stormers’ mind shift since his arrival on the field in the second half of the game against the Lions a week ago.
Etzebeth might not be the “cleverest” lock in world rugby. He does not have the finely honed handling and offloading skills of a Brodie Retallick, the running lines of a Maro Itoje, or the tactical nous of a Sam Whitelock, but he brings that one element that every team needs somewhere in their squad. He brings the mongrel, the physicality, the power, and the commitment, that universal force and presence that makes the physical and mental difference between one and another side.
On Saturday he often seemed to be taking on the entire Sharks pack on his own, and relishing the task. His driving play was powerful, his defence uncompromising, and his focus unrelenting.
His match stats are impressive. 49 meters gained while carrying the ball 11 times. He made 10 tackles, four rated as dominant; he caught the ball in the lineout a staggering 11 times. His support play onto the ball carrier and his ruck cleanouts were as immense as they are immeasurable.
The Stormers and South Africa need him to stay fit and healthy, and in this very frame of mind!
Handré Pollard – Bulls.
At Ellis Park on Saturday, Handré Pollard easily won the flyhalf battle with Elton Jantjies and showed why he is the first choice flyhalf for the Springboks. It was a display of cool, calm, thoughtful game management and totally focussed play as he rightfully won the man-of-the-match nomination.
He contributed 20 points with the boot, increasing his season tally to 52 points from three games.
We have long spoken of the potential of Pollard to be one of the best flyhalves in word rugby, and he is finally putting some early career injury woes behind him and starting to play to his considerable potential.
Jack Goodhue – Crusaders
If 2018 was Jack Goodhue’s breakthrough year, 2019 may well be the year where he cements his place in the All Blacks starting lineup. The outside centre showed superb game awareness and tactical nous against the Reds, rounding off the cerebral part of his game with some very good handling skills, powerful ball carries, great passing and some excellent footwork.
Ngani Laumape – Hurricanes
Ryan Crotty has been the go-to man at inside centre for the All Blacks when a thinking game is required, with Sonny Bill Williams as the man when the game is likely to be more direct and physical. Both have question marks hanging over their heads in 2019.
SBW has to deal with the age factor, while Crotty has a serious problem after a host of concussive injuries, he may not see out another year of rugby.
Who will fill the gap in the All Black lineup if either or both are ruled out of the RWC in 2019? A year ago Ngani Laumape was as good as any inside centre in the world with his powerful, direct running. There was, however, some doubt about his tactical play – he seemed to be more brute force and less subtlety as he went about scoring try after try.
He started 2019 a bit quietly, but suddenly kicked into gear against the Brumbies! He was near unstoppable as he simply destroyed the Brumbies. He claimed a hat-trick in a phenomenal solo display.
Methinks he is at his best when he has Beauden Barrett guiding him? Perhaps this is the year where SBW and Ryan Crotty are replaced as first choices in the All Black set-up?
Duane Vermeulen – Bulls
Having spoken about Eben Etzebeth a little earlier, we need to mention the other Springbok hard man. Duane Vermeulen is slowly but surely finding his match fitness and stepping up to Super Rugby’s pace. Sometimes just seeming a yard slow in the first two games as he had to make the mental transition from France’s Top 14 to Super Rugby pace, he is right back into it. As the Bulls took on the Lions it was Vermeulen that fronted up in the hard stuff. A veteran who packs a real punch, Thormeulen is back, and South African rugby is the richer for his involvement.
Pieter-Steph du Toit – Stormers
What can one say? Probably the form rugby player in South Africa for the last 18 months, and amongst the very best in the world, the re-treaded lock now playing flank was at his word class best again on Saturday. He made 53 meters with ball in hand as he carried the ball 11 times. When not carrying the ball, he was tackling the Shark who was carrying the ball, making a whopping 19 tackles in the process, no less than 8 of them rated as dominant tackles. He won 2 turnovers too.
A downside to his game on Saturday? Well, he did not take a single lineout ball, but then none were called onto him as his team mate Eben Etzebeth ruled supreme at the front of the lineout, taking 11 of the Stormers’ 18 clean takes in the game.
Du Toit has made 30 carries thus far this season to sit joint-fifth on the official ranking, playing all 240 minutes of the Stormers 3 games in the process. His
38 tackles puts him fourth in this category.
