Super Rugby Week 13: Thoughts on the South African Conference

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Warrick Gellant
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - MAY 12: Warrick Gelant of the Bulls during the Super Rugby match between Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks at Loftus Versfeld on May 12, 2018 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

In Super Rugby Week 13 we witnessed the Stormers run of home victories being ended and the Lions losing on the road. A fantastic game saw the Bulls edge the Sharks in Pretoria.

Super Rugby Week 13

We take a look at a few key thoughts coming out of this weekend’s action involving the South African Conference teams.

Highlanders 39 Emirates Lions

Highlanders: Tries: Lima Sopoaga, Liam Coltman, Luke Whitelock, Waisake Naholo and Teihorangi Waldron Conversions: Lima Sopoaga 4 Penalties: Lima Sopoaga 2
Emirates Lions 27: Tries: Robbie Coetzee 2, Harold Vorster and Marnus Schoeman Conversions: Elton Jantjies 2 Penalty: Elton Jantjies

The Highanders were defending a 10 game in a row win record at home and this win against the Lions makes it an 11 in a row winning streak at home.

The  Lions will rue the fact that they did not turn up for the first quarter of the game and found themselves 19 to 3 down pretty quickly. Three key thoughts coming out of this game are:

  • Tardy defense

This is becoming a recurring theme with the Lions. Their defense in that first quarter was especially disappointing. Twice they had to fight their way back into the game. That is admirable, but a team cannot always have to chase the game. The Highlanders used some great ball management to create the gaps and mismatches, but the Lions defense appeared a little naive at times.

  • Game plan concerns

We have consistently bemoaned the fact that the Lions are struggling against teams with rushed defenses. They tried to add some inside passing to runners on outside lines to negate this and will have to work a lot harder at making this work. In general terms, the Lions handling was disappointing.

  • A half back mismatch?

There is some justified criticism of Elton Jantjies consistency at flyhalf, but we would take a step closer to the scrum for our thoughts. Jantjies has not been the same player since the departure of Faf de Klerk to England and the injury to Ross Cronje. Whether it is deliberate change to the game plan or not, Nic Groom’s service from rucks and mauls can be desperately slow. Does this fit into the Lions tried and tested high tempo style of play? We don’t think so.

DHL Stormers 9 Chiefs 15

Chiefs: Try: Anton Lienert-Brown, Penalty try Penalty: Damian McKenzie

DHL Stormers: Penalties: Damian Willemse 2 and SP Marais

The Stormers were defending an unbeaten home record at home this season. They were unable to repeat the heroics of last weekend when they defeated the Bulls, with the Chiefs keeping a clean sheet in terms of tries. Although a close match, it was pretty dull and uninspiring with only the odd dash of excitement to keep everyone entertained.

Our key thoughts are:

  • The battle of the defenses

What played itself out was two miserly defenses who were intent on throttling out any attacking intent. One try in a game from a tournament that encourages running, entertaining rugby with plenty of tries is a paltry return, but it is credit to both defenses that this was the case.

  • The kicking game

In the battle of the two Damian’s, it was McKenzie of the Chiefs who won. For all of the good Willemse has done in recent times, he was stood up by McKenzie. The Chiefs percentage game was much more measured and they more often than not found themselves playing in the right areas on the field.

When it comes to the kicking game, there is also a time when not to kick. Kicking turnover ball from the base of the ruck is inexplicable when you have players on the outside ready to receive the ball.

For an alternative view on these games, Kiwi Scott Hornell has some thoughts of his own.

Vodacom Bulls 39 Cell C Sharks 33

Vodacom Bulls: Tries: Warrick Gelant, Jessie Kriel (2), Roelof Smit, Jonny Kotze, Lood de Jager Conversions: Handre Pollard (4) Penalty: Pollard

Cell C Sharks: Tries: Curwin Bosch, Jacques Vermeulen, Jean-Luc du Preez Conversions: Robert du Preez (2) Penalties: Du Preez (3), Curwin Bosch

The Bulls and the Sharks provided South African rugby fans with an entertaining match up to close out Super Rugby week 13. Both teams are young and played an expansive game. Neither side are the finished article yet, but the signs of improvement are very encouraging for South African rugby.

  • Attacking intent

Both teams were intent on attacking and it was enjoyable to watch. The Sharks relied on their offloading in the tackle to break the advantage line. The Bulls were a little more varied and this was possibly the difference between the two teams. They displayed a number of variations in their passing game down the line, with option runners and two lines of attack being available. Either a flat line or much deeper line of runners. Bulls fullback Warrick Gelant and Sharks winger S’bu Nkosi caught the eye. The Bulls used Gelant to initiate much of their running play and he seems to be reveling in the role.

  • Springbok call ups

It will take Springbok Coach Rassie Erasmus a long time to turn around the struggling national team. Both teams have players who have put their hand up for the cherished Springbok call up. We will not be looking at a “Bok-barometer” here, but Erasmus will be encouraged with some of the additional options that are starting to present themselves for possible selection. Names such as Pollard, Snyman, Am, Mapimpi and Du Preez will surely have been noted down somewhere.

The current standing in the South African conference

The South African conference is starting to become compressed. The Lions continue to lead the conference on 31 points after 12 games. The Bulls, Jaguares and Sharks are all on 24 points after 11 games. The Stormers are at the foot of the table with one less point, 23, but having played 12 games. There could yet be a big surprise in this conference.

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