The Super Rugby 2017 quarter finals featured three African Conference teams, the Lions, Stormers and Sharks, with only the Lions moving forward to the semi-finals.
Super Rugby 2017 Quarter Finals
After 17 weeks of conference play, the Super Rugby competition moved on to the playoff stage. The African Conference representation was an all South African affair between the Lions and the Sharks and the Stormers hosting the the Chiefs from New Zealand.
In the first game of the afternoon, the Lions survived an almighty scare to pip the Sharks at the death with a 77th minute penalty by Ruan Combrinck. In the second game, the Chiefs used a superior defense as well as tactical kicking game to extend the Stormers miserable record in playoff games. The have now won one in nine attempts.
Next weekend will see the Lions host the reigning champions the Hurricanes, who saw off the Brumbies 35-16 in Canberra and the Crusaders will welcome the Chiefs after they shut out the Highlanders 17-0 in rain drenched Christchurch.
Emirates Lions 23 Cell C Sharks 21
Emirates Lions – Tries: Franco Mostert, Jaco Kriel, Lionel Mapoe Conversion: Elton Jantjies Penalties: Elton Jantjies , Ruan Combrinck
Cell C Sharks – Tries: Kobus van Wyk, Dan du Preez Conversion: Curwin Bosch Penalties: Curwin Bosch (2) Drop goal: Curwin Bosch
The Sharks used a rush defense to unsettle the Lions and put them on the back foot for most of the game. Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies’ confidence was severely affected, with the Springbok pivot missing numerous kicks at goal as well as being responsible for Sharks wing Kobus van Zyl’s try due to a panicked pass.
The Lions can justifiably be accused of playing the ball wide too early before earning the right to do so and this played into the Sharks hands as they were lying flat on defense not committing players to the ruck, allowing them to to repel the Lions attacks with relative ease. It took a monumental fightback from the Lions to wipe out the early lead that the Sharks had built – at one point it looked like a big surprise was on the cards.
The 78th minute 55 meter place kick that back up kicker Ruan Combrink took responsibility for was the stuff of legends. He had not taken any place kicks on the day, but walked up to ball immediately after the penalty and wanted to be the guy who took on the responsibility.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez was visibly upset and for a while it appeared as if he would not attend the post-match press conference. He did eventually arrive and made a very brief 90 second appearance.
His anger was directed at the referee on the day, Marius van der Westhuyzen, who made two critical calls that was mostly likely the difference between the two teams. He issued lock Stephan Lewies with a yellow card after being caught offsides. This was a bit odd as the Sharks were not conceding numerous penalties in the red zone and there was no team warning in place. The Lions scored two tries while Lewies was off the field.
In the final minute of the game, the Sharks were convinced that they forced the Lions to hold onto possession on the ground in a very kickable position. Van der Westhuyzen ignored the pleas of the Sharks players and let play carry on.
DHL Stormers 11 Chiefs 17
Chiefs – Try: Shaun Stevenson Penalties: Damian McKenzie 4
Stormers – Try: Siya Kolisi Penalties: SP Marais 2
The Stormers and Chiefs squared off in Cape Town and produced a very tight, old school type Test match affair. The Chiefs won this one through better decision making, a far superior tactical kicking game and a strong defense, consigning the Stormers to yet another playoff disappointment.
The Stromers also contrived to be their own worst enemy, making far too many basic errors, dropping the ball on attack as well as on defense in their own quarter. The difference in the quality of the kicking game each side brought to the party was significant.
The Chiefs used either contestable kicks or kicks in front of the Stormers back three or longer kicks to turn them around. The Stormers tactical kicking was mostly naive. Kicks up field were generally too far to be contestable. In the dying minutes of the game, the Stormers resorted to kicking to try to win field position. The Chiefs back three did not have to do much more than spread themselves across the field and wait for the Stormers to kick the ball down their throats.
The Stormers were tactically naive on the day. The players can only take a part of the blame for this. Questions have to be asked of the coaching brains trust for not providing the required input. The Stormers have real problems at flyhalf. Damian Willemse is a hot prospect, but is he ready to move them forward in 2018? The impending loss of Robert du Preez to the Sharks would leave them looking very thin at flyhalf.
Serious talks are needed in the boardroom at Newlands. They have not moved forward under Robbie Fleck as some would believe. Although they had the tougher draw in terms of taking the New Zealand teams on, they hosted a quarter final courtesy of the fact that they headed up the Africa 1 Conference. This conference was definitely not too difficult for them to win as they were up against the Cheetahs (now out of Super Rugby), the struggling Bulls (only four wins in the competition) and the even worse Sunwolves (2 wins out of 15 games).