Gerhard van den Heever – Sunwolves
Former Bulls and Stormers wing Gerhard van den Heever scored a try in the Sunwolves’ victory and his performances have caught the eye thus far in 2019. Van den Heever tops the metres carried stats list with 326m, lies joint-second on the try-scorer’s list (3 tries), is third with 34 ball carries, joint-second with seven clean breaks and joint-ninth in the defenders beaten category (10).
We shall be keeping an eye on him as the season progresses.
Rosko Specman – Bulls
Just as Aphiwe Dyantyi seems to be struggling to find his form and live up to expectations in 2019, another speedster has put up his hand and said “I am here!”
After an absolute blinder of a game against the Stormers in Pretoria, Specman was a little quiet over in the Argentine where the wet weather and heavy conditions were not going to encourage wide running wing play. He was back with a bang against the Lions at Ellis Park. Popping up all over the field, industriously looking for work, he kept the home side’s defences busy all afternoon.
He currently tops Sanzaar’s rankings for the most clean breaks category (8), is joint-fourth on the list for most metres carried (189m) and joint-second for defenders beaten (13).
Are we seeing yet another outright speedster heading for green and gold?
They Must be Worrying:
The Sunwolves shocked the rugby world when they beat the Chiefs 30-15 in Hamilton on Saturday.
Long one of my favourite teams to watch, the Chiefs have always played an exciting, high risk/high reward based game of rugby based on sublime running lines, miracle offloads, and the highest levels of skill in the game. One of the most entertaining teams in the whole world, when things are working.
Now, in 2019, the Chiefs have somehow lost three in a row – including leaking 50 points to the Brumbies and now, incredibly, losing 30-15 to the Sunwolves. It is almost as if there has been a disturbance in the Force, if I may borrow from Star Wars……
The Chiefs’ metamorphosis from also-rans to Super Rugby winners in 2012 and 2013 was based on the selection of players who worked hard and who wouldn’t concede a centimetre. They were particularly tough in the contact areas, and played the game right out on the edge.
Something has gone wrong with the Chiefs in 2019.
The Chiefs’ next four weeks are going to be difficult! Four away matches, including a trip to South Africa and Argentina, at a time where the Hamilton based team need to focus, find their mojo, and rebuild, present a challenge that few teams would relish.
Are we seeing the Chiefs challenging the Blues for the 2019 wooden spoon?
Something is wrong in the Johannesburg based outfit. I cannot quite put a finger on it, but it seems that the leadership issue I spoke of a year ago is raising its ugly head again?
When Warren Whiteley is not available, nobody else seems to step up and take over command of the ship.
Malcolm Marx’s debut game as captain was unremarkable at best, he seemed to be overwhelmed by the responsibility and did very little to gee up his troops or to engage with the referee. Not everyone is suited to the captain’s job, some people contribute to leadership without being in charge – think of Jacques Kallis as a cricketer – never a captain, but hugely influential as a leader. Whilst Marx is certainly one of those who leads from the front, it certainly does not seem as if Malcolm Marx is a born captain.
Which brings us to the next question – who else could take the reins? Elton Jantjies has shown over and over again that he does not possess the leadership nor the willingness to assume responsibility, despite his seniority in the team. I cannot identify any other natural leaders out there, and that might be the problem in this 2019 Lions outfit!
Oh, and Lions’ turnover rate is alarming, and missing 22 per cent of your attempted tackles never helps.
There is something wrong in the tribe….
Three on the trot? I am not sure where the Blues are going at the moment, but they will be eyeing the Chiefs as a possible win?
New Zealanders Worrying?
Last week I said: “After so many years of complete dominance of the Super Rugby competition, 2019 seems just a little different for the teams from New Zealand. Consider that the Blues and Chiefs are winless, while the Hurricanes and Highlanders both had to work extra hard to sneak wins over Australian opponents.
