Super Rugby Week 4: Key talking points on the South African teams

Super Rugby Week 4
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 10: S'busiso Nkosi of the Cell C Sharks during the Super Rugby match between Cell C Sharks and Sunwolves at Jonsson Kings Park Stadium on March 10, 2018 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Super Rugby Week 4 turned out to be a bleak weekend for the South African teams, with only the Cell C Sharks being able to record a win.

Super Rugby Week 4

Last Word on Rugby takes a brief look at the result of each game.

Highlanders 33 DHL Stormers 15

Highlanders – Tries: Liam Squire, Aaron Smith 2, Waisake Naholo, Luke Whitelock; Conversions: Lima Sopoaga 4
DHL Stormers – Tries: Chris van Zyl, Damian Willemse; Conversion: SP Marais; Penalty: SP Marais

This game was rather strange in a way. The Stormers were always in the game but were never going to win it. What they did show at times was how good they could possibly be. The offloading game they tried to play was inaccurate and at times broke down their momentum. When it worked, it presented Chris van Zyl with his try. The Stormers runners did make themselves guilty of becoming isolated in the tackle and either conceded possession or a penalty.

The overall defensive pattern has improved with much better line speed, but it is the one-on-one tackles that will again require attention. Naholo’s run down the line, bumping off four would-be Stormers tacklers was a prime example of this. Admittedly, there were times that the Highlanders were hard to contain after they had built up momentum.

The Stormers lineout was again disappointing. Although missing locks Eben Etzebeth, JD Schickerling and Pieter-Steph du Toit as well as hookers Scarra Ntebene and Bongi Mbonambi, they need to find a way to secure possession at lineout time. If they don’t, opposition teams will be enticed to kick for territory and then compete for possession.

The Stormers next face the Blues in Cape Town and the Highanders host the Crusaders.

Reds 20 Vodacom Bulls 14

Queensland Reds – Tries: Caleb Timu, Aidan Toua; Conversions: James Tuttle (2); Penalties: Tuttle, Jonno Lance

Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Warrick Gelant, Andre Warner; Conversions: Handre Pollard (2)

In the first six minutes, the Bulls looked slick and comfortable on attack. It was pretty much all downhill from there and the Bulls were more reminiscent of the lost herd of 2017. Their play became very passive and they allowed the Reds to dominate both possession and territory.

The Bulls could and probably should have won this encounter, but their were a few things that they will have to reconsider. Their rushed defense is a new pattern for them and will take time to mature. The Reds reaped plenty of profit kicking in behind the rushing wall and chasing to compete for possession.

The penalty count was also highly stacked against the Bulls and that came in two areas. In our pre-season squad evaluation, we highlighted our concern that the Bulls front row resources were the least impressive of all the South African teams. The Bulls will face far tougher scrum opposition than the Reds, but they were given an almighty hiding at scrum time.

The second area was the penalty count, with some over-eager runners shooting up in defense and being caught offside.

The Bulls took a further knock after the game when it was found that vice-captain Nic de Jager had suffered a rib injury and is on his way back home.

The Bulls now face a thoroughly more intense examination of their progress against the Chiefs in Waikato and the Reds travel to Argentina to face the Jaguares, who are fresh off their win against the Waratahs.

Cell C Sharks 50 Sunwolves 22

Cell C Sharks – Tries: Makazole Mapimpi 2, Akker van der Merwe, Tera Mtembu, Jacques Vermeulen, Sbu Nkosi, Cameron Wright; Conversions: Robert du Preez 5, Curwin Bosch; Penalty: Robert du Preez.

Sunwolves – Tries: Lemeki Lomano, Wimpie van der Walt, William Tupuo; Conversions: Kotaro Matsushima, Ryoto Nakamura; Penalty: Harumichi Tatekawa

The Sharks were a lot better than they were last weekend, when they drew with the Waratahs in Durban. The attack was a lot slicker and settled. The Sunwolves did try to put the Sharks under pressure by speeding up the game, taking quick lineouts and moving the ball around. They also put the Sharks halfbacks under a lot of pressure and managed to charge down four clearance kicks.

To be fair, there does seem to be a fair amount of ability in their backline. They will score some spectacular tries and could possibly spring a surprise or two, but they are no more than adequate. Yet again, they shipped 50 points with no real prospect of winning away from home.

The Sharks are off to face the Brumbies in Canbera and the Sunwolves will face a hurting Lions pride in Johannesburg.

Emirates Lions 35 Blues 38

Emirates Lions – Tries: Sylvian Mahuza, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Elton Jantjies, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Dylan Smith; Conversions: Elton Jantjies (5)

Blues – Tries: Akira Ione, Rieko Ioane (2), Jimmy Tupou, Murphy Taramai; Conversions: Bryn Gatland, Stephen Perofeta (4); Penalties: Bryn Gatland (1)

The Lions’ quest for Super Rugby glory took an early blow, being defeated in what turned out to be a pulsating and somewhat extraordinary game. The Blues looked dead and buried after the first quarter. We can only applaud their tenacity to keep on fighting back throughout the game and it took a try after the final hooter to take the lead and win the game.

For the scrum connoisseurs, the scrums were so equally matched that having the feed was not necessarily an advantage. As soon as the hooker lifted his foot to hook the ball, the opposing scrum would gain the advantage. A true contest for possession at the restart.

The Lions took a knock during the game, with inspirational leader and captain Warren Whiteley having to leave the field with a knee injury that will require further examination.

There are a few hard truths that the Lions will need to face after this game. The first is that they scored three early tries off Blues errors. If the Blues were more accurate at the start of the game, the Lions would not have run out to such a comfortable early lead.

Blues flyhalf Bryn Gatland had a miserable day off the kicking tee, which meant that the Lions were not punished at penalty time until Gatland was replaced.

The final and more telling truth was the quality of tackling. There were far too many missed tackles to have been able to shut the Blues out after building that early lead. Getting the first time tackle count up will be important and putting this first setback behind them.

The Lions will probably take their frustrations out on against the visiting Sunwolves next weekend, while the Blues make the far shorter trip to Cape Town than the Stormers will face back from New Zealand to host them.

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