Super Rugby Round Eleven: The African Conferences

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Lions plaer Sylvian Mahuza reacts after being tackled by Marika Koroibete and missing a try during the Super Rugby match between the Melbourne Rebels and Golden Lions at AAMI Park in Melbourne on May 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Mal Fairclough / -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE -- (Photo credit should read MAL FAIRCLOUGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Super Rugby Round Eleven left South African rugby fans with more questions than answers. Again.

Super Rugby Round Eleven

The quality of play was generally very disappointing, with little to enthuse about. The Lions won despite still being a little off their usual sparkling game. It took them 45 minutes to assert their authority, to win with ease away to the Rebels. The Sharks were a touch erratic, but also put together a fair enough performance to put the touring Force away.

Before we take a very brief look at each game, it is time for a reality check. For many years coaches, of which Heyneke Meyer is a prime example, were vilified for their preference to select tall, muscular outside backs. A number of pocket rocket backs have made their way into South African Super Rugby teams, but has it worked? A lot has been said of this over recent weeks and is is starting to get a lot more airtime. All we need to do is take a look at the video clip included in the Stormers game wrap below to see the physical advantage a wing of 108kgs (Julian Savea) has over the 80kg frame of Cheslin Kolbe. Maybe big isn’t that bad after all? Player weights as provided by SANZAAR at the beginning of the season.

Hurricanes 41 Stormers 22

Hurricanes – Tries: Corey Jane, Jordi Barrett, Julian Savea, Ardi Savea, Ngani Laumape 2 and Beauden Barrett; Conversions: Jordie Barrett 3
DHL Stormers – Try: Ramone Samuels; Conversion: Robert du Preez; Penalties: SP Marais 4 and Robert du Preez

The final scoreline is probably a little flattering to the Hurricanes as the Stormers were right in this game until the final ten minutes, when two late tries gave the Hurricanes the cushion they needed. The Stormers, especially their forward pack, were surprisingly competitive. They were always facing an uphill challenge, losing Springbok locks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit to injury in their previous game. Their scrum was the biggest surprise, putting the Hurricanes under pressure.

For the Hurricanes, it was two moments of Barrett brother magic that stood out. Jordi Barrett burgling the ball off Nazeem Carr in the Stormers in goal area to score was one of the more unusual tries we have seen for a while. Not to be outdone, brother Beauden reminded everybody how tactical kicking can lead to tries. The Hurricanes were in possessin close to their own tryline. Noting that the defensively often errant Cheslyn Kolbe was out of position,he kicked the ball across the field to the waiting Julian Savea. A surge upfield and an offload lead to Ngani Laumape’s try.

The Stormers will be grateful for the bye next weekend and the Hurricanes face are off to Christchurch to face the Crusaders in what should be the game of the weekend.

Toyota Cheetahs 41 Highlanders 45

Toyota Cheetahs – Tries: Tian Meyer (2), Sergeal Petersen, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Oupa Mohoje, Ox Nche. Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (4). Penalty: Zeilinga

Highlanders – Tries: Marty Banks, Rob Thompson, Waisake Naholo (2), Matt Faddes, Tevita Lee. Conversions: Banks (6). Penalty: Banks

Entering the final ten minutes of this matchup in Bloemfontein, South African rugby fans were lighting the braai fires and grabbing the beers out of the fridge to celebrate a rare win against New Zealand opposition. The Cheetahs were 17 points up and were about to pull off a phenomenal upset. All they had to do was pull up the hand brake and run the clock down. Defend grimly or get their hands on the ball and play out ruck after ruck. They did none of that.

What they did not take into account was the Highlanders determination to go for the win, their own defensive frailties and some poor decision making. Tevita Lee’s try in the 76th minute was fair enough. The Cheetahs were a man down after Uzair Cassim was yellow carded and the Highlanders managed to work an overlap to put Lee away. What beggars belief was the decision by the Cheetahs to make a deep kickoff to restart the game. The willing Highlanders received possession without any pressure and ran at the tired and unwilling Cheetahs defense, leading to a try by Matt Faddes.

The Cheetahs then made the same error in restarting the game, with a deep kick off that they could not contest. The Highlanders happily ran the ball straight back at them, leading up to the winning try by Waisake Naholo.