All of this is very good for the Super Rugby competition, a bit of competitive interest at last! But New Zealand fans must be a bit worried. If their Super teams are struggling in a World Cup year…………… “
This week I am just going to say it again….. The Blues and the Chiefs are winless, the Highlanders lost again. Despite good wins by the Crusaders and the Hurricanes, the New Zealand fans must be a bit worried……………
Let’s take a look at the games played over the weekend:
Hurricanes 43– 13 Brumbies
Rebels 24– 19 Highlanders
Chiefs 15 – 30 Sunwolves
Reds 12 – 22 Crusaders
Lions 12 – 30 Bulls
Sharks 11 – 16 Stormers
Jaguares 23– 19 Blues
The Friday Game
Hurricanes 43 v 13 Brumbies
The Hurricanes needed to step up their game after a poor run against the Crusaders, and they certainly did that in a 43-13 walloping of Brumbies in Palmerston North.
Ngani Laumape was immense, bagging a hattrick of tries as he simply ripped the Brumbies midfield to bits.
Beauden Barrett was quickly back to form, if not 100% at his peak, he was cool, calm, and hugely influential as he took control of proceedings with some clever tactical kicking forcing the Brumbies to turn time and again.
Dane Coles reminded us of what we missed in the last two years as he struggled with injury after injury. He is the ultimate proof of the old adage: “Form is temporary, class is permanent!” The All Blacks have their No.1 hooker back.
As for the Brumbies? I thought they were really poor.
When they are forced to play off the back foot they do not seem capable of finding an answer to the pressures exerted by their opposition. There is no Plan B.
Their midfield defence was missing in action.
There is a problem with depth of resources too – Joe Powell was replaced early by Matt Lucas, and Lucas is simply not a Super Rugby level player.. If you do not have second stringers who are up to the standard of the competition, then your long term prospects are looking very shaky.
This game saw the Hurricanes step up a gear, and the Brumbies were simply not able to cope.
I said that I could not see the Brumbies pulling this one off, and they couldn’t.
I did say the ‘Canes by 12, so I was just 18 points astray….
Rebels 24 v 19 Highlanders
When the Highlanders decided to rest almost all their big guns for this one, their coach Aaron Mauger said that he was very excited about giving some of the younger talent a chance to prove themselves. Perhaps the youngsters needed a couple of games alongside some of those veterans and stars before they were chucked into the dee end? Not that they let themselves down in any way, it was just a matter of being a bit underdone for the first 60 minutes of their Super Rugby careers.
Later in the game the Highlanders came back hard at the Rebels, but the Aussies showed some mongrel and didn’t panic.
The Highlanders had fought their way back into the contest, keeping the ball tight amongst the forwards, forcing the Rebels to scramble on defence, until the wall eventually broke and Jackson Hemopo scored the try with 16 minutes to play.
Trailing by five, the Highlanders threw everything at the Rebels defence, going very close and even getting across the line, but the ball was judged to have been knocked on by the TMO. With just seconds left, the Rebels kicked the ball out at the hooter to celebrate their second consecutive win of the season.
The Rebels must be a little concerned about their forwards. The Highlanders are not the biggest pack the Rebels will face in 2019, yet they scored two of their three tries through their forwards and the Rebels seem to have a weakness when defending in both the loose and at the line out drives.
There’s been so much talk about the return of Quade Cooper, with a number of this weekend’s articles suggesting that he is a shoe-in for the Wallaby 10 jersey in 2019.
Against the Highlanders he had some lovely touches, but his defence still seems an issue. I watched him pull out of tackles more often than not, sometimes making long-arm connection, but not committing to the tackle at all. This is one area of his game where the cleverer sides in the world will be taking notes.
The first of many wrong predictions:
I suggested that the Highlanders running game would test the Rebels defences and that they would not be able to hold on for the full 80.
Well they did, and it was just the first of a host of incorrect calls that I made this weekend!
Chiefs 15 v 30 Sunwolves
I am on record as being utterly against the involvement of the Sunwolves in Super Rugby, there is simply no logic in the participation of a team of foreign legionnaires pretending to be Japanese in a competition that is essentially all about the best of the southern hemisphere. They bring nothing to the competition, serving mostly as whipping boys and walking bonus points.
So let me be absolutely clear– the Sunwolves totally and thoroughly deserved their win over the Chiefs on Saturday. They earned the victory and were by far the better side on the day.
Which is really an indication of how poor the Chiefs have been in 2019.
They have been quite awful in the past three games. Their handling skills have been atrocious, they do not seem to have a game plan and their defence is as leaky as a rusty old sieve.
Much like the rest of his team, Damian McKenzie seems to be totally out of sorts with his game so far in 2019, and this was very evident on Saturday. He seemed to have no kicking game at all, making just 34 meters with the four kicks he launched in the game. His passing game seemed a tad slower than before, and his ball carrying was nowhere near as incisive as we know it to be. 11 carries for 61 meters is perhaps above average for the flyhalves in Super Rugby this year, but we know that he is capable of so much more. The real issue was his inability to force the Sunwolves onto the back foot.
When the Sunwolves are allowed to play off the front foot, their attacking game works well, which was very evident as they established open play dominance over the Chiefs with an outstanding first half of rugby.
The Sunwolves loose forwards were all over the Chiefs, allowing the backs the freedom to do whatever they liked.
Whilst the Sunwolves were having fun, the Chiefs were struggling to make passes stick, or even to hold onto the ball when things were looking promising.
It was poor rugby by the New Zealanders, against a Sunwolves outfit that has learned to gobble up every scrap offered by their opponents. They must have thought Christmas had arrived early with the plenitude of scraps the Chiefs offered up.
Boy, did I get this one wrong! But I do believe everyone did!
Reds 12 v 22 Crusaders
One abiding thought from this game? If you want to beat the Crusaders you will need to find a way to defend their maul!
After two quick scores early in the first half, this was a game where the Crusaders simply went about doing their job as clinically as we know they can. The Reds came back into the game after their poor start, which allowed them to creep back to a 10-7 split at half time, but after the break it was a masterclass in controlled rugby by the Crusaders.
They built the pressure, worked their way downfield, waited for the moment, and pounced when it presented itself.
Two tries from lineout mauls after penalties and the game was over as a contest.
The Reds have a powerful scrum, but it was not powerful enough to subdue the Crusaders. Other than the scrum, the Reds seemed to be without ideas or game plan. They defended well, but their kicks out of the danger zone were both inaccurate and ineffectual. There were, invariably, no kick-chasers, which gave the Crusaders all the time in the world to simply bring the ball back into the pressure zones.
The blunder by the match-officials that I mentioned earlier, when Mitchell Hunt was forced to leave the action because he had been knocked unconscious, and the match officials refused to let Richie Mo’unga return to the field robbed the ‘Saders of the chance to score a bonus point victory.
This was simply an average game, with no great excitement. Just another day at the office for the Crusaders, and a bit of a bore for the fans.
And My Prediction?
Spot on. Even the points spread was 100%
Lions 12 v 30 Bulls
I could not watch this game live as I was in Cape Town at a family lunch celebrating my mother’s 91stbirthday. I was not going to spoil a really special day by sneaking off to watch Super Rugby! I intended to wait until I returned home to Langebaan and could settle down with my trusty PVR and the remote control. I avoided listening for the score, so that I could have no idea who had won, but it was inevitable that someone would check the score and blurt it out, so I was aware that the Bulls had won the game.
I did not known how thoroughly they deserved their win.
Let’s be blunt. The Bulls hammered the Lions. Period.
I really enjoyed the clinical focus with which the Bulls went about their job. They took every single opportunity to put scoreboard pressure onto the Lions, with Pollard taking every kick at goal that was offered. That was a very good tactical decision. He was metronomic in his accuracy, scoring 18 point by converting six penalties, and then adding a conversion too, for his 20 point tally.
However, it was Pollard’s game management that impressed above all. He took the game by the scruff of its neck, and controlled it from the kick-off right through to the end.
The only blemish on the Bulls performance was their poor handling. 24 handling errors robbed them of both momentum and scoring opportunities. If they had been slicker and more accurate the score could have been much bigger.
As for the Lions? I mentioned earlier that they have a leadership problem. Not only do they miss the captaincy of Warren Whiteley, but they still have no on-field leaders. There is no dominant character to take control of the back division, there is no one who steps up and lays down the law when the wheels are wobbling.
Oh, and Andries Coetzee still does not pass the ball.
Another Wrong Prediction:
I said the Lions by 9, but I was wrong, for so many reasons. I thought the Bulls would struggle without the leadership of Lood de Jager. I thought they would struggle without some of their senior players. I forgot about people like Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Brits, and Handré Pollard, all very capable leaders!