Aside from the incredible fightback from the Highlanders to win, this game will also be remembered for the incredibly inept performance at times by referee Marius van der Westhuizen and TMO Willie Vos had social media in meltdown.

 

Melbourne Rebels 10 Emirates Lions 47

Melbourne Rebels – Try: Tom English. Conversion: Reece Hodge. Penalty: Reece Hodge

Emirates Lions – Tries: Kwagga Smith, Ross Cronje, Courtnal Skosan, Sylvian Mahuza, Anthony Volminck, Warren Whiteley, Penalty try. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (5), Penalty try conversion automatically awarded.

The Lions easily saw off the Rebels in Melbourne. It took them until just after the half time break to break the relegation threatened Rebels resolve and ended the game with a couple of well worked tries. By captain Warren Whiteley’s own admission after the game, the Lions performance in the first half was a little disappointing. The important thing for them is that they continue to win despite not being at the top of their game at the moment. For their sake, we hope that they hit their best form going into the playoff stages of the competition.

The Lions can already claim their tour to Australia has been as success as they have won two from two but will be keen to win their last game on tour, against the Brumbies in Canberra, to put them in pole position to host home playoff games.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Rebels as they now host the ever improving Reds at home.

Cell C Sharks 37 Western Force 12

Cell C Sharks – Tries: Jeremy Ward, Jean-Luc du Preez, Curwin Bosch and Lukhanyo Am; Conversions: Curwin Bosch 3 and Patrick Lambie; Penalties: Curwin Bosch 3.

Western Force – Tries: James Verity Amm and Marcel Brache; Conversion: Ian Prior

Two tries just before half time during the time the Force’s Curtis Rona was off the field due to a yellow card was effectively what left the Force chasing the game. The scoreboard result looks great, but conceding a late try by Marcel Brachie cost them the bonus point that was on offer. A point which might come back to hunt them should they remain in contention for a playoff spot.

What is not that often spoken of is how young this Sharks squad is and how much more they can improve. Consider the relative youth of the Du Preez twins, Jeremy Ward, Curwin Bosch, Lukhanyo Am and Rayno Smith. Debutant winger  Sibusiso Nkosi also looks to offer a lot more in the future.  This game also saw the handing of the Sharks number ten jersey from Curwin Bosch, who joins the Junior Springboks for the Junior Rugby World Cup in Georgia, to Patrick Lambie, returning from a long term injury.

The Sharks now take the short trip down the coast to face the Kings in Port Elizabeth. The Force are off to Argentina for a tough assignment against the Jaguares.

Vodacom Bulls 24 Crusaders 62

Vodacom Bulls – Try: Jesse Kriel, Jamba Ulengo, Jan Serfontein. Conversions: Francois Brummer (3). Penalty: Tian Schoeman

Crusaders – Tries: Pete Samu, Tim Bateman, Scott Barrett, Jack Goodhue (2), Seta Tamanivalu, David Havilli, Richie Mo’anga, Andrew Makalio, Mitchell Hunt. Conversion: Richie Mo’anga (5). Mitchell Hunt (1)

The Crusaders retained their unbeaten record in 2017 and are now ten from ten. Their victory was based on a solid performance by their pack of forwards and innovative running by their backs. Next, they are off to face the Chiefs in their historic game, the first to be hosted in Suva, Fiji.

For the Bulls, it was a horror show for which there can be no excuse. There can be no claim that the Bulls do not have a decent squad at their disposal. It is also far too easy to blame a coach when a team does not perform, but what the Bulls dished up against the Crusaders has all the signs of a coach that has lost the respect and confidence of the dressing room.

Defensively, they have become before very passive. This is fatal against an attacking team like the Crusaders. Once they have built up momentum, they become irrepressible. Their attacking structure is non-existent. The amount of possession thrown to the likes of Adriaan Strauss or Pierre Schoeman in midfield to act as playmaker is absurd. Too often, passes were pushed or thrown wildly between receivers. It would be an interesting exercise to observe a Bulls practice to determine who exactly is in charge as this disorganized rabble seems to be seriously under coached.

The Bulls next host the Highlanders at Loftus Versveld. It will be interesting to see how many spectators turn up for that one. The longer the Blue Bulls Rugby Union continue to shy away from addressing their structural issues in terms of coaching and talent development, the further their teams will regress.

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