Sharks 11 v 16 Stormers
First and foremost, the Stormers have broken their away-game bogey, as they scored their first away win in this competition since 2017. It was well deserved too.
This was a typical derby game between South African giants – no quarter asked, no quarter given. Monstrous clashes, huge hits, much power and plenty of fury. Not likely to be a hugely open and entertaining festival of running rugby, it was going to be all about pressure, pressure, and more pressure.
And so it was, with two sides that were not going to give an inch. Possession was just about even, the territorial stakes were also even, and the ball was in play for a whole 37 minutes, an indication of the conservative rugby played by both teams. Plenty of kicking too, 56 kicks in the game, with 34 lineouts, and just 9 scrums. It was that kind of low-risk game.
Both sides took the ball into the ruck 90 times, and both lost the ruck just twice. A game with 180 rucks and just 4 turnovers is going to be dour, but that is the nature of the beast called “Local Derby.”
This was going to be about dominance in certain set-pieces and in the physical clashes.
And into that arena stepped the massive physical presence of Eben Etzebeth as he produced a performance of power and some very serious intent, he stood head and shoulders above his peers and spearheaded a bruising battle for dominance, and a well-deserved 16-11 win for the Stormers over Sharks.
Etzebeth’s physical presence kept the Sharks busy all afternoon, allowing flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit the freedom to play just a tad looser and wider, covering ground and chasing the ball, in a performance that won him the man-of-the-match award for his defensive work and two critical turn-overs.
In my match preview I suggested that the Sharks had not really been tested in their first two outings of the season. Neither the Sunwolves, nor the Blues had the firepower and muscle to take on the Sharks forwards, and this would be the first time they would come up against a team that could take them on physically.
And so it was.
The Stormers did not allow the Sharks to settle into their stride, rattling them in the physical clashes and making life difficult in both the scrums and lineouts.
Robbed of the physical dominance they had enjoyed over the Sunwolves and the Blues, the Sharks looked a bit lost at sea, a bit ragged, and just showing a lack of composure as they struggled to build pressure on the Stormers’ line.
This was NOT a great game of rugby. It was too physical, too static, and too important for any high risk stuff.
The tactical kicking by both teams was wayward at best, with plenty of misdirected field kicks taking the momentum out of the game.
Handling was poor too. 33 handling errors in all, with 21 by the Sharks!
Jaco Peyper did not have a great game with the whistle, but he was fairly consistent in his inconsistency, with no one side receiving the rub of his personal green. He reverted to type though, handing out yellow cards like pre-primary teacher dishing out end-of-day sweets.
The Sharks lost two players to yellow cards in the first half with first Lukhanyo Am going to the sin bin for repeated infringements by his team, and then Akker van der Merwe following him for not supporting his bodyweight over the tackle. Both cards appeared a bit harsh.
Immediately after halftime the Stormers lost Dan du Plessis when he was carded for a high tackle on Makazole Mapimpi. The replay showed that the tackle was made below the shoulders and that Mapimpi then tucked his head and rode his body down in the tackle in an attempt to break free. Du Plessis’ arms slipped up, and Peyer decided it was a deliberate high tackle. This was uncalled for and simply wrong!
A deserved victory by the Stormers, who played the kind of game that was required for the win.
Another Prediction up in Smoke:
Nope, I got this one wrong too!
Jaguares 23 v 19 Blues
I did not watch thus game in its entirety.
I recorded it, and then took some time out of my Sunday to watch, fast forwarding through long stretches when it looked as if nothing was happening.
My overall impression was that the Blues did everything, except win the game. They had possession, they had the territorial advantage, they carried the ball more, and further than the Jaguares.
The Blues beat more defenders, made more passes, and made more offloads, yet they could not score more tries.
The Blues even made more of their tackles than did the home side.
They won more lineouts, more scrums, and more rucks…
How then did they lose this game?
As I said, I did not watch the game in its entirety, I simply fast-forwarded through it, and then watched the broadcaster’s highlights package. The highlights package cannot give me the answer as to why or how the Blues lost the game.
But they did, and condemn themselves to another poor start to a season with three losses in three games.
I am not sure that the Jaguares won this game, I think the Blues, somehow, lost it.
I said the Jaguares by 9. It was a lot closer than